Find Out What Customers and Prospects Really Want!
By Lois K. Geller
Years ago, when I was working at Vickers & Benson Direct in Toronto, Ken Harrigan, then chairman of Ford of Canada, called about a problem the company was having getting women buyers into Ford dealerships.
Its latest attempt was to offer a lovely cut-glass dish just for those shoppers who stopped by. It got a great response. The women would double-park in front of the dealership, dash in, hand over their response cards, get the dish and dash out.
We did some research and decided the best way to woo female prospects was to begin a dialogue with them and continue talking until they were ready to buy (and after … the dialogue was forever). And then we'd give them a relevant incentive for coming to a dealership.
How did we discern what they wanted and when they'd be ready to buy? We asked them.
We mailed surveys to hundreds of thousands of women, coast to coast and in two languages, merci beaucoup. We asked the women many questions that had nothing to do with buying a car. Among them were these keys: what kind of car they were currently driving, what they were looking for in a new car, and when they intended to buy it.
We enclosed a letter from Harrigan, telling them how interested he was in their response. As a gift for completing the survey, they'd get a great book called "Car and Light Truck Buying Made Easier."
When the surveys came back, we discovered that about 30 percent of the women who received our survey took the time to complete and mail it in. The campaign was successful as an information-gathering mission, and it started the relationship-building process.
We followed up with a regular newsletter, and after a while, women started sending us pictures of their families, cars, vacation pictures, even their husbands (in their old Chevrolets). It was great.
When they were a couple of months away from purchasing a new car, we sent them a certificate for $200 along with advance notice about upcoming incentives and sales. The $200 was a discount just for them, on top of any other incentives available to the rest of the world.
We told them to make their best deal and then whip out the $200 certificate. They loved that! It put us on their side.
Nearly half of the women who received the certificates sent thank-you notes, and many of them bought Fords!
By the way, the first newsletter gave them the results of the survey, and they liked that, too.
Surveys Truly Can Be Relationship-building Devices
I often hear that surveys are over-used, old-fashioned, transparent or gimmicky, and that people are too busy to fill them out. I don't think any of that's true of a good survey. (It's true about boring, product-oriented surveys that can be almost impossible to answer.)
Interesting surveys, surveys about "me," can get a great response. And they can uncover valuable information—and even start building relationships.
I learned from my experience with Ford of Canada that people like to be asked their opinions. And, if you ask in the right way and follow up quickly and relevantly, you're well on the road to a genuine dialogue, a relationship with people who are likely to spend money with you.
Of course, if you follow up with a mailer that doesn't refer to the survey or to their answers, you'll miss an opportunity. Think about the relationship, use the knowledge you gain to approach them in a way that meets their needs and expectations.
Thank them for their comments. Instead of the auto-reply e-mail message, "Thank for participating in our survey … ," try a more personal response, such as "Thanks for your comments about WHATEVER. I am working on trying to … ." It's more work, but this small gesture can have a big impact.
Developing Your Survey: What to Ask and How to Ask It
In general, if you ask people for their opinions, you'll get them. However, asking: "What brand of coffee maker do you use? Please tell us how many cups it makes, where you bought it, etc." just won't grab them.
Try instead: "How do you like your coffee, with milk and sugar, straight up, etc." You can lead into the coffee maker question later if that's what you care about.
It helps if you offer some kind of incentive for responding. The incentive should be inexpensive with a high-perceived value, unique and valuable all by itself. Anything on paper (such as the Ford book) is great. A follow-up incentive such as the $200 certificate doesn't really cost anything because people have to buy something to use it.
Note: The math is interesting in this kind of offer. One Ford executive said the $200 was a waste if she was going to buy a Ford without the incentive.
That's not true for a number of reasons: The $200 might lead to a more expensive option package; it makes the customer feel good about Ford; it moves the purchase date up … in this case we learned how to move the date up nine months; and, of course, many of these women wouldn't have bought a Ford without the certificate.
Does it matter how you design the survey? Certainly. Questions must be relevant and easy to answer. (As soon as I have to look up something or wonder what the question means, they lose me.) The questions have to be clear and not open to several interpretations. Most importantly, the questions have to be about the customer (or prospect) and not just about products or the company.
How long should a survey be? No longer than necessary. That doesn't mean it has to be short. It just has to be constantly relevant to the person completing it.
Too many irrelevant questions or too many answer options can dissuade people who might otherwise be inclined to participate. They'll skip questions, read only part of a question, or just stop in the middle of your survey. A good, sharp question can replace two or three poorly worded or redundant ones.
Make sure the language is simple. Avoid fancy words (e.g., say "use" instead of "utilize"). The biggest mistake I see in many surveys is the assumption that customers know what you're talking about when you mention something like "Model 2XcZ6." Your design engineer might know what that means but your customer doesn't.
Need a good rule of thumb? Give your survey to your parents or your grandparents. If they can't fill it out, you have a problem.
Surveys Work in Myriad Situations
Information gathering surveys work for just about any kind of business. For example, a pet store could ask people in the neighborhood about their dogs and cats, what their pets like to eat, what they don't like, etc. The incentive could be a simple 50-percent-off coupon on a case of pet food.
Do you use surveys to discover more about people who are buying or might buy your products? I'd love to hear what's working for you! Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOIS K. GELLER is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in New York City. Mason & Geller creates direct marketing plans, direct mail campaigns, direct response commercials and other offline and online strategic services for blue chip businesses as well as smaller companies. Author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing" and "Customers for Keeps," Geller developed the popular corporate training seminar "Direct Marketing Boot Camp," which she has delivered to more than 100 top organizations. If you have any direct marketing questions, e--mail her at email@example.com, visit www.masongeller.com, or go to www.targetonline.com/creativecorner.