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Maximising B2B survey response rates

By Andrew Dalglish -

DIY research has been a hot topic recently.  Being agency side you’d expect me to dismiss the idea.  I don’t.  I think it has a role and sometimes makes good sense.  I also think there’s a growing realisation that this research lark is not as easy as it first seems.

Surely all you have to do is write a questionnaire, source a database of relevant contacts and then survey them using an online tool like Surveymonkey or by making a few calls?  Simple.  In theory, yes.  In practice, no.

The reality is that many won’t respond to your invitation and with few responses the reliability of the whole exercise can be called into question.  How then can you encourage participation?

Let’s first establish some realistic expectations about participation rates.  Typically only a minority of those invited to take part in a survey will do so.  However, the proportion however can fluctuate widely between situations.  For example, an online survey amongst ‘cold’ prospects might generate a 1% – 3% response rate whilst the same approach amongst employees is likely to generate a response in excess of 60%.  Our analysis of 50 recent projects (employing both online and more traditional methods) suggests that as three factors increase, so too do response rates:

  • The respondent’s level of interest in the survey topic
  • The strength of relationship held with the research sponsor
  • The strength of participation incentive offered

And as four factors decrease, response rates typically increase:

  • The seniority (or time poverty) of the audience
  • The extent to the audience is over-researched
  • The level of commitment they’re asked to make
  • The sensitivity of the subject area

How then can response rates be maximised?  The trick is to remember that you’re essentially asking a favour; for them to give up their time to further your business.  So, just as if you were asking a personal favour there are four rules:

  • Position it correctly.  This is a persuasion process so you need to start by making people warm to the idea.  Your initial approach needs to be professional and respectful.  The idea of participation needs to be made interesting and appealing.  Any potential benefit to them needs to be made clear
  • Make it worth their while.  Two types of incentive can encourage participation.  The most common is financial such as a personal or charity donation.  The second, but often more powerful, is access to exclusive information as a result of their participation, e.g. access to the survey findings
  • Make it easy.  The less burdensome you make participation, the more likely you are to receive support.  Keep the survey short.  Make it clear exactly how long you are asking them to spend on it and if the survey needs you to speak to them one-to-one work around their diary not yours.  Guarantee confidentiality especially if the topic is sensitive
  • Be persistent.  Don’t give up if there’s no response at first.  Initiating one or even two reminders often boosts response rates significantly.  But be careful.  There’s a fine line between persistence and pestering

Find out more about Circle Research’s B2B research services here.

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