Using surveys in an attempt to gather (extract?) information from prospects is an old marketing tactic. But, since most people hate surveys, what did we, as marketers, do? We attached prizes to them, right? “Fill out this survey and be entered to win a ______” (fill in the blank with the inspired prize selection). Or perhaps we said “in exchange for your input, we’ll send you a $5 __________ card.” (Fill in the blank with the inspired card selection.) Sound familiar?

The Problem with Surveys

The problem with surveys is that they provided very little value to the survey taker. So you get the people who love doing surveys and the people who have axes to grind, and, as marketers, we seldom got results that could be taken to the bank, as it were. Certainly we didn’t get a broad enough representation of the market to produce an objective study – or even to use as a basis for making decisions.

I should pause a moment here and state that SOME surveys do very well – surveys done by big companies who will publish the results in a popular industry magazine, for example, or survey done by companies with track records for producing excellent studies. If you’re in one of those companies, this article isn’t really targeted toward you. I’m talking to the small and mid-sized businesses who need and want to a) generate more leads and b) understand more about their prospect pool, and which have NO track record in producing industry-leading, temperature-giving, thought-leading studies.

If you’re one of THOSE companies, sitting in a marketing or sales leadership chair, wanting more leads and/or to understand more about your prospect pool, you’ve no doubt already contemplated – and perhaps even run – a few surveys. You’ve used an online survey tool, downloaded the answers into a spreadsheet, and you’ve attempted to make sense of what you’ve learned. You’ve likely been disappointed with the number of responses you got.

I’ve Done It, Too

I went through all this myself. As the marketing leader in a small business, I tried the survey route. I felt all of the frustrations. I went through every step of this process – a painful process, because I had to look at my prospects, look at my leads, try to figure out how everything fit together, then try to figure out if I had enough information to formulate any kind of an action plan – all while busily mailing out Starbucks gift cards to those who had participated. Ugh.

Oh, and because I’m a bit of a data nerd, I didn’t want to use any open-ended questions. I wanted everything to be multiple choice, so I could easily drop responses into columns in my spreadsheet – so I could make everything fit into my vision of the world. (More on this later…)

Ultimately, if the only value I could offer to people was a gift card, or a chance to win a nice prize of some sort, I felt like I wasn’t saying much about our organization’s ability to impact THEIR organization. I started looking at the possibility of doing assessments, where those who responded would get a report, pretty much instantly, in which they could learn about changes they could make, or best practices that they weren’t doing, etc.

That’s when I found out how limited my options were. I could ask our development team to develop one – but they were busy on billable work, so that was a no-go. Or I could hire an outside company who specialized in creating online assessment tools – and that’s when my jaw dropped. The starting price for the type of assessment I wanted was $30,000. No way our small business could invest $30K into a tool like that!

Found a Solution

Fast forward to 2017. Earlier this year, Genoo released SurveyBuilder, a complete survey – AND ASSESSMENT tool – into its marketing automation platform – as a feature, at no additional cost to customers. Full disclosure #1: I work with Genoo, and, prior to joining the Genoo team, I was a Genoo customer who was BEGGING for survey capabilities in the platform for many years. Full disclosure #2: This article isn’t being written to sell you on Genoo or our other product, WPMktgEngine.

With the ability to do both surveys and full-on assessments, I can now offer value to potential responders far beyond what I was ever able to do before. Imagine asking a series of questions, and based on the answers, providing an instant report, right there on the screen, of whether they should be considering an upgrade, or if they’d be better off with a long board than a short board (I watched The Profit “W82” episode last night), or if they’re suited for yoga, or…. well, the possibilities are endless. We are now seeing assessments that do exactly those things and more – educational institutions trying to guide people to the right classes, software companies helping people know if they need to consider an upgrade, even a building products company trying to help people reduce their carbon footprint through their materials choices.

Assessments are cool, and return INSTANT value to the responders.

Relax and Use Open-Ended Questions

But let me go back to the original statement – these aren’t your 1990’s surveys any more. Earlier I mentioned that I wanted to make every survey question a multiple choice answer (or some other type of question that allowed ME to dictate how people could respond). I’m off that train. Allowing open-ended questions within a survey response is pure gold. People express things that we, as marketers, might have never even thought to include in a multiple choice answer set. One of the most successful surveys we’ve seen has been done by one of our clients, in which they ask the question, “If you could change one thing about your [software product], what would it be?” The answers have been amazing (we’ve been watching, with their permission) – potential clients have been expressing true pain points – and they never would have gotten those answers if they’d had a long list of “check all that apply.” This has allowed our client to engage with potential clients in new ways, and has been a great lead generation mechanism for them.

Mixing surveys with assessments – or even doing a survey that automatically offers an assessment at the right time – that is marketing power. That is listening to our potential clients. That’s winning at a whole new level.