I read an article which appealed to me not too long ago. The article was titled “Surveys Suck! How to know what your customer wants without asking”.
The article is a well written account of why the writer and optimization manager, Justin Rondeau, perceives surveys as not being the most effective way for small business owners to find out exactly what their customers are doing on their website.
According to the article, there is a huge difference between how a person reports they will behave and how they actually behave. This leads to small business owners receiving skewed and biased data from a source viewed as weak in the accuracy department.
To provide some context, surveys are considered to be a type of user data referred to as “active user data”. Active user data is defined as any type of data that is gathered when the visitor is aware that they are in a testing or observed environment.
The opposite of what’s known as “active user data” is passive user data. Passive user data is any type of data where the subject is unaware that they’re in an observed environment.
Learning to distinguish between active user data and passive user data is important in that therein lies the difference between honest and skewed data.
To draw an analogy from this, it’s a little like how children behave when they’re at home with their parents in a controlled environment versus when they’re home alone with no adult supervision. Children in an unobserved environment tend to want to wander around and do their own thing.
Although this may not be the best comparison, it paints a picture of what happens when people know they’re being monitored as opposed to when people are unaware that they are being monitored.
People who are unaware that they’re being monitored are believed to act in accordance to who they truly are. People who are truly being themselves provide more factual results.
Makes sense right?
This can be attributed to what’s known as “The Hawthorne effect” which occurs when a respondent changes their behaviour in response to their awareness of being observed.
So that’s problem number one.
Another problem the article highlights about surveys is that you can’t expect an honest answer from people because most people don’t know what they want.
Ever walk down a soft drink aisle of a grocery store? The number of choices available from one company alone, Coca Cola for example, could leave your head spinning. This is for a reason.
For a business to make money and for it to contribute and grow within a particular market it needs to offer a variety of options to meet the needs of an audience who:
- Don’t know what they want and
- Have such varied preferences that there is no overall “best” option
Take this example in relation to collecting data from your customers. One method might not be enough. There needs to be several methods for one to obtain the best results.
Survey research doesn’t only happen through one method. To add to the list, survey research also includes:
- Personal interviews
- Shopping mall intercept interviews
- Telephone interviews
- E-mail surveys
- Mail surveys and
- Focus groups
Each of these methods have their advantages and drawbacks. Depending on the needs of a business, researchers and marketing execs could decide to embark on one or a number of these collection techniques.
The article concludes by suggesting passive methods small business owners can engage in to collect, analyse and interpret data.
Passive methods of collecting data include web analytics, funnel analysis, heat maps and session recordings.
Traditionally in marketing, passive user data collection is known as observation research. Observation research does not rely on direct interaction with people. The three types of observation research can be described as people watching people, people watching activity and machines watching people.
The passive data collection methods suggested by the article which include web analytics, funnel analysis, heat maps and session recordings can be categorized into the “machines watching people” category.
To read the article in its entirety, click on the following link: www.digitalmarketer.com/know-what-your-customer-wants-without-user-surveys/
Although the article itself is meant to address the business to consumer relationship with regards to data collection and customer satisfaction, it also got me thinking about my own situation with the Dottedlink.com platform.
For those who are unaware, Dottedlink.com is an online platform created to assist entrepreneurs connect with and better understand angel investors and their investment requirements.
Dottedlink.com is largely a business to business company which aims to achieve its goal through an online investor survey.
The current data collection technique Dottedlink uses for its investor survey is an open ended macro survey we make available for angel investors to answer as comprehensibly as possible.
My immediate concern was that we are not using the most efficient method in collecting information from angel investors to ultimately assist entrepreneurs in helping them improve their businesses and find an investment.
Traditionally, in “marketing speak”, surveys certainly have been the most popular technique for collecting primary data.
