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Low-Cost, Hosted Online Surveys Open up Opportunities for Businesses to Quickly Gain Insights Into and Be Responsive to Their Market Needs

By Anne Ramstetter Wenzel, for Hostedware Corporation

 

Hosted web survey companies have emerged over the past several years to provide business owners, managers, and professionals with the ability to quickly conduct their market research surveys via the Web. Conducting web-based surveys is a low-cost method for you to monitor market trends and developments on a regular basis. Surveying people or companies who buy your type of products or services can lead to insight into why they buy, how they choose their vendors, and what their purchasing plans are for the future.


You can use surveys to evaluate packaging alternatives, brand-name awareness, or reactions to a new company's name. You can survey recent purchasers of your type of product to find the typical age, income level, geographic location, sex, race, or education level of your potential customers. Web-based surveys, when taken by respondents via a web site via a hosted survey software company, lower market research costs for larger companies and allow smaller businesses with limited budgets to acquire strategic market information quickly and economically.


Hosted surveys are online software tools provided by companies that license the use of their technology for your use. Hosted web survey companies have invested in the hardware, software, programming time and expense, networking equipment and systems needed to develop easy-to-use programs you can use to conduct market research or customer-satisfaction surveys. Hosted web survey companies also continually provide server space, secure access, and disaster recovery plans for customer data protection. Most hosted survey companies provide tutorials, question templates, and customer service support along with their software so that you can quickly design and implement surveys.


There are no paper or survey printing costs associated with online, web-based surveys. Nor are there interviewer training or salary costs. With mail surveys, you pay for the production and postage costs of the survey, whether or not the survey recipient responds. With telephone surveys, you pay the interviewer to conduct the survey as well as listen to people decline the opportunity to take the survey. With hosted online surveys, however, you pay only for submitted survey responses.


For example, if you purchase a 500-response package from Hostedware, you pay $1.25 for each completed and submitted response, a fraction of what it would cost you to produce the survey, conduct telephone interviews, or mail the surveys, and sort through and code the results. Web-hosted survey results are coded and stored automatically by the hosted survey software, further reducing staff time needed to conduct surveys.


The low setup, e-mail distribution, and response costs of hosted surveys allow you to sample larger numbers of respondents over larger geographic areas. Generally, the larger the number of responses to your survey, the more likely your survey is to yield responses that truly represent the opinions, ideas, or demographic information of the market you're surveying. Web-based surveys enable you to survey large numbers of people or companies at a very low cost, yielding more useful and insightful results than smaller, manually conducted surveys.


Market information gathered from web surveys becomes available quickly: Most respondents will take the survey very soon after receiving the e-mail invitation. You can view survey results as they come in and easily analyze the results with automated reports provided by the hosted survey services. The "real-time" survey results enable your company to respond quickly to market information and insights gained from survey results. Hosted survey results are stored electronically and anonymously on a secure server, which saves on paper survey storage costs and allows business owners and managers who are authorized to view the results easy access to the data and reports.

Most hosted survey companies offer you the choice of using pre-designed templates with typical questions used on surveys. For best results, however, consider making use of the flexibility of creating your own survey questions and design. Make use of the ability to specify the fonts, colors, styles, and backgrounds for the final look of your survey.


When designing a questionnaire, consider how the data will be used. What are the marketing or sales people, production managers, or business owners trying to find out, and what type of decisions are they going to make based on the data?


For example, are they trying to learn the demographics of people who will buy the type of products or services the company sells? If so, you should ask buyers of your company's products about their income level, education level, race, sex, or any other demographic information decision-makers could use to refine their marketing efforts. If production managers want to forecast sales or the types of packaging they should order, create survey questions that will yield information about future buying plans or packaging preferences. Will the data you collect be relevant to decision-makers?

Multiple-choice or rating-scale questions are the easiest to design and the easiest for respondents to answer (e.g., "Please rate your level of satisfaction with our product: Very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied "). You should, however, consider adding open-ended or essay-style questions to your market survey. Although open-ended responses are not easily coded, they can add rich insight to your understanding of market needs and trends. Respondents will often share insights that would otherwise be difficult to share if given only multiple choice survey questions to answer.


