Through my blog and Berkeley network I get periodic requests from aspiring startup founders and small business owners to help them do a “survey” for them. There is a general pattern in all these requests:
- They already have the product going or have the idea all figured out.
- They are skeptical of the phrase “Marketing Research” and services that charge high fees for it.
- They are highly technical, sharp and committed individuals
- They are reaching out only because someone they respect had asked them, “have you checked this with your target customers?”.
- They already know what they want to do, what the customers want, what the product offering should be, pricing should be – they only need to do a survey to validate these.
- They want me write survey questions like, “Would you prefer auto-turbo fluid motion v7.4 over nitro-fusion hydraulic v2.3? and will you pay $100 more for that?”
- They also want to ask a lot of essay questions, “What are all some of the problems you find with social media XYX?”
- They want to run the survey on their blog readers, twitter followers, facebook friends, …
- They are not willing to pay anything for me because all I have to do is write up a survey for them.
I turn away all such requests. The primary reason is, I currently advise two small businesses, one from Boulder and one here and I cannot take on more unpaid work.
But there is another reason as well: they are solving the wrong problem.
If these people are convinced about their path, looking only for validation and not willing to change their path based on the data, why bother with a customer survey?
You should not jump to do a survey if you have not formed a few hypotheses that you want objectively tested.
You should not launch a survey that is not designed based on extensive exploratory process – one that involves multiple customer interviews and focus groups.
If you have not talked to single potential customer you are targeting, running the survey is the least of your concerns.
A survey is ineffective if you have not uncovered distribution of your customer profiles, likes and attitudes.
Asking respondents to write an essay of their problems and likes in a survey question is simply wrong!
A survey is ineffective if you have not uncovered your “customer speak” and you continue to use your techno jargon speak.
A survey is ineffective if you slapped together a few questions that don’t help answer your decision.
A survey is ineffective if you collect data from where it is convenient, like the drunkard searching for lost keys under the light because it was dark where he lost it.
A survey is ineffective if you have not identified the target population and found a way to reach them and are not willing to spend resources to reach the right target.
If you are convinced you are in San Diego, when you could be in Madagascar, looking only for white sandy beaches to validate your conviction and not willing to seek data that will show otherwise – you do not need a survey!