But keep in mind that the three mistakes commonly made by researchers are these:
- That wrong assumptions are made about the type of information needed
- The wrong research technique is used
- That data is misinterpreted
Before we get into the advantages and drawbacks of open ended macro surveys, let’s start by defining these concepts
Macro survey – a macro survey is a long form questionnaire with multiple questions that require multiple answers from its respondents.
Open ended questionnaire – an open ended questionnaire is an open ended question that encourages an answer phrased in the respondent’s own words.
The advantages of an open ended macro survey
As mentioned previously, the dottedlink.com investor survey is an open ended macro survey and the biggest and most crucial advantage of an open ended survey is that the researcher gets a rich array of information based on the respondent’s own words.
In Dottedlink’s case, angel investors provide the platform with detailed information on what they’re looking for in an investable company, in their own words.
This helps the Dottedlink team draft a detailed report that entrepreneurs can use to improve their business’s and find a suitable angel investor.
The drawbacks of an open ended macro survey
It can be difficult to get people to take a macro survey. Long form, open ended macro surveys in particular tend to require the respondents full attention and that in itself tends to be a deterrent for some people.
For this reason people generally offer incentives to people to take and complete macro surveys. In the online arena you’re competing against companies who incentive people with gift cards and other benefits.
The problem with this strategy however is that companies who do this will often run into “professional survey takers” which can skew data.
My thoughts on the matter
When small business owners think about these facts in relation to getting to know their customers better, it should get them thinking that maybe surveys aren’t the best option to use when trying to get to know their customers better.
I know it certainly got me thinking. Could there be a better way for Dottedlink.com to conduct its investor survey?
To provide the best service possible to my customers, in my case angel investors and entrepreneurs, this is something I have to seriously consider. For me to do so, I have to think about all the variables involved to help me make an informed decision.
When it’s all said and done
When it’s all said and done I decided to continue with the open ended macro survey data collection technique and here’s why:
- Angel investors have an investment mandate
Most angel investors have an investment mandate. An investment mandate, as defined by www.thebalance.com, is an instruction to manage a pool of capital, or a particular pile of funds, using a specific strategy and within certain risk parameters.
Simply put, most investors don’t blindly fund a company. Investors are risk averse which means they hate risk. For investors to avoid risk THEY HAVE TO BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT THEY WANT so they can avoid financing the wrong company which could potentially have them lose their money. This eliminates the second problem highlighted in this article about people not knowing what they want. This shouldn’t apply to disciplined investors. Disciplined investors have clarity.
- It’s in an angel investors best interest to be as specific as possible
Nobody likes to waste their time and this is particularly true for angel investors. When an investor receives a request for funding they would like to know that the company they are reviewing understands their requirements.
Investors would also like to know that the company’s leaders have taken decisive steps in improving their businesses to meet their requirements. It’s for this reason that it would only help angel investors if they were as descriptive as possible when answering the questions posed to them in our angel investor survey. So instead of it being a hindrance, the angel investor survey becomes an advantage in that it helps investors save time by eliminating unwanted options.
- The Dottedlink angel investor survey isn’t long
The Dottedlink angel investor survey consists of a total of 22 questions. The investor survey on average takes no longer than five minutes to complete. The questions themselves are straightforward and basic but go a long way in assisting entrepreneurs improve their businesses and understand an angel investor’s requirements.
The questions posed to angel investors in the investor survey are as follows:
3.1) Your name and surname
3.2) The name of your investment company
3.3) Which country is your investment company based in?
3.4) A link to your company's website
3.5) Your email address
3.6) What documents must the entrepreneur have in order to allow you the investor to be able to conduct a fair assessment on the company?
3.7) Please give us a brief description of the business model you prefer to invest in
3.8) The number of years a business must have been operating for to be considered as an investment opportunity
3.9) The industry you prefer to invest in
3.10) The size of the market you prefer the entrepreneur to operate in
3.11) The number of directors you prefer in a company
3.12) The number of employees the company must have
3.13) The minimum number of years of experience you prefer the management team to have
3.14) The type of investment your company provides (i.e debt, equity etc)
3.15) The average monthly turnover the business must generate
3.16) The projected ROI (%) you want as an investor should you invest in a business
3.17) Equity stake taken by investors
3.18) When is the payback period for the investment provided to the entrepreneur?
