How to Survey Your Target Audience

You’ve come up with a great idea. You’ve talked one-on-one with people from the industry to validate that, yes, there is a known market need for the problem that you think you can solve. Learning about your target audience will provide valuable data points for validating your product.

Still, in the pre-concept phase, you are ready to get more specific about product definition. Before you move into the pre-seed stage steps of wireframing or building a prototype, you must find out what features potential customers want enough to pay for.

The quickest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to gain that external perspective is to send out a survey.

Customer interviews and surveys

Doing a survey may not sound all that exciting, especially after the direct interviews you did to validate the market need. But here’s the thing. Think about how much time it would take for you to talk with 25 people—days of phone calls, a couple of months to set up meetings, and then hours of sitting down and getting to know their needs.

Alternately, with eight to 10 hours of concentrated and well-directed effort, you can create and execute a survey that will get you feedback within a few days. It’s well worth investing $300 and less than a week to gather information to improve the probability of success for entrepreneurs who choose to proceed.

Approach the survey process with an open mind.

Rev1 Ventures advisors have sent out more than 300 surveys to help entrepreneurs define products and minimally viable feature sets. Here’s what we’ve learned.

The survey process must be intellectually honest to collect the most accurate information possible.

Any question will have a bias element. Responders will alter their answers, depending on the questions you ask.

Purchase survey lists based on defined criteria:

They are many survey list providers, for example: AYTM.COM or Supply your list criteria, and they will price it out. Target end-users, not buyers. If you were trying to find this person based on demographics or behavior, what would you look for? Age? Income? Career? Education? Something else? This is a good way to get some experience with the customer persona you’ve defined.

Accept that the survey process will be iterative. It’s a process of trial and error:

Plan on sending out a test batch of 10 or so surveys. Look at the results and then tweak. At the Pre-concept to Concept stage, you are trying to find answers to the big, hard questions. Do you pursue market A or market B? You don’t need that much information to make that decision, but your survey does need to be understandable. Include someone you know in the first survey batch to get feedback on the questions themselves.

Structure the survey in three sections:

  1. Lead with a block of general, demographic questions. These are the getting-to- know questions.
  2. Progress to a block of high level, probing research questions that ask about respondents’ behavior around whatever pain point your solution is targeting.
  3. The third block of questions asks about features. Introduce this section with a brief statement that puts the feature questions in context (without bias) so that the survey-taker has a decent idea of what you are talking about.

Conclude the survey with one open-ended question:

Thank responders for their input, then make the assumptive request of “please leave your additional feedback here.” You never know what additional information you are going to get.

  • You may receive encouragement—and that’s important at the Pre-concept stage, especially when it’s likely that from any survey, you are going to hear things you don’t like.
  • You may learn that question 2, or 7, or 9 was super confusing.
  • You may learn about a competitor that wasn’t on your radar before.

Standardize data responses:

Have a data collective template defined and ready. Collect all data—whether from surveys or interviews. You don’t get to pick and choose.

Always look for the story in survey responses:

The data always tells a story. Look for trends around demographics, behavior, and business classification.

Sometimes you might not understand the data’s story; sometimes it might not make sense. Then it’s up to you to become a detective and figure it out. That might mean scheduling customer interviews to ask direct questions about the contradictions in the survey response.

Three thou shalt nots:

  1. Resist surveying because you think you already know what customers are going to say. You don’t, I guarantee you’ll learn something.
  2. Write leading surveys. You are looking for the truth, not reinforcement of what you already believe.
  3. Be hopelessly optimistic. When 20 percent of the people surveyed say they find your solution direction interesting, that doesn’t imply that you can capture 20 percent of a 3 billion-person market. Survey respondents are biased toward the positive.

It’s important to define the success criteria for your survey. It could be the number of responders, a measure of responders who were detractors, neutrals, or promoters, or some other basis of success. The important thing is intellectually honest data collection and assessment.

For more information on survey tools, see our blog post “Guide to Survey Tools and Techniques“.