A strategy is only as good as the information you have. Conducting primary research is an excellent way to gain valuable insights for successful planning. But getting the most useful answers from primary research requires asking the right questions. That begins with developing a well-crafted questionnaire — one of the most important steps to any survey.
Every survey project is unique with selected audiences and data collection methods creating their own limits and rules for questionnaire development. The key is to establish the end goal and to work backward from it.
The first step is to determine what information is needed and how it will be used. Next is to identify gaps in the information you already have and who can best provide that information to complete the picture.
Keep in mind that you may not be able to gather all the data you need at once. It may be necessary to gather an initial set of data before determining what else you need to know.
For example, when gathering data on consumer preferences for a new service or product, an initial survey may be used to identify what type of service or product is preferred. A follow-up survey can help to understand more specific preferences about that type of service or product.
It is important to ask only for useful information. (It does not necessarily need to be used for the end goal; it just needs to be useful.) Suppose you already know you cannot feasibly lower product prices or have no intention of doing so. There would be no point in asking whether the respondent would buy more products if the price were lowered.
Not only is it a waste of time and resources to gather data that will never be used, but it also raises the risk of damaging customer relationships. Especially with smaller and more invested audiences, asking questions and failing to act on the information gathered can create negativity and distrust.
Top-level questions in a survey provide similarly top-level answers. By asking follow-up questions, the data becomes more useful. Asking “why or why not” can make a significant difference in how you understand the data and are able to utilize it in strategic planning.
Still, it is best not to overburden respondents with overly lengthy questionnaires or too many open-ended questions. Asking too much of the survey audience decreases response rates and leads to less reliable data due to respondent fatigue.
With some exceptions, survey questions should typically be worded for a fourth or fifth grade level reader — not because they lack intelligence, but because their time is worthy of respect. Always assume that the respondent is busy. Rather than taking more of their time than necessary, it is important for those developing a survey to make it easily and instantly understood.
Following these guidelines will provide favorable response rates and data that guides a successful strategy.