A survey is a statistical study of a sample population by asking specific questions. While they can be used in a variety of ways to acquire feedback they are most effective in B2B when used as a tactic to progress buyers through their journey to purchase.

When to use a survey

Below are some examples of how surveys, and survey data, can be used at various stages of the buyers' journey:

Find new names

  • Implement a contact detail survey as an access hurdle to your high-value online content. This will give you new names of people who, by entering their details to read your content, have shown an interest in the topic discussed and may qualify as leads to be engaged.

Positioned in category: Position your brand in the category

  • Conduct an industry related survey of your own. The benefits of this are two-fold, it will position you as a key member of the industry and publishing the results will validate you as an informed leader within it.
  • Published results of other industry surveys that rate you as an industry leader. If you are highly rated by a third-party survey, publicise it.
  • Published results of product evaluation surveys that rate your products highly. As above, if others are recommending you highly in the category you should use promote it.

Gap acknowledged: Get them to acknowledge the problems with their current approach

  • Have targets complete a survey that explicitly identifies their problems. This type of survey often works well when it accompanies some troubling online content, generally at either an event or online. The survey itself should asking probing questions about how the troubling content relates to the reader and ask them to acknowledge their problem.

Preference formed: Have them prefer your solution over others

  • Show the results of your customer satisfaction surveys. The opinion of those you've previously served are highly valuable at this point of the buyer's journey.

Decision made: Get B2B buyers to make a decision

  • Once a client has used your services ask them to complete a customer satisfaction survey. The results of these can be used both to improve your service and as a form of credential. Always remember to ask for a testimonial quote!

Recycling: Recycle leaky buyers

  • Use your survey data in blog, newsletter or whitepaper content. If you've successfully produced a survey that reveals interesting information about your industry you can build it into highly valuable content which can then be communicated to your target audience.

Types of surveys

1. Market description surveys. Determine the size, and your relative share, of the market. A thorough understanding of your market will inform how best to operate within in.

2. Market profiling-segmentation surveys. Identify customers and non-customers, and why they are or are not your customers. A thorough understanding of your ideal customer profile (ICP) will help you make better choices about how to target them.

3. Stage in the buyers' journey surveys. Find out where is the prospect at in their journey to purchase? Are they untroubled and unaware, interested established, or at gap acknowledged?

4. Customer attitude and expectation surveys. Does your product meet the customer's expectations? You can use this to improve branding, customer conversion, commitment and loyalty.

5. Customer trust, loyalty and retention analysis surveys. Assess the depth of customer attitudes formed about your product and/or company.

6. New product concept analysis surveys. Normally useful in the initial screening of new product concepts. Find out what your ICP likes and dislikes about the product to tell you what the likelihood of purchase may be.

7. Habits and uses surveys. Understand usage situations, including how, when and where your product is being used. You can also find out what needs to be improved to make your product more attractive to users/new buyers.

8. Product fulfilment surveys. Evaluate promised attribute and feature benefits (both tangible and intangible). This will help you find out if the expectations produced by advertising, packaging, and product appearance are being fulfilled.

9. Competitive product and marketing positioning surveys. A study of “How does the market view us relative to the competition?” will help you compares attributes and benefits of your product/business vs others.

10. Brand equity surveys. What is psychological value that a brand holds in the marketplace?

11. Marketing and Sales force effectiveness surveys. This will help you assess the performance of Marketing and Sales activities in producing the desired and measurable effect or goal.

12. Lead generation and use surveys. Assess the timely delivery of marketing leads to sales, timely qualification, use and follow-up of leads by sales. It is a good idea to evaluate your own internal processes to ensure you're doing everything possible to successfully handle opportunities.

Popular methods of survey delivery

As there are many different types of surveys that can be delivered in different ways, the circumstance in which a business finds themselves in, and the objectives that they want to accomplish, heavily determine which method/s of survey implementation would be most appropriate.