3.19) Which geographical area does your investment company have an express interest in?
3.20) Business plan tips for entrepreneurs
3.21) Additional comments
3.22) Are you interested in attending any Dottedlink events where qualifying entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to you?
Exploring the alternative
Let’s picture and explore the alternative. Even though I believe that passive data collection wouldn’t work well in exploring what investors need, there is an alternative which I believe could possibly work. The alternative is the close ended micro survey.
Micro survey – Micro surveys are small surveys collecting information from users with the help of one or two questions.
Close ended questionnaire – A close ended questionnaire is a close ended question that asks the respondent to make a selection from a limited list of answers.
The advantage of micro surveys
The biggest benefit of micro surveys is that they’re short. Respondents don’t like long surveys but will respond to a single question. This means that the response rate to micro surveys are usually much higher when compared to macro surveys.
The disadvantage of micro surveys
When looking for descriptive answers to a question, micro surveys usually aren’t the way to go. This is especially true with the Dottedlink.com platform which often needs angel investors to describe in detail to entrepreneurs what they need from them.
Is there a way to circumvent this problem?
Is there a way to circumvent this problem? I believe so but it compounds the work as both entrepreneurs and investors would have to take surveys. Let me explain…
One way to go about this is to have entrepreneurs provide the Dottedlink platform with a little more detail into their businesses by answering a macro survey, the Dottedlink team will then summarize the entrepreneur’s details and present this information to investors as a micro survey for a short yes or no answer as to whether they’d invest or not.
The questions posed in the entrepreneur’s macro survey and presented to entrepreneurs will be much of the same questions posed to angel investors in Dottedlink’s angel investor survey.
This scenario can be best explained by the images below:
Step 1: Entrepreneurs answer the “Entrepreneur Survey”
Step 2: The Dottedlink team captures and summarizes the data
Once the entrepreneur has answered all the questions posed to them, the Dottedlink team will capture and summarize the entrepreneur’s details as follows:
Step 3: The information is presented to investors
The third and final step is that the captured information can be presented to angel investors as a micro survey for a quick yes or no answer.
There also can be a follow up question to the yes or no answer given by angel investors asking angel investors to clarify why they chose that particular answer.
The Dottedlink team will then record the angel investor results and present them as a report for entrepreneurs to use.
The open ended macro survey results
The data collection method chosen to conduct a survey will have an effect on the format the results of the survey is reported in.
The open ended survey method the Dottedlink team currently uses means that the format of our survey results are in qualitative data form.
Qualitative data reporting is descriptive in nature. This means that the results of the report rely more heavily on words than they do numbers.
Qualitative data is considered much more difficult to tabulate and report in.
The close ended micro survey results
The results of the close ended micro survey method we talked about earlier in the article will mainly be in quantitive form. Quantitive data reporting is numerical in nature.
Using both the macro and micro survey techniques
To strengthen Dottedlink’s investor survey reports, both the open ended macro survey and the close ended micro survey collection techniques could be employed.
This would assist entrepreneurs improve their depth of knowledge if they had both qualitative and quantitive data to support them in improving their businesses.
The purpose of this article is to not only look at the concept of surveys from different angles but to highlight the importance how being upfront with your customers with a visible survey could sometimes help. This is especially true for a company with a business model similar to Dottedlink.com's
An open ended investor survey is still an efficient way for Dottedlink.com to collect data. This may change in the near future.
We encourage angel investors to tell us more about the kind of companies they’re looking for by taking our angel investor survey found here: https://dottedlink.com/investor-survey/
We’d also like to hear your thoughts on this article and whether you think having the close ended micro survey option is a good fit for the Dottedlink platform in assisting both investors and entrepreneurs.