Always pretest your survey. Pretesting for question clarity is most important. No matter how much thought you've put into your survey design, respondents will often view the questions quite differently than you would. Others may find your questions or survey instructions difficult to understand. The answer choices you've provided for respondents might not fit with the answer they would like to give. When inappropriate answer choices are given, respondents will either abandon the survey, or they will answer incorrectly in order to continue to progress through the survey. When you pretest and find that respondents are confused by some of your questions or you find that the answer options don't match up with respondents' true answers, you can redesign the survey for better results.


Pre-test for technical glitches: Make sure instructions are easy to follow and that scrolling from page to page and submitting the survey is easily done. Contact your hosted survey company customer support if something strange appears to be happening to the technical workings of your survey: They should be happy to help.


Conduct your first pretest on friends or colleagues in order to easily and inexpensively catch the most blatant survey errors. Redesign the survey in response to your pretest feedback, then conduct a second round of testing on a few people or companies from your larger pool of respondents, making sure you don't survey these same people again! Most often, hosted survey companies offer a small number of initial survey responses at no charge. Using your initial "free" responses for your pretest means the testing phase of your survey design will not require any out-of-pocket expenses for your company.


It's important to assure survey respondents that their anonymity and privacy will be protected. Privacy assurances are most often given in the introduction to the survey, but they can also be included at the close of the survey to make sure respondents hit that "Submit" button! You may consider adding a gentle reminder on the footer on all pages of a multiple-page survey that you will protect the respondents' anonymity and privacy.


Once you have refined your survey to ensure that you will gather the most accurate and usable results, you are ready to survey your respondents. If you don't have your own pool of e-mail addresses to survey, your hosted survey company should have pools of prescreened respondents' e-mail addresses you can purchase.


A general-type pool of respondents can be used, providing the first few questions screen the survey respondents and allow them to exit the survey quickly if they do not qualify as members of your potential market. Otherwise, you should carefully craft your pool of respondents to include people or businesses that fit the demographic profile of your typical customer, or have recently purchased the goods and services about which you are surveying.


Many hosted web survey companies allow you to utilize the richness that web-based surveys can offer by allowing you to import photos, videos, or animation to your surveys. Photos or movies help respondents to easily recognize the brands or products that they're evaluating. Respondents can easily evaluate the look of a product or package and provide feedback in the survey.

Animation or audio clips can give respondents additional information they can use for more carefully providing opinions about a new product, package design, or company name. Video, audio, and animation can also be used to provide the respondent with additional instructions on how to answer a survey or a particular question, helping to avoid misleading answers or unusable submitted surveys responses.


Including visual and audio aid makes the survey-taking process a more visual and enjoyable experience for respondents.


When conducting your first few web-based surveys, work closely with your hosted survey software company. If you are a business professional who wants to harness the strategic market information that surveys provide and you have little surveying experience, don't be afraid to ask for help and support. Make use of the technical and customer support that comes along with your hosted survey services. This will ensure that your first surveys get up and running as quickly as possible. Also, be sure to ask your hosted survey company to provide you with a pool of qualified respondents.


The primary benefit of using a hosted web survey is having your survey results delivered to you in a report format that is easy for you to read, understand, and interpret. You should be able to easily download your results with a single click into your favorite spreadsheet, database or statistical analysis software. If you don't have a statistician on staff, your hosted support company should provide customer-support professionals who will take time to explain statistical functions and measures relevant to your research results.


Real-time market research surveys are now available for business decision makers to use to their advantage. By using web-based surveys, you can now receive market information quickly and at a low cost, enabling your company to quickly plan and respond to emerging market opportunities.


Anne Ramstetter Wenzel (www.econosystems.com), economist, author and marketing consultant providing entrepreneurs, corporations and professionals with strategic economic and market information for use in business decision making and long-term planning.

 

Hostedware Corporation is a pioneer in providing online software solutions for research, education and performance improvement. Hosted Survey and Hosted Test are used by human resources professionals, market researchers, education and training organizations and membership associations worldwide.

 

 

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