I have this impression, which I can’t substantiate with empirical data (other than the empirical data that I have this impression), that every online marketing ‘guru’ says that surveys are a great marketing tool.

The argument goes something like this:

  • people love completing surveys;
  • surveys are easy to whip up and there are tools online to make them easy to run;
  • you get a lot of information which you can re-cycle as a report, an article etc;
  • by publishing the results, say in a newsletter, you present yourself as an expert in your field
  • ergo, people are more inclined to buy your products or services.

Logical enough.

And when colleagues ask me to participate in their surveys I like to please.

But I do believe there are some courtesies to be observed, not least the acknowledgement that this request might just be a bit of an intrusion on someone’s working day.

In that vein, it bothers me to receive emails like the one I got a couple of weeks ago which purported to be asking me a ‘quick question’ about my business. The suggestion was that my responding would help a professional association to which I do not belong.

OK, I thought, this is a person who is respected by peers and is evidently very successful. So I read on and was asked to take a ‘couple of minutes’ to answer the ‘quick’ question, which was actually three questions:

  • where do you want to see your business in 12-36 months?
  • what do you feel are your three biggest obstacles to getting there?
  • what specifically could help you overcome these obstacles?

Apart from being intrigued by the fact that the email says nothing about the methodology, what will be done with the results, whether I will later get a report of the consolidated returns, etc etc, I was taken aback by the presumption that I could answer such complex questions in a ‘couple of minutes’.

The fact that, without any indication of confidentiality, I was being asked to share commercially sensitive information with people in the same line of business had presumably not occurred to the writer.

So I replied as courteously as I could and, while wishing the person well with the survey, said I did not see how I could answer those questions in a couple of minutes.

Am I surprised that I’ve not heard back? Not really. For a moment I thought I might get a response. After all, the email was addressed ‘Dear Des’ and signed off ‘Warmly’. But of course, that’s autoresponder setup step one . 

I’ve been thinking about doing some surveys to help me position some products and services better, so this experience is very timely.


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