General guide to building a quality survey

1) Decide the objectives. The first and foremost thing you need to decide what the objectives of the study are. What are you trying to discover? What actions do you want to take as a result of the survey? Ensure that you can phrase these objectives as questions or measurements. If you can't, you are better off looking at other means of gathering data like focus groups and other qualitative methods. This helps you double check the validity of the survey method being used eg. online instead of telephone.

2) Visualise it. Visualize all of the relevant information items you would like to have. What will the output report look like? What charts and graphs will be prepared? What information do you need to be assured that action is warranted?

3) Rank your topics. If you survey is to cover multiple topics, rank them in order according to the value of the topic listing the most important topics first. Remember, you can't solve the problem if you ask the wrong questions so ensure your topics fully address the objectives of the survey.

4) Select question type. Determine the type of question that is best suited to answer the question and provide enough robustness to meet analysis requirements. Do you use open-ended text questions, dichotomous, multiple choice, rank order, scaled, or constant sum (ratio scale) questions? Generally tougher analysis requirements will lead to more complicated questionnaire design.

5) Write the questions. You may need to write several questions for each topic, selecting the best one. In doing this, evaluate how easy or difficult is it for the respondent to provide information on each topic? If it is difficult, is there another way to obtain the information by asking another question? This is probably the most important step.

6) Sequence the questions. Sequence the questions so that they are unbiased.

7) Time it. Time the length of the survey. A general guide at three to four questions per minute, you are limited to about 15 questions. One open end text question counts for three multiple choice questions.

8) Pre-test it. Pretest the survey to a sample audience and obtain their detail. What were they unsure about? Did they have trouble understanding what you wanted? Did they take a point of view not covered in your answers or question?

9) Revise it. Revise your online questionnaire incorporating the feedback that you got.

10) Send it. Send the survey out to all your target, gather information and assess.

Best practice

Here are some key tips to make you surveys more engaging and to ensure they gather the information you need.

  • Make it short and easy: There is a positive correlation between survey length and abandonment rates. The longer the questionnaire, the higher the abandonment rate. When designing a survey, take into the length of time it will take the respondent to complete it, as well as the amount of pages, length of text blocks, etc. Limit the amount of complex and open ended questions. This will reduce the potential for respondent fatigue while also decreasing the complexity and time necessary to answer each question.
  • Make it unique: Audit the volume and quality of existing analysis in the area. There’s no point focusing on a worn out topic. Pick something under, or poorly, covered
  • Aesthetics matter: The overall look of a survey plays a big part in its credibility. The inclusion of brand logos and professional formatting may be the difference between the survey being taken or not.
  • Be honest: Even answers you don't like can teach you something so don't try and twist them. Telling it like it is adds value and will gain you respect from the respondent.
  • Make it engaging: A great way to excite respondents and maintain interest. Build video and images into your survey to stimulate and engage your audience.
  • It needs to flow: Questions should be set out in a manner in which they flow on from each other logically. Avoid asking the same/similar question in a survey.
  • Easy questions first: Easy to answer questions should be placed at the start of the survey, acting to “warm up” the respondent for more particular questions later on.
  • Hard questions last : Questions that are sensitive or contentious should be placed towards the end of the survey, ensuring that the respondent is in an automatic response mode.
  • Provide an incentive: Financial offerings are common and effective, but the use of access to exclusive information, like the findings of the survey is often more effective.
  • Avoid biased questions: Ensure that all questions in your survey are not biased in any way. Questions that are biased can lead to an inaccurate reflection of market trends, causing a potential adverse impact on your marketing objectives.
  • Use a third party: A third party usually best compiles information about your industry or a general market analysis. Ideally this is an analyst firm run by people who understand your industry and can survey based on their deep, specialized knowledge. By surveying through a third party, you eliminate the risk of bias from your own firm affecting the outcome. Also, participants are more likely to share accurate information if they are talking to an organization they know and respect.

