I recently started exercising again, and the gym I joined offered a free fitness assessment. I think almost every gym that offers personal training services offers one of these free assessments to all new members. They say it helps you get started at the gym, but in reality it is designed to sell you personal training.

Knowing this full well, I took them up on the offer. Why? I wanted to learn something about user onboarding. The guy who gave me my free fitness assessment asked me a bunch of questions about my goals and habits, showed me some exercises and then, as I expected, recommended I purchase a personal training package.

There is a lot to be learned from this process. Along the way, he showed me some cool graphs illustrating how much healthier I could be and even an animation simulating what my gut looked like versus what it could look like with the proper nutrition and other fitness products.

It boiled down to the trainer determining what I wanted—more energy and decreasing the side effects of sitting on my butt in front of the computer—and then showing me how personal training could help me reach that goal.

From the get-go, both the trainer and I knew what the recommendation was going to be; the whole process was about finding what I saw as the reason for needing personal training.

When meeting face to face it’s easy for someone to ask you what you want. It’s something every good salesperson does—they ask you your goal and then show you how their offering can help you accomplish that goal. 

Selling online is no different, except you have to guess the visitor’s goal. Of course, you can improve that guess through A/B testing, retargeting, and other marketing automation strategies.

Although it may not scale as well, there is another strategy that is really useful for new companies, and that’s asking people to take a survey. I recently did this for my company CalderaWP.

You can see the results of the survey here, which, if you’re also looking to sell WordPress plugins, might give you some interesting insights about your target market. I want to share some more reasons why I chose this strategy and some of the specific goals I set for this survey.

Having trouble defining yourself? Just ask your customers

Chris Lema wrote a great post on WPElevation about overcoming struggles to finding your unique value proposition. One of the many great pieces of advice he gives is to go on LinkedIn, find people like you, and ask their opinion of you.

I probably should take this advice more explicitly, but I did use a somewhat altered version of this strategy. I had a question that asked if the person taking the survey had used Caldera Forms. If they did, I asked “what do you think makes Caldera Forms different?” If not, I asked them “what would make you consider trying Caldera Forms?”

Now I have really great information on what our existing users like about Caldera Forms, and what it would take to get new users.

But that’s not it. Did you notice how I phrased the questions? The first one, for people who had tried it, I wasn’t just looking to know what they liked about it, I was asking them to think about why it was different, because I wanted them, and everyone, to think about Caldera Forms as “different.”

Don’t forget that a survey isn’t just about learning about the perception of your product, it’s an opportunity to change how your product is perceived in the marketplace.

Choose your gifts (and audience) wisely

During this survey, we offered a free plugin license to anyone who took it. We did this because, as a new company, we need people using our products, thinking they are useful, and talking about them. Plugin licenses are free, but offering support isn’t.

This type of offer might not be great for a more mature company. For us, I’m not worried about the support, as our support generally comes in one of three forms—someone reporting a bug, which is awesome because now we can fix it; someone wanting the plugin to do something it doesn’t, which is great to know; or someone who can’t figure out how to do something, which shows us a UI problem or a gap in our documentation.

We also didn’t promote our survey very well, intentionally. I didn’t want to give away a ton of plugins or have to fulfill hundreds of requests manually. This isn’t because I’m cheap or didn’t want to spend the time—I could have automated the free plugins or hired someone to handle it.

I shared the survey on ManageWP.org, the AdvancedWP Facebook group, on Twitter, and Torque was nice enough to include a link in their weekly news roundup. That’s not that wide of a net, and the people who are likely to have seen it are those who are active WordPress professionals looking for the best new tools—exactly who I needed to reach.

If you’re giving something away, you want to make sure you’re giving it to those who are likely to appreciate it.

There is a lot of balancing and guessing here. Maybe you want more entries so you will promote you survey more widely, possibly even with paid ads. If that’s the case, you probably want to automate fulfillment of your gift and you might want to offer less of a discount or something else, like a sticker. The point is that before doing something like this make sure you know who you want to reach and what you want from them.

Validate ideas

We are considering offering paid support for Caldera Forms; but, how likely are people to pay for support for a free plugin on WordPress.org? It’s uncommon, and WordPress.org is set up to make free support an expectation. So, in my survey, I asked the likelihood of someone paying for support.

Turns out the idea is pretty favorable, so we will probably do it. Whether or not this data matches up with reality is another topic entirely—what people say they would pay for and what they actually pay for are two very different things. That’s important to keep in mind when looking at survey data.

The other thing we learned from this process was which of our plugins were most desirable. Again, what people say they want versus what they buy may not be the same.

The most requested plugin was our visual query builder—Easy Queries. It’s a plugin that has not sold very well yet. We learned that people like the idea, but we’re not making the case for its usefulness yet. Seeing that kind of discrepancy between what our survey data told us and what our sales data tells us is very useful.

Read it and discuss it

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to actually read the data you’re receiving. Yes, when I was done with the survey I made some generalizations about the data, but I actually read every entry as it came into my email, too.

I think it’s important to digest this information one response at a time and then in a more generalized way. If you’re looking to learn about your business you need to really take in this knowledge you’ve gained. That doesn’t mean you should just read the overview or results. You need to internalize it, and make it a part of what directs your product or service moving forward.

This is part of why I chose not to automate the process of creating and emailing discount codes to those who took the survey. As a developer, not automating something, especially something that would be easy to automate, is hard to resist. But this forced me to read every submission as it came in, and then again when I fulfilled the free gifts.

It also afforded me the opportunity to email people directly and ask them follow up questions and correct misconceptions. It’s tempting when creating a survey to ask only multiple choice questions and automate the whole process—from tabulating results to sending people thank you gifts. Asking open-ended questions and forcing yourself to read responses (twice) opens up the possibility of creating a dialogue with your current and potential users.

The whole time, the part of me that craves efficiency was going nuts, but I think it was worth it.

When to run your survey

In hindsight, I should have run this survey in February when we launched our business. By now, Caldera Forms has been out for more than six months and we could have learned a lot about what people wanted from it and our other plugins.

If you’re looking to start a business, my advice to you is to put up a landing page and give people an early invite, or free trial if they take a survey. If you’re already launched, you can do a product survey whenever you want, but you should do it when you are in a position to use the results.

I’m preparing to make some changes to our site, and I’m rethinking our marketing strategy and overall narrative. The information I gather from this survey will help guide me.  If I wasn’t doing this work, the information would be interesting, but not useful.

Making the most of what you learn

There are lots of ways to gather hard data on your current and potential customers. Asking open-ended, and often highly leading questions, is only one way. All of this will prepare you to inform your potential customer that what you’re offering will help them accomplish their goal.

Just like with the personal trainer, who at the end of my free fitness assessment told me I needed personal training, I’m still offering the same things but the new data is helping me learn more about what resonates with my users.
At the same time, I’m not a gym. An online business can be a very flexible business. Gathering this information might suggest a whole new direction for your business. If that happens to you, it can be an awesome gift, especially if it happens early on or when you are struggling.

Josh is the owner and a developer for CalderaWP, makers of Caldera Forms, a different kind of form builder and URL builder, the visual editor for WordPress permalinks.

The post How To Improve Your Products Through Customer Surveys appeared first on Torque.

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