An early-stage investor in Chickety Split, a healthy ready-to-eat food product that you can buy in grocery stores, recently asked me to take a look at a survey that the founder, Fred, is preparing to send out.
The investor, Harry, explained that he was seeking my advice because he expected that the survey would result in a disappointing outcome for Fred. However, with no experience in survey construction, Harry was having a hard time providing specific actionable feedback to improve the survey and its results. My first question for Harry was: What is Fred’s survey objective? Whenever you do research, this is a key first step. It’s important that you have a question that requires specific, statistically significant data. Fred’s objective was to get insight into how Chickety Split is used by consumers.
With this “soft” objective, qualitative research would be a better choice, as that’s what’s generally used for gaining deeper consumer insights. Plus, I’m guessing that Fred only has a few hundred people in the Chickety Split database. That’s not enough to get statistically significant results. Fred may want to consider interviewing actual customers instead of sending out a survey. By doing this, he’ll get a richer, more in-depth understanding of his target consumers, which he seems to need.
After reviewing the survey, I agreed with Harry’s overall concerns. I don’t think the results are going to help Fred make any business decisions.
My email to Harry:
You’re right, Harry, there are a lot of problems with the survey as it’s written. The problems include 1) ambiguous wording, 2) two questions in one, and 3) answer choices that are uneven and sometimes don’t even align with the question.
- None of the questions of the Chickety Split survey are mandatory. This is a great move! By making a question mandatory, you’re basically saying that the question is so important that if they don’t answer that question, you don’t want to hear their answers to any of your other questions.
- Each of the multiple choice questions includes an option for “Other, please specify.” This is smart, because there’s no way Fred can know all of the possible answers. The key is to list the most likely ones for easy analytics but still allow room for someone to manually enter a different option.
Fred’s mistakes here are ones we see new entrepreneurs making over and over when it comes to survey research. But you can see how precision can matter a lot when it comes to asking questions in a way that will provide real, actionable data.
Just because survey tools make fielding quantitative research easy, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do this kind of research. That’s why I often recommend that entrepreneurs without real research experience stick with qualitative research early on as they’re learning about their customers and the marketplace. If you want to learn how to ask great qualitative questions, pick up a copy of Talking to Humans by Constable and Rimalovski. It’s a “practical guide to the qualitative side of customer development.”