Types of questions

As there are multiple ways of asking a question, you need to consider which question type will best help you obtain the information you need. QuestionPro identify nine question types, each suited to elicit a particular type of response:

1. The Dichotomous Question

The dichotomous question is generally a "yes/no" question.

Example: Have you ever purchased a product or service from our website? Yes/No

2. The Multiple Choice Questions

The multiple-choice question consists of three or more exhaustive, mutually exclusive categories. Multiple choice questions can ask for single or multiple answers. In the following example, we could ask the respondent to select exactly one answer from the 7 possible, exactly 3 of the 7, or as many as 3 of the 7 (1,2,or 3 answers can be selected).

Example: A multiple-choice question to find out how a person first heard about your website is:

How did you first hear about our web site?

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Newspaper
  • Magazine
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Internet
  • Other: Please Specify _______________

For this type of question it is important to consider including an "other" category because there may be other avenues by which the person first heard about your site that you might have overlooked.

3. Rank Order Scaling

Rank order scaling questions allow a certain set of brands or products to be ranked based upon a specific attribute or characteristic.

Example: Based upon what you have seen, heard, and experienced, please rank the following businesses according to their reliability. Place a "1" next to the business that is most reliable, a "2" next to the business that is next most reliable, and so on. Remember, no two cars can have the same ranking:

  • __ Bills Plumbing Supplies
  • __ Phil's Plumbing Superstore
  • __ Varuna's House of Pipes
  • __ John's Plumbing Shop

4. The Rating Scale

A rating scale question requires a person to rate a product or brand along a well-defined, evenly spaced continuum. Rating scales are often used to measure the direction and intensity of attitudes.

Example: Which of the following categories best describes your last experience purchasing a product or service on our website? Would you say that your experience was:

  • Very pleasant
  • Somewhat pleasant
  • Neither pleasant nor unpleasant
  • Somewhat unpleasant
  • Very unpleasant

5. The Semantic Differential Scale

The semantic differential scale asks a person to rate a product, brand, or company based upon a seven-point rating scale that has two bi-polar adjectives at each end. The following is an example of a semantic differential scale question.

Example: Would you say our web site is:

  • (7) Very Attractive
  • (6)
  • (5)
  • (4)
  • (3)
  • (2)
  • (1) Very Unattractive

Notice that unlike the rating scale, the semantic differential scale does not have a neutral or middle selection. A person must choose, to a certain extent, one or the other adjective.

6. The Stapel Scale

The staple scale asks a person to rate a brand, product, or service according to a certain characteristic on a scale from +5 to -5, indicating how well the characteristic describes the product or service.

Example: When thinking about Data Mining Technologies Inc., do you believe that the word "innovative" aptly describes or poorly describes the company? On a scale of +5 to -5 with +5 being "very good description of DMT" and -5 being "poor description of DMT," how do you rank DMT according to the word "innovative"?

  • (+5) Describes very well
  • (+4)
  • (+3)
  • (+2)
  • (+1)
  • Innovative
  • (-1)
  • (-2)
  • (-3)
  • (-4)
  • (-5) Poorly Describes

7. The Constant Sum Question

A constant sum question permits collection of "ratio" data, meaning that the data is able to express the relative value or importance of the options (option A is twice as important as option B).

Example: The following question asks you to divide 100 points between a set of options to show the value or importance you place on each option. Distribute the 100 points giving the more important reasons a greater number of points. The computer will prompt you if your total does not equal exactly 100 points.

When thinking about the reasons you purchased our TargetFind data mining software, please rate the following reasons according to their relative importance.

  • Seamless integration with other software __________
  • User friendliness of software __________
  • Ability to manipulate algorithms __________
  • Level of pre- and post-purchase service __________
  • Level of value for the price __________
  • Convenience of purchase/quick delivery __________
  • Total: 100 points

This type of question is used when you are relatively sure of the reasons for purchase, or you want input on a limited number of reasons you feel are important. Questions must sum to 100 points.

