Customer research can be one of the most valuable assets to any marketing program. Whether you’re looking to refine your messaging, re-position your brand, or even develop a new product, getting real feedback and opinions from your target customers can make any project better. Yet, sometimes, as marketers, you may find this to be challenging with a limited budget. Below are some “quick win” ways to get great and quick customer research without breaking your budget.

One thing to note – I do not have a market research background, so often I ask colleagues with a research background to review my survey questions or poke holes in my methodology when I’m running quick customer research. If that’s not available to you – try some light Googling to get some survey question basics and avoid traps like “leading questions.” Although not perfect, these tips are all in the spirit of “Some research is better than no research.” 

Tactic #1: Email survey

The quickest way to get the most respondents for a research study is to tap into your existing email lists and send out a survey. Try to segment your email lists in a way the makes the most sense – for example, you might send different emails to each group of current, churned, and prospective customers. Many companies are nervous to do this because they don’t want to bombard their customer base with another email, but planning ahead and finding an appropriate timing to slot this in can go a long way. I recommend Google Forms for creating a quick survey, since they also make it easy to see the results in real time. Make the survey more enticing by offering an incentive (see more on that below) and keeping it really short and sweet.

I recently used a survey to test messaging by creating 4 mock home pages with different taglines and asking people to rank their favorites, and why. The results were illuminating – and we got enough responses in 3 days to be able to make an informed decision.

If you’re just starting out and don’t have an email list to tap from, try the “friend of a friend” approach, and ask your recipients to send to their friends to get responses. I’ve seen this work well for quick surveys that are trying to get a gauge on creative things like company names.

Tactic #2: Quick phone interviews

If you have the bandwidth and want to go deeper, 30 min interviews with at least 5 or more customers can go a long way. Any less than 5 and you risk leaning heavily on one individual respondent’s responses. The trick with interviews is to develop a script – and to ask every customer the same set of questions. Then when you are looking at all of the answers on a spreadsheet, you can quickly review all the answers for the same questions together.

The biggest pain for interviews is the scheduling – I recommend sending out an email (to a similar list as your survey list above) and including a bookable button from a free service such as YouCanBookMe.com. This site allows you to set the time zones and times that work for you and let people book directly on your calendar.

To take the call, try UberConference, another free service that lets you dial in by phone or online, and also allows you to record the call (if you’re accessing from your desktop). Absolutely make sure you ask for permission before recording the call – it is illegal in some places (like California) to record without someone’s consent.

If you need to show any mocks or have a person walk through an interface as part of your study, send them a link in advance and use a program like Google Hangouts to share your screen.

I’ve been surprised at how many people will sign up for an interview without an incentive – but they are almost always existing customers who are happy with your product and want to make it better. However, if you’re getting stuck or trying to reach out to prospective or churned customers, you will likely need to offer an incentive that’s worth their time.

One caveat here is to make sure your interview pool is not biased, or to account for it when you are presenting the research. If these are your top customers, for example, they might get better service or have a better experience and might not be able to give you as many valuable insights as customers that decided to go to another company.

Tactic #3: iPad surveys @ a conference

If you want to be really scrappy, try bringing an iPad with a pre-loaded survey to a conference. This is a great way to get a lot of responses from your target audience  (assuming the conference you are at is geared towards this audience). This is also a good way to strike up conversations with prospective clients. Again, I like to use Google Forms for this. You can set up at a booth, or just walk around asking people to take your survey for $5. (Then hand them a crisp $5 – or a Starbucks card – the instant recognition it makes people’s day!). At one point doing this recently I had a line of people wanting to see what all the fuss was about – and how to get their $5!

Tactic #4: LinkedIn Messages

InMail or LinkedIn advertising can be a great channel for getting quick responses – either to take a survey or to recruit for an interview. The great thing about this is it allows you to target your perfect audience. Try different headlines, such as leading with an incentive, to see what your best response rate is.

Tactic #5: Recruit interviewees using respondent.io

Respondent.io is newish company that allows you to target really specific professionals to take surveys or set up customer phone calls. You can target by region, profession, and even role to recruit for a particular project. Note that this approach can be on the pricier side as recruiting certain roles might cost more than $100 for their time. It was really quick, however, and the insights I got were well worth the price.

A note on Incentives

It would be great if everyone would commit to your awesome research project out of the goodness of their hearts, but the reality is that people are busy – and they want their time to be worth something. For quick surveys, I recommend these approaches for incentives:

  1. A raffle – with either a larger monetary incentive ($250- $500) or something cool (the latest iPad, a chance to have lunch with your CEO – whatever you think your audience will care about).
  2. Something small like a $5 or $10 amazon gift card
  3. A small credit or discount to your business
  4. A donation to a charity

For interviews, you’re requiring more time, as well as making sure someone has to schedule a time with you – it’s less flexible. For interviews I generally try to budget $50 for 30 min if the customer is a prospect or a churned customer. Like I mentioned above, if you have existing customers, they may be thrilled for the opportunity just to give you feedback.

Other scrappy ideas? Leave a comment!

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