Client reconnaissance. Cool phrase, right? But what does it mean? “Preliminary surveying or research” is the strict answer, of course. And now that we’ve said that, you are likely to already know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you should be learning as much as you can about every lead that enters into your sales funnel.
That may tempt you to put surveys allover your various webpages – and you no doubt see lots of businesses doing that. Buy something; hit with a survey. Complain about something; offered a survey. Read a FAQ entry; treated to a survey. Take a survey; how about another survey?
Unfortunately, even as the business world embraces surveys based on the value of customer data, most businesses are getting it wrong when it comes to deploying surveys.
A 2013 journal article from Label & Narrow tells us that surveys have become a “scourge” for some consumers, citing the high saturation of surveys as a increasingly “annoying” aspect of modern business. The article, written by Mark Lusky, poses some interesting ideas as to what kinds of questions are worth asking, and when it’s best to ask them.
Lusky’s article is at least partly contrarian to customer surveys – at least, as they exist in the “shot-in-the-dark” format adopted by many businesses on the Web. But Lusky’s on to something.
And, though his article mostly refers to face-to-face client reconnaissance (suggesting that you take your customers out to breakfast to solicit their opinions), his article got us here at Preneur HQ thinking about how surveys can be used creatively.
Lusky is mostly writing from a customer satisfaction perspective – an industry that often uses surveys delivered after the work has been done – to gauge the effectiveness of customer-facing employees. But what we like more than helpful customer service reps are increased conversions.
So, if we take Lusky at his word that people are, in fact, tired of getting hit with surveys right-and-left, yet we understand that surveys can be great tools, we infer that increased opt-ins and conversions are actually more beneficial to the profitability of your business than satisfaction evaluations.
Episode #128 of PreneurCast , “SPIN Selling and The 7 Levers of Business,” introduced you to the concept of SPIN selling. SPIN Selling is both a book and a framework by Neil Rackham. The book is based on science, and it encourages you to use questions to generate sales, as opposed to simply making various cold offers.
SPIN is an acronym for four types of situation questions, as follows:
This essay expands on the ideas put forth in episode #128, and connects SPIN with The 7 Levers of Business, with a particular focus on two of the levers: Opt-Ins and Conversion. (More on SPIN, later in this essay).
In this essay, we’ll look at the following:
- Why survey your audience?
- The best questions to ask your audience…
- Questions for Increasing Opt-Ins
- Questions for Increasing Conversions
- Tools for Crafting Surveys and Questionnaires
In addition to all that, we’ll include a convenient cache of questions you can swipe and deploy for both opt-ins and conversions. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get started with better questionnaires and surveys.
Why survey your audience?
A humourous (albeit, largely accurate) article from America’s National Public Radio lampoons the rampant proliferation of online surveys. The article is itself a fictional survey about surveys, but even as such, it offers a highly relevant quote from Nancy Mathiowetz, former head of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
“The survey and opinion research profession, as well as the media, needs to do a better job of helping the public understand the differences between junk data and high-quality surveys,” said Mathiowetz.
Those of us in the marketing profession certainly love surveys, but we’re all also committed to cutting through the “noise” of the digital space. That is why it is important to deploy helpful, result-oriented surveys. To achieve this goal, we need to ask ourselves why we should survey our audiences in the first place.
The answer, though isn’t all that simple.
The problem is that many companies consider surveys nothing more than tools for gauging customer satisfaction. Don’t get us wrong – we think customer satisfaction is important. But that’s a reactive use of surveying. Surveys, though, are most beneficial when used proactively.
This position is supported by Survey Gizmo’s Christian Vanek, who writes:
“Without exception, surveys and feedback systems should be based on a desire to change or take action. If you set out to measure customer satisfaction what action are you trying to take?”
“As far as I can tell a customer satisfaction score has no action that can be taken (at least not directly). It’s just a number without a story.”
And that last bit, the part about the story, brings us to a more profitable rationale for conducting surveys.
This rationale is articulated in an article from The Huffington Post from 2012, in which blogger Julia L. Rogers advises you to “focus on the narrative, not the number.” And that’s our key takeaway: effective surveys help your prospects fill-in their stories. With the right line of questioning, you provide a solution to a tangible problem, and you solidify your company as the right provider of that solution.
It all starts with asking the right questions to suit the desired outcome: Opt-Ins or Conversions.
The best questions to ask your audience…
We have recently discussed micro-commitments in another essay. In that essay, we referenced an article from App Sumo which explains that certain questions give your customers a heightened sense of personal investment in the outcome of the questionnaire.
