Conducting Super Surveys: Tricks of the Trade

Most organizations find that standard surveys are all they need to help them maintain competitive pay levels. On occasion, however, special needs demand data which can only be obtained by conducting a custom survey.

Custom surveys give the sponsoring organization the freedom to go after precisely defined information (selected jobs from a targeted group of organizations, defined by industry, location, size, or other characteristics). The trick is knowing how to obtain cooperation from your targeted organizations by loading your survey with participant appeal - the steak and the sizzle.

Over the course of our practice, we have conducted many successful surveys and have perfected our techniques. Here are a few of our guidelines:

Be relevant. Free to design a survey to suit their own needs, management often fails to include questions that interest the invited participants. The net result is likely to be a disappointingly small response.

Link form to function. Start by making a list of the type of information you want to present in your final report. Compose the questions necessary to get to the data you need. Sort the questions in logical sequence. Maintaining that sequence, design a spreadsheet that contains a field (column) for each question to be asked. Finally, construct a questionnaire that survey participants and data-entry operators alike will be able to speed through.

Be clear. Don't ask questions that are ambiguous or that assume a condition that may not exist

Take your questionnaire for a test run. Ask members of your own staff or a colleague in another organization to read through the questionnaire and report anything that they find puzzling or hard to answer.

Don't pinch pennies. Create a professional-looking survey package, including a user-friendly response form and a self-addressed, stamped envelope - or clear instructions for return faxes or telephone calls. Remember, your survey instrument speaks volumes about the probable quality of your final report.

Reach out and 'touch' somebody. Surveys that arrive in the daily mail often make a quick trip from the 'in' basket to the wastepaper basket. This is far less likely if you've first introduced yourself, your company and your survey over the phone.

Sell yourself - and your survey. You must be prepared to convince your invited participants of your professionalism, honesty and ability to keep their data completely confidential.

Describe the content and benefits of your survey briefly and enthusiastically. Make sure that you spotlight your survey's special values to the participants.

Be prepared to fluently share the names of invited participants, job titles, type of data requested, analysis methodology, survey deadline, and nature/date/cost of the report, if asked.

If you have a good sense of humor, use it; if you don't, at least smile when you talk. Smiles can be heard.

Time your survey carefully. Avoid last-minute decisions to do a 'quick' survey. You can't get answers from an empty office. Your participants may be hard to track down. They could be on vacation, at a seminar, on sick leave or in the middle of a company crisis. When you finally get through, you may find that you've been pursuing the wrong person and you must start anew. Expect the unexpected - and plan accordingly.

And most importantly, if you can't do it right, don't do it at all. Don't practice on something this important. If you don't have the expertise to do a custom survey, hire someone who does. There are no second chances in this game!