Six Ways to Boost Response on Your Surveys and Gain More Useful Information

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So... you spend time and effort putting together a survey, so you can have real information about what your customers and prospects are actually looking for. And you send the survey to your in-house list--but the flood of responses you're expecting is only a trickle.

While direct-mail marketing typically enjoys response rates of 0.5 percent to 2 percent for sales pieces, survey responses are often far lower.

You're never going to get 100 percent participation. People are too busy, or some of them are simply not your target audience. But still, you want to do better than a few hundredths of a percent. How can you boost responses up to meaningful levels of 10 percent or more?

Make it EASY to Respond

The less work your respondent has to do, the more responses you'll get. One click should go right to the survey form, without requiring registration. You can easily use software to flag duplicate responses, so ballot-stuffing is not a problem. And the form itself should be simple, clearly worded, easy to understand, easy and quick to fill out. Unless there is a strong business reason for using them, avoid distractions such as animated GIFs and Flash intros. Depending on your audience, they could get in the way of the survey or increase the likelihood that the form will give error messages.

Explain Why Responding HELPS the Respondent

You want this information to better serve your customers--to offer products and services that more closely meet their exact needs. Use effective copywriting to convey this point--that not only do you sincerely value their input, but that their responses will help you bring products to market that directly reflect their exact needs. Help them to feel "ownership" of their role in making these new products happen.

This may be the most crucial factor: your headlines and body copy should convey that you see your respondents as allies in solving their problems or increasing their convenience together. It's all about them, not about you.

REASSURE Your Participants

Everybody worries that if they participate in surveys, they're going to be hounded with high-pressure sales pitches. Do it differently; earn your prospects' respect by promising them that salespeople won't bother them. And keep your promise! If you design the entire process properly, survey respondents will seek YOU out to do some business together. You will, of course, provide them with every tool they need to follow up with you.

Provide the Chance for REAL Feedback

Include at least one comment field, where respondents can explain or qualify their answers. You'll get extremely meaningful information from this technique--well worth the extra labor in hand-analyzing the results-- and once again, you make your respondents feel valued and important, so that they have a vested interest in feeling that they're a part of your enterprise. It may even be worth your while to put a comment field in for every question.

FOLLOW UP With the Best Respondents

People who make useful comments are prime candidates for focus groups, beta testing, or simple one-to-one follow-up--focused on additional research, not sales. They'll be so grateful that you really value their opinions that they may become evangelists for your company. Won't they be surprised and delighted to get a telephone call or a personal e-mail from the president of your company, thanking them for their response and asking if they'd like to help you refine your research? (Be sure to present this as genuine; don't wrap it up in a sales pitch.)

Offer INCENTIVES For Responding

Offer thank-you gifts to every entrant, or add all your respondents to a raffle drawing. The prizes should be relevant to your company--perhaps one of your own products, or a product or service that complements yours. At the end of the survey, ask for contact information if they'd like to receive the gift or be entered in the drawing.

The more people participate honestly in a survey, the more useful your market research. And if the incentives are strong and relevant enough, you know that the responses you get will be honest, identifiable, and useful.

So there you have it: Make your surveys user-friendly, show why answering the survey benefits the participant, reassure them that you won't unleash the sales dogs, offer prospects the chance to actually influence the direction of your products and your marketing, follow up appropriately, and offer incentives. Then watch your survey numbers grow, and put all that useful information into practice in your product development, customer service, and of course, your profits.

This article was originally commissioned and published by, a leading provider of web survey and online testing software for research, education and performance improvement. Used with their permission.

Shel Horowitz, internationally known marketing consultant, copywriter, and speaker, specializes in affordable, effective marketing for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits. The of award-winning author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and four other books, he is the owner of and If you'd like to discuss your next marketing project with Shel, please visit his site or contact him at or 413-586-2388.

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