As we told you then, this has to do with the Forer Effect – the notion that when people take a survey, they find ways to confirm the results for themselves, potentially resulting in buying a solution to a problem that they’ve defined.
This is why personality and “perfect mate” questionnaires are so popular. When a survey is quite obviously interested in “you,” you have a hard time leaving the survey unfinished. The desire to know something about yourself – to be validated for the answers you provide – is strong enough to drive you to go ahead and enter your email address, just to see the results of a personality questionnaire.
Your customers are chiefly interested in themselves, or what they are trying to accomplish, at the very least.
For example, if you are a business consultant, you might find a way to include in a questionnaire the question “What is the name of your business?” This will serve two purposes (one now, one later).
Firstly, this question will impart a sense of personalisation for your prospect.
Secondly, it will give you the information – the name of the prospect’s business – which can elevate the level of personalisation of future marketing communications by your consultancy.
What you are really after is forging a narrative – a “choose your own adventure,” you might say. The “story” really has two potential outcomes: the prospect qualifies as your customer, or yours is not the right solution for their problem.
The questions you need to ask are the ones that help you arrive at that determination.
Questions for increasing opt-ins
Certain types of questions come in handy when you want to increase opt-ins.
As much as we’d love to unveil some secret hoodoo to explain how a questionnaire for opt-ins should look. HubSpot offers prospects a free trial of its services. To get to the free trial, the prospect need only fill out a short questionnaire, seen here:
Note that HubSpot asks “Does your company sell any of the following services?” which is a good question to help identify qualified leads. In the spirit of testing things out, we discovered that if you answer “no” to that question, you go nowhere. The page simply reloads and offers you the chance to say yes.
This simple question makes sure no free trial is wasted on an unqualified lead. This kind of thing might not do much to actually increase qualified opt-ins, but it no doubt does wonders for the quality of HubSpot’s active leads.
So, the first kind of question you might ask your audience some variant of “Do you need what we offer?” as HubSpot has done.
But questions for opt-ins can be considerably more complex than that.
Our friend James Tuckerman serves up a seven question survey at one of his sites, Entrepornography.com. The survey asks the following questions:
1. What best describes your circumstances?
2. What type of human are you? (male or female)
3. So, you’re a human in our demographic. But do you like to share? Are you generous with your knowledge?
4. You like to share. That’s great! But do you like to learn?
5. Let’s be serious. Do you like to have fun?
6. Which of these business challenges can we help you with?
7. Want us to send you a surprise treat to help you overcome your business challenge?
James’ survey, as you can see, collects quite a bit of information about the prospect. When someone truthfully answers the questions James presents, he learns something about the prospect’s goals.
The survey also weeds out bots, and it assesses the lead’s fit with James’ content, which is all about sharing. This survey even ends by asking for permission to contact the lead with future marketing materials.
This survey is clever, as it focuses on the lead, and qualifies them to themselves more than it qualifies them to Entrepornography.com. By answering personalised questions, the prospect concludes that, in fact, the offer is perfect for them, personally.
You can apply similar lines of questioning to the surveys you put to your audience. Here are some to help you get started.
Swipe + Deploy: Questions for increasing opt-ins
1. What kind of business are you in?
2. Who are your customers?
3. Are you open to new (ideas/ways of doing things/products/services)?
4. Are you perfectly happy with your current profits?
5. Do you need help with your business?
6. Have you tried and failed at fixing your problems yourself?
7. Would you describe yourself as a/an (industry) professional?
8. Are you struggling to reach your goals?
9. Do you feel frustrated with your current results?
10. Have you been looking for insights and information relating to (industry)?
11. Do you feel like you could be more successful with some expert advise?
12. Do you like sharing with other industry experts?
Questions for increasing conversions
Crafting surveys and questionnaires for conversions is a bit more challenging than conjuring up ones for opt-ins.
Dave, The Launch Coach, discusses the power of the survey as a sales tool at his site. Dave’s top priority in creating surveys is respecting the readers’ attention:
“One of the key reasons that a lot of people don’t like most surveys is because far too many of them are long and boring – and you know this from experience. That’s why you’ve got to make sure that you honor your reader’s “attention budget,” that subtle mental calculation they make about how much trouble your survey is to answer.”
Dave’s recommendation of attentiveness to the prospect’s attention is spot-on when it comes to surveys designed to generate conversions.
Not everyone thinks of surveys as sales tools. Someone who does, Josh Gordon, author of Tough Calls, one of the earliest books to advocate creative uses of surveys way back in 1997, tells us that selling with surveys inherently involves selling some “drama.”
