As we mentioned in our Part 1 post in April, being an entrepreneur sometimes feels like you’re playing the guitar while you’ve got a tambourine on top of your head, a harmonica in your mouth, and cymbals between your knees. Because of this, there are a lot of things that entrepreneurial companies try doing themselves, even if they’ve never done it before. Customer and market research is often one of these areas. Because most entrepreneurial companies are not in a position to hire a market research professional, earlier this year we created a basic how-to research class for 1871, Chicago’s tech incubator: Top Ten Research Mistakes Made By Entrepreneurs. The most common research mistakes I encounter fall into three main camps: – Research methodology selection – The questions asked and the answer choices provided – The care & feeding of respondents/participants Today’s post covers the second of the three categories: Questions & Answers Mistakes #3-7 3. Asking “nice-to-know” questions Don’t squander the opportunity when someone has actually agreed to speak with you. Make sure you only take up their valuable time with your must-know questions. You’ll know it’s a need-to-know question if you can clearly articulate what the answer will enable you and your company to do differently. 4. Mindlessly making your questions mandatory Making a question mandatory is basically signaling that if the respondent doesn’t answer that one question, it’s not worth it to you to get their answers to any of your other questions. In my experience, this is typically not the case. So avoid mandatory questions if you can. 5. Writing ambiguous questions and/or answers This seems to be driven by two things: A) Being too close to your subject matter and assuming that everyone sees the world the way you do; B) Trying to limit the number of questions by mashing multiple questions together. Having the word “and” in a question is one indication that you may be trying to combine more than one question into a single sentence. One way to check for ambiguity is to have someone you know take the survey. Ask him or her to talk through their answers to each question as well as their understanding of what the question is asking. This should help you identify some of the ambiguities. Here’s an example of an ambiguous question: How many technology professionals does your firm employ? You need to realize that the way that you define “technology professional” might be very different from how your respondent defines it. 6. Assuming you know all the possible answers Always add an “N/A” or “Other – Please specify” answer option to any multiple choice list. For example, one of my clients originally had this question on their survey: Please tell us your objective in participating in our program: • Weight loss • Get fit • Feel better • Visit Brazil • Personal Growth The problem here is what if the respondent’s answer isn’t included in this list of choices? Providing the answer option “Other – Please specify” not only gives voice to other perspectives, but may help you identify a new/different category for use in future research. 7. Playing fast & loose with Net Promoter Score Ay yi yi. I hate to even get started on this and am constantly appalled at what people do to this question. Regardless of your opinion about Net Promoter Score (NPS), please remember that the scale must be 0-10 in order to be able to calculate NPS correctly. While I disagree that the NPS is the only number you need to know (learn all about NPS in the original HBR article The One Number You Need to Grow), it can be a good indicator of brand health. That said, it gives you no information regarding how to improve, and that’s why I recommend including it in a suite of satisfaction questions. It is fun to have a brand health benchmark that you can compare to the scores of other companies. For example, did you know that the median score (2013) was only a 16?! At that time, Southwest Airlines had a 51, Apple had a 77 and Harley Davidson had the mind-blowingly high score of 81. All in all, avoiding these common market research mistakes will not only help you make better use of your time and resources, it will get you information you can use to drive your company forward for future growth in a more informed way! Up next, the final installment: The Care and Feeding of Your Respondents.