A well-designed survey can reveal what your customers want, what motivates them to buy and how to carve out a competitive advantage in the marketplace — a critical step for startups and small businesses planning to launch new products and services. The following details who you should send surveys to, which survey questions to ask and how many surveys you should send to effectively research your target audience — and position your business for success.

Who to send surveys to

Start with a basic understanding of your audience demographics, then send surveys accordingly. For example, a B2B software company might know it wants to target real estate agencies with at least ten agents and $5 million in revenue. Or, a lawn care service might know it wants to target parents with household incomes greater than $250,000.

If you’re targeting the general population, it’s OK to send surveys to friends, family and colleagues; but the better you target your surveys, the more usable insights you will glean. If you need help, try these tools for researching your target audience.

Survey questions to ask

The best survey questions are designed to yield responses you can use to fine-tune your marketing.

Demographic questions

The answers to these questions will help you create targeted marketing campaigns that reach your customer base.

If you target consumers, examples include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Marital status
  • Parental status
  • Education level
  • Own/rent a home
  • Ethnicity

If you target businesses, examples include:

  • Industry
  • Annual revenue
  • Annual marketing budget
  • Number of employees
  • Number of customers

Behavioral questions

The answers to these questions will help you understand your audience’s values, motivations and behaviors. That information will in turn help you develop your unique selling proposition, so you can compete in the marketplace. Examples include:

  • Who makes purchasing decisions?
  • Which competitor products do they use?
  • Where do they buy? Online, offline, from catalogs, etc.?
  • How often do they use a given product?
  • How often do they buy a given product?
  • Which competing brands do they buy from or recognize?
  • How do they research products and services before buying? (reviews, social media, online articles, search engines, etc.)
  • What are their biggest challenges?
  • What are their goals?
  • What features and benefits do they value in a product? (price, quality, convenience, etc.)
  • What is their level of happiness with their current source? What would they change about them?

survey questions

Survey question design

It’s important to design your survey questions to elicit accurate and measurable responses. Multiple choice, drop-downs, matrix ratings and star ratings make it easy to understand the results of your survey at-a-glance without the need to tediously sift through responses.

Text fields can be used for questions that require custom responses, though you should limit your survey to just a few of these to simplify analysis. Images can help customers understand your questions or provide visual comparisons; for example, if you want to know which logo they prefer.

Survey questions can be required or optional; however, the most important questions should be required so you can glean the insight you need.

More advanced surveys can employ skip logic, which alters questions based on previous answers. This can be used to funnel different customer segments to the most pertinent questions.

An online survey creator makes it easy to create different question types and deploy your survey in a mobile-friendly format that works on all devices. Some survey tools, like VerticalResponse, instantly analyze your results so you can act on insights right away.

survey results

How many surveys to send

You need to send enough surveys to generate a sample size that accurately represents your target audience, or population, with minimal margin of error.

In the survey world, two terms are used to describe the validity of surveys: confidence interval, which is margin of error, and confidence level, which is how certain you are that the results are accurate. In general, you should strive for a five percent or less margin of error and a 95 percent confidence level.

There are complicated equations that can project the confidence interval and confidence level of a given survey based on population size and the number of surveys sent, but you don’t need to reference those to send a successful survey.

Instead, use the following steps to determine how many surveys to send.

1. Estimate population size

Determine how many people are in your target audience.

2. Determine how many responses you need

The number of responses you receive is your sample size. For small audiences, you want to survey as many people as you can; for larger audiences, ten percent is a good representation, but only up to a few hundred responses. You don’t want to waste time and resources collecting survey responses you don’t need.

To simplify things, use the following guidelines to determine how many responses you need according to the size of your audience, adjusted to yield a five percent margin of error.

  • 200 audience members: 132 responses
  • 500 audience members: 217 responses
  • 1,000 audience members: 278 responses
  • 2,500 audience members: 333 responses
  • 5,000 audience members: 357 responses
  • More than 5,000 audience members: 384 responses

3. Determine how many surveys to send

Average survey response rates are 10 to 15 percent, though some surveys can yield 20 to 30 percent response rates. To be safe, estimate a 10 percent response rate.

Since you know how many responses you need, you can divide that number by .10 to get the number of surveys you should send. For example, if you need 357 responses, you should send 3,570 surveys.

That works for larger audiences, but what about smaller audiences? If your audience size is 1,000, you need 278 responses to yield a five percent margin of error, but the math doesn’t work out, because you’d need to send 2,780 surveys to achieve that. That’s more than the number in your audience! In this case, you can opt for a ten percent sample size. Your margin of error will be closer to ten percent, but if most of the responses are similar, that won’t matter. You can factor the margin of error into your results.

For example, if 70 percent of respondents say they like blue and 30 percent say they like pink, a ten percent margin of error would mean that 60 to 80 percent like blue and 20 to 40 percent like pink. In either case, you’ll still know blue is the preferred color, and your survey will still be valid.

Armed with these tips, you can develop winning surveys that yield actionable results that grant your business a competitive advantage.