“If your client is not emotionally involved in a survey’s outcome, you can do a Personal Sales Survey, have the results break your way, and still not win the sale,” writes Gordon on his blog.
Gordon advocates leveraging the Forer Effect in sales surveys. Gordon recommends that you survey your customers’ “passion.” In our view, that means looking at your business – that is, your “passion.”
Seek to find the common ground between you and your customers. This is often a matter of record (so to speak) if you’ve already worked out buyer personas for your business.
Looking at your ideal customer can help you come up with survey questions that speak to shared interests with your customers. More importantly, examining the “passion” of your nice can reveal opportunities to solve prospects’ problems. This becomes the foundation on which you build customer questionnaires.
To create surveys that sell, you’ve first got to have a firm grasp of the common problems of your target market. You might arrive at this by researching internal analytics, seeking insights into what goods or services are successful, or what content receives the most views on your website.
Say for example that you sell several comparable plumbing products you might ask survey questions designed to help qualify the prospect for one product or another. If you offer various accounting services, you might consider surveys to herd different customer types, like large or small businesses, to different offerings befitting their respective needs.
This is where the SPIN Selling method we mentioned earlier becomes important.
To recap, SPIN Selling involves choosing questions based on four factors: situation, problem, implication, need/pay-off.
This type of question seeks background information. Situation questions should be concise, with minimal “small talk.” You don’t want to ask too many questions. A few pointed questions should lead you to the most relevant information – in the given situation.
The most basic situational question is: “What [product/service] are you currently using?”
Situational questions are meant to give context to the rest of the conversation.
Problem questions help you identify problems held amongst your customers. The answers should reveal opportunities to meet the needs of your prospects.
The most basic problem question would be: “Are you happy with your [product/service] right now?”
With problem questions, you are setting up the conversation for the next – and perhaps most important – part.
Implication questions help you bridge a perceived problem with your solution. To do this, you need to escalate the problem to make it seem more immediate – and thus, more imminently solvable, by you.
The most basic implication question is: “Does [relevant shortcoming] of [current product/service or lack thereof] cause you to incur added costs?”
Here, you’re stating a possible result of the stated problem, and setting up the need/pay-off step in the process.
Need/pay-off questions seal the deal. Need questions are designed to expose the reason for buying into your offer. These questions connect the conversation with a need that your business can fulfill.
The most basic type of question here is “Would a better [product/service] reduce your costs [or otherwise improve your business].
Assuming the answer to this question is “yes,” then you have the perfect opportunity to offer your solution.
Obviously, you need to connect SPIN questions with your unique business and it’s customers. To do this, try the following:
- Write down a handful of problems your target audience faces. Connect these questions with the solutions you provide.
- Write out a few questions that you could use to expose the underlying problems of your audience.
- Write down some results of the problems (e.g. High costs or low traffic, or whatever the case may be)
- Jot down the need/pay-off questions that most squarely connect your prospects with your unique offer.
The more you understand your target market, the easier time you’ll have with creating selling questions. If you have done extensive market research, you can easily draw from your data in that area to help craft selling questions.
Swipe + Deploy: Selling questions (with SPIN steps in parentheses)
1. What [product/service] are you currently using? (Situation)
2. How long have you been using it? (Situation)
3. How many employees within your organisation use the [product/service]? (Situation)
4. Are you happy with your current provider? (Problem)
5. How hard is it to get the job done with your current provider? (Problem)
6. How reliable is the current solution you are using? (Problem)
7. Are you incurring added costs as a result of using your current solution (or no solution at all)? (Implication)
8. Is your business suffering because of your current provider? (Implication)
9. Do you employees have trouble getting results with your current system? (Implication)
10. Would a (faster/better/more reliable) solution help your business? (Need/pay-off)
11. Would a (faster/better/more reliable) solution help your employees achieve their goals? (Need/pay-off)
12. Would a new solution benefit your business is some other, measurable way? (Need/pay-off)
Tools for Crafting Surveys and Questionnaires
Lastly, we’ve compiled this list of tools to help you create and deploy surveys. One of our favourites is Google Docs (believe it or not!), which has a great forms feature. We like this feature because customer-facing forms connect to spreadsheets inside Google Docs, which helps you see survey data conveniently, as well as share it amongst your team.
The video below explains it well:
That’s our top pick, but these apps will help you get the job done, too:
What are you waiting for?
If you’re not currently using surveys to connect with your customers, or you’ve been simply using them to gauge customer satisfaction, we hope this essay has helped you see some of the possibilities of using compelling surveys and questionnaires to increase opt-ins and conversions.