I’m often asked by clients whether they should add a particular service to their lineup of offerings, whether to add new functionality to their website, or what to name a new product.  Most of the time my answer includes “Go to the source.”

For the most accurate view of what your market prefers, ask your market.  One way is to pick up the phone and engage in direct conversations with customers.  But that can be time-consuming and expensive.  So here’s another great option.  Send an on-line survey.  With one stroke of a button you can canvass thousands of customers.  And if you’re trying to build your business (and who isn’t?) you can get to potential customers, as well.

Here’s some good news.  You don’t even have to be a technical genius to set it up.  There are online companies that do that.  But wait, it gets better.  Depending upon how large you intend to make your survey, it may be free.

I’ll give you an example.  With surveymonkey.com you can send a survey for free, provided the size doesn’t exceed 10 questions and you send it to fewer than 100 contacts.  (If you need more then it’s easy to upgrade, of course.)  And setting it up is a snap.

When the responses start coming in, you can login to surveymonkey.com to see the results for each question.  With this particular service you have the option of embedding a link to your survey in an email, uploading your email list to the site for them to send, or adding a pop-up to a page on your website.

As you’re creating your survey here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Select your audience.  Will you be sending this to your current customers, past customers, prospects, or all of the above? I’m not going to dig into quantitative analysis here, but realize that the number of responses should be large enough to be statistically significant.  In other words, if only a couple of people respond, you probably don’t have enough data to make a sound decision.
  2. Focus.  Don’t try to solve world hunger with one questionnaire. Determine which key pieces of information are needed.  Keep the questions to those with answers that you NEED to have versus those that are NICE to have.  You don’t want to turn off respondents by laying out a daunting list of questions.
  3. Make sure your questions are clear and unambiguous.  Have you ever taken a survey where you wanted to answer a question with “it depends”?   That’s exactly what you want to avoid.
  4. Proofread the questions.  Check your spelling.  Test your questions with a small group before you send it out en masse.

So the next time you have a pressing business decision to make, consider whether your customers might be able to answer it for you.