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Monthly Business e-Tips Vol 1
Issue 4

Don't Assume, Ask!

In the last issue we talked about the importance of keeping in touch with both current and perspective customers. It is critical that you shape your business around what your market needs and wants. Though it is great to have informal chats with clients occasionally, it is not enough. You need to ask some well thought-out revealing questions. One of the best ways to do that is through a well-designed survey.

Mention of a survey usually conjures up the image of a customer satisfaction survey. These questions focus on the customer's experience. At a restaurant for example, you might be asked to check the boxes and make comments on a postcard-sized form that asks about quality of food, service, and wait staff. This is in reaction to a single event. Most people fill out the form if they are either unhappy or especially pleased. It's great to know the soup was cold, the meat was tough and the waiter didn't bring the drinks fast enough. If you are revising your menu or trying to attract a more upscale crowd, that information is not enough to make it happen.

The value of a face-to-face or telephone survey is that you can gather more detailed information. It is focused on the respondent, not to your business. Often with these surveys the business it is for is not identified. You get more valuable information that way. Talking to hundreds of people is unnecessary, 20-25 will suffice.

The following situation is a recent survey project that made a huge difference. One of my technology clients was excited about promoting a security-related product. However, though there was much interest in the product, it was mostly for interest sake. It generated little business. I suggested selecting three industries and interviewing technology decision makers on their company's greatest security problems. The questions asked how they are currently dealing their most pressing security issues and which security priorities would be addressed this coming year. I developed the survey, made the calls and wrote a report on the findings.

We got a wealth of information from the survey. My client and I are refocusing his business according to needs and priorities of these markets. The company's offerings are now better positioned to address the needs of its market. In turn, my client's products and services now speak to the more urgent needs of prospective customers. In addition, his business now offers a more compelling message that resonates with target markets.

Surveys are valuable:

  • When starting a business, surveys are important. Find out if people want and will buy your offerings. The "build 'it' and they will come" philosophy turned out to be disastrous for the many technology companies that failed. Numerous technology companies could have been successful if their founders stopped to ask the right questions before they built 'it'.
  • When your business seems to be losing deals, find out what is missing. Examine your pricing structure, is it too high or too low? Do you have the right message?
  • Are you looking to refocus or expand markets? Find out what each market's needs are. It is also good to notice what words prospect use to describe their issues and use them in your marketing materials.
  • If you are adding new products and services, first test the interest of your market to see if it fills a need.
  • When investing in expensive collateral or marketing programs, know you have it right by testing the message before you launch large-scale costly initiatives.

By talking to your market on a regular basis, you won't be the last to find out your market's needs have changed. Not having that conversation could be an expensive omission. Now you know why and when surveys should be utilized.

Developing an effective survey takes some work. Examples of formats are located at www.possibilities-at-work.com/resources/survey.html. Though you can reach lots of people through e-mail, I recommend telephone surveys. That way you can get a greater depth of information.

Here are some ways to make your telephone survey successful:

  • Develop surveys to be completed in 10-12 minutes (about 12-15 questions). Some interviewees will talk more than others. Let it be their choice as to how much time they spend answering the questions.
  • Use a combination of both closed and open-ended questions. Simply, closed questions offer interviewees a choice of answers ('a' or 'b' or rate from 1-5). Open-ended questions ask them to explain or describe in more detail.
  • Prepare a script to use when you introduce a survey. Be polite and respectful of time when you connect with participants.
  • Offer a small gift or result of the survey. People are busy and are more likely to help when there is something in it for them.
  • Be single minded with your survey. Don't try to use it as a way to get new clients, talk about a new product or getleads. Those things may happen in the process. The survey's value will be diluted if it's designed for multiple purposes.
  • To eliminate biased results, have a neutral person make the calls when possible.

A survey isn't a one-time effort. You need to be continually watching and talking to your market. Keeping communication open with your customers and prospects will ensure that your business stays relevant to the changing times and needs.

Surveys are just one means to keep in touch. Others include one-on-one lunch meetings with top customers or attending industry events to keep abreast of new trends.

Regular phone calls to prospects and clients keep you current with their needs and what is happening with their companies. By going directly to the source you avoid the dangerous mistake of making business decisions on assumptions.

Ask. Don't tell.

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