The prevalence of low-cost online survey tools gives industrial marketers the opportunity to easily capture the thoughts and feedback of their customers. The results of a properly designed and targeted survey can help you make decisions about product direction, technical support policies, communication strategies with customers, and more.

To survey your customers, all you need is an objective, a customer e-mail list, and an online survey tool, such as SurveyMonkey ( or eSurveysPro ( There are a number of online survey tools out there; a quick Internet search will return many offerings.

What are the different types of surveys?
In the industrial space, there are two main types of surveys that marketing might conduct to gain valuable, actionable information.

• Market research survey — solicit customer feedback on potential new products or planned services.
• Customer satisfaction survey — this could entail satisfaction with products, services, your company, technical support, or anything else your company offers.

Why ask THAT question?
When conducting a customer survey, the first thing to do is define the reason you are surveying customers, what you expect (hope) to discover, and — perhaps most importantly — how you will use the survey results.

The reason this last item is so important is that you can use it as a litmus test for every question you ask in a survey. For example, let’s say your company manufactures ball bearings. You might ask this question: Which of the following types of bearings do you anticipate purchasing in the next year (check all that apply):

• Radial Ball Bearing
• Angular Contact Ball Bearing
• Mast Guide Bearing
• Thrust Bearing
• Slewing Ring/Turntable Bearing

Before including that question in your survey, ask yourself how the results will help you make an informed decision. If you discover from the answers that most customers anticipate needs for thrust bearings and radial ball bearings, will that information influence product or production decisions? If you don’t think you can use the results of a question to help make a decision, you probably don’t need it in your survey.

What questions have value?
The more you can gather quantifiable data from a survey, the more analysis you can perform on the results. Two types of effective questions that provide quantifiable data are a forced ranking question or a multiple-choice grid that allows only one answer per row.

Let’s say you make centrifugal pumps. You could ask a customer to rank the importance, on a scale of 1-7, of the following pump benefits:

• High Efficiency
• Low Maintenance
• Gentle Product Handling
• Low NPSH Requirements
• Long Seal Life
• Quiet Operation
• Reliability and Durability

In this question, your customer weighs the benefits in relation to each other and in that way prioritizes them. You might discover that the top two benefits are ‘Reliability and Durability’ and ‘High Efficiency.’ You can then evaluate your products against these benefits or highlight these features in your marketing communications.

Another way to present a question like this is in multiple-choice grid style, with each benefit its own row, and columns across the top with a ranking scale from, for example, ‘not important’ to ‘important’ or the 1-7 scale. In this way, each attribute gets ranked on its own, rather than in relation to other attributes.

How long should a survey be?
There is no set length for a customer survey, although ten minutes seems to be a magic number. Anything less and you might not capture enough information to make the survey worthwhile. Anything more and customers might not finish the survey. You should be able to create a 15-question survey that can be completed in ten minutes or less.

Consider it a best practice to tell customers at the beginning how long the survey should take to complete. And you will know how long it takes because you’ve tested and revised and tested again and again. A status bar showing the percentage of the survey completed is a nice touch. Most survey tools will offer this.

Your survey should be made up of multiple choice questions to help your customers quickly respond. You could include some questions like “Please provide additional information you would like to share about our products,” which require an open-ended response. However, you may not want to require a response to those questions, which brings us to…

Should we require an answer on all questions?
Probably. This comes under the thinking that if you don’t need an answer, you don’t need the question. The usual reason to make a question optional is that the survey taker may not be qualified to answer a question or may not know the answer, despite your effort at creating a relevant survey for a targeted list. Therefore, they might just choose any answer, which compromises the validity of your data. A way around this issue is to offer ‘N/A’ (not applicable) answer choices, or ‘Don’t Know.’

Do we need to offer an incentive?
The short answer is yes. An incentive for completing the survey, such as entering their name into a drawing for a cool electronic gadget or giving every customer who completes the survey a discount on their next order, can help you in several ways. First, it will increase your response rate. Second, it will demonstrate that you know your customer’s time is valuable and you are willing to reward them for their time.

How do we get the word out for customers to take the survey?
Since you’re offering an online survey, e-mail may be the best way to inform your customers that you’d like their input. You can send a separate e-mail to your mailing list or include it in a regular communication like a newsletter. Another idea is to have the e-mail come from the client’s customer service or sales rep or some other familiar name to make the e-mail more personal. You may need to also send a reminder depending on your response rate. Don’t forget to let your clients know it’s a quick survey and include your incentive in the e-mail.

What if my customers are concerned about privacy?
You should let them know up front that you take their privacy seriously and they can take the survey anonymously. If they wish to participate in the incentive, they may need to provide an e-mail address or other contact info but that, in no way, will be linked to their responses. Asking for general demographic information such as industry, job title, and company size is common but you really don’t need to ask for any personally identifiable information to create a successful survey.

How do we analyze the results?
Most online survey tools provide a wealth of analytic features, including the graphing of answers and the ability to create pivots that provide different views of the data. For example, you might have a question that asks about the size of your customer’s company. Then, while analyzing results, you might create a view that shows only the answers for companies of a specific size.

Have you conducted successful customer surveys? What were the keys to your success? What best practices would you like to share with other industrial marketers? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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