Market Surveys for Small Business: How and Why to Carry out your own DIY Consumer Surveys

Marketing is widely seen as a complex science whose practitioners’ services – and fees – are beyond the reach of small business.

In practice many marketing techniques and practices are no more than applied common sense, and are essential tools in building and running a successful small business. One of the most useful marketing tools is the market survey, or consumer survey.

Why use a Market Survey?

A generalised market survey or customer survey of existing cutomers, can provide the answers to the four central questions which any business needs to ask:

  • Who are our core customers or clients?
  • What do they want?
  • How can we best provide it?
  • How can we tell them about it?

However, market surveys can also be used to answer more specific questions:

  1. How is a projected new product likely to be received?
  2. How do customers perceive the value of our product? Is our pricing right?
  3. Where should we place our advertising?
  4. Is our advertising cost effective?
  5. How do customers/clients perceive our business’s strengths and weaknesses?

Market or customer surveys can also be used to build up a customer database or mailing list, but this is likely to create legal obligations under Data Protection legislation, which should be checked.

Preparing a Market Survey Questionaire

Producing your own Market Survey Questionaire is quite easy if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Decide at the outset the key questions which you seek to answer.
  • Keep it short. Ten or a dozen questions on one A4 sheet should produce a useful result without testing the responder’s patience.
  • Avoid questions requiring a narrative answer. Best is a simple “yes” or “no” reply. Where you ask for gradings of approval, “smiley faces” may provide a simple, light hearted option – JKL. Answers can then be given a numerical value, making computer analysis easy.
  • Beware questions drawing on the responder’s memory. Questions like “Where did you hear about us?” often produce very unreliable results.
  • Any request for the responder’s name and address, is best made optional; anonymous answers often include some uncomfortably truthful but helpful criticism!

Completing the Market Survey Questionaire

Many people regard a request to take part in a market survey as an imposition on their time and privacy. These are the customers whose answers are often most useful and it’s important to encourage them to participate.

Offering a small reward for their time and trouble – a free gift, a money off offer, or entry in a prize draw – often helps.

How the survey is carried out may also help; options include:

  1. By completing a written form.
  2. On line on the internet.
  3. In a telephone conversation.
  4. In a face to face conversation.

Options 1 and 2 are generally the most successful provided the questions are simple and well framed, as responders feel less pressure and can choose when and where to answer.

Obtaining a Balanced Market Survey Sample

For a simple business with a homogeneous customer base a hundred or so responses may be enough to achieve a useful result.

For businesses with a more diverse customer base, for example with geographical or seasonal variations, a larger number of responses may be necessary to give a reliable result, and care is needed to reflect these variations in the survey sample.

Analysing the Results of A Market Survey

Provide the questions are simple, allowing the answers to be given a numerical value, anyone with basic computer skills can enter the results in a simple DIY database and draw useful conclusions.

Where you use computer analysis always check the Data Protection legislation implications.