8. The Open-Ended Question

The open-ended question seeks to explore the qualitative, in-depth aspects of a particular topic or issue. It gives a person the chance to respond in detail. Although open-ended questions are important, they are time-consuming for the respondent and should not be over-used to avoid drop-outs.

Example: What products of services were you looking for that were not found on our website?

If you want to add an "Other" answer to a multiple choice question, you would use branching instructions to come to an open ended question to find out "What Other...."

9. The Demographic Question

Demographic questions are an integral part of any questionnaire. They are used to identify characteristics such as age, gender, income, race, geographic place of residence, number of children, and so forth. Demographic data helps you paint a more accurate picture of the group of persons you are trying to understand.

Writing survey questions

Writing great questions is an art that requires a great amount of work, practice, and help from others. QuestionPro have built a guide to help you start writing quality questions:

  • Avoid loaded or leading words or questions. Slight wording changes can produce great differences in results. Could, Should, Might all sound almost the same, but may produce a 20% difference in agreement to a question.
  • Avoid misplaced questions. Questions placed out of order or out of context should be avoided. In general, a funnel approach is advised. Broad and general questions at the beginning of the questionnaire as a warm-up. Then more specific questions, followed by more general easy to answer questions like demographics.
  • Ensure you're using mutually non-exclusive response categories. Multiple choice response categories should be mutually exclusive so that clear choices can be made. Non-exclusive answers frustrate the respondent and make interpretation difficult at best.
  • Don't write nonspecific questions. Do you like orange juice? This is very I like what? The Taste, texture, nutritional content, Vitamin C, the current price, concentrate, fresh squeezed? Be specific in what you want to know about. Do you watch TV regularly? (what is regularly?).
  • Avoid confusing or unfamiliar words. Make sure your audience understands your language level, terminology and above all, what you are asking. If you're surveying an audience who might not know technical jargon, don't use technical jargon!
  • Don't force answers. Respondents may not want, or may not be able to provide the information requested. Privacy is an important issue to most people. Questions about income, occupation, finances, family life, personal hygiene and beliefs (personal, political, religious) can be too intrusive and rejected by the respondent.
  • Avoid non-exhaustive listings. Do you have all of the options covered? If you are unsure, conduct a pretest using the "Other (please specify)" option, revise the question making sure that you cover at least 90% of the respondent answers.
  • Avoid double barrelled questions. What is the fastest and most convenient Internet service for you? The fastest may not also be the most convenient therefore two questions should be asked.
  • Avoid long questions. Multiple choice questions are the longest and most complex. Free text answers are the shortest and easiest to answer. When you increase the length of questions and surveys, you decrease the chance of receiving a completed response.
  • Avoid questions on future intentions. Predictions are rarely accurate more than a few weeks or in some case months ahead.

Drawbacks of surveys

  • The accuracy of a survey's results depend upon the range of options available for answering, as well as the honesty of the people being surveyed.
  • Only a minority of those invited to take part in a survey will do so. For example, an online survey amongst ‘cold’ prospects might generate a 1% – 3% response rate.
  • Often, surveys can only be passed on to those who have had previous contact with the business. As such, the strength of a survey in fostering new business connections is limited. * Sales calls are often posed as "research" calls. They can make potential respondents more wary of true research callers thus lowering the call incidence rate.
  • Surveys often appear superficial in their coverage of complex topics.
  • Some survey methods take a long time to collect and analyse the date.

Survey tools

More information

  • For articles about creating, writing and sending surveys go to QuestionPro's blog
  • Click here for a case study of how CyberSource used a “Pulse Survey” for lead generation and as a way to derive greater mileage from their annual industry report.
  • Equation Research used a survey to earn media exposures across popular marketing publications and blogs which delivered a 200% increase in website traffic and five-fold increase in amount of leads generated over all other marketing programs.