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Customer Surveys: Know Your Customer - Or How Profiling can be Good

"The demand for marketers with MIT-like quantitative skills will go through the roof. As the accountability for results increases, most organizations will perform deeper analysis to identify new markets, measure performance of brands, or target potential customers."

First, learn who your customers are, why they purchase from you and what keeps them buying from you rather than your competitors. That doesn't mean you need to know EACH customer individually, rather you want to know what types of people buy from you. In short, you want to develop customer profiles. In traditional marketing lingo, this means "market segmentation." In comparison to mass-marketing, in a market segmentation approach you divide your entire market into smaller groups of potential customers that have similar demographic, psycho-graphic and / or product usage characteristics.

Many companies have adopted market segmentation as a corporate strategy, creating and maintaining detailed profiles for each product or service group. This type of program then directs many strategic decisions and tactical activities in marketing, sales, product development, and customer support.

If you are developing profiles for your company, be certain to include people from each part of your company that will refer to those profiles. They can help you develop surveys that capture information valuable to their needs and can give you a perspective you may not otherwise have. Also, remember that profiles should be dynamic. Even though your profiles are accurate now, they may become outdated in just a few months. Regularly surveying customers, site visitors and prospects will help you keep your profiles up to date.

What if your company doesn't subscribe to a market segmentation approach? Having customer profiles is just as valuable when you need to implement tactical programs. Here are just a few areas where customer profiles are particularly beneficial:

  • Targeting ad buys and budgets: reach the right type of prospect at the right time.
  • Writing effective marketing messages: give them valuable information that will help prospects choose to purchase.
  • Creating promotions and purchase incentives: provide the right incentives to the right audience to get them to act quickly.
  • Developing and pricing products: create products that meet the needs of your highest-level purchasers.
  • Assessing competitive threats: find and mitigate the affects of competition on specific market segments.

By using eSurveysPro to gather customer demographic information, you can easily combine survey response data with other data you have previously collected for a much richer analysis of what your segments are and who is likely to purchase.

Creating Your Profiles

How do you decide who to include in profile information-gathering? You want to include several different types of contacts in your survey "panel," including current customers, past customers, non-purchasing prospects, in-process prospects, leads (or "suspects") and website visitors. The better your cross-section of participants, the more representative your profiles will be.

When creating a customer profile survey, it is preferable to couch it in a customer satisfaction, sale follow up or other type of survey. Why? There are two primary reasons:

  • When did you last ask your customers if they were happy? They want to tell you! This will help you get a higher response rate.
  • You can cross-analyze satisfaction data with demographic and purchase history information to identify what types of customers are more likely to be satisfied with your products. If you include purchase dates as hidden fields, you can also see who is likely to be satisfied for the longest time.

Case: Customer Satisfaction

eSurveysPro conducts regular satisfaction surveys. By combining customer profiling questions, satisfaction results and purchase history, we can paint a very accurate picture of the types of people who will use our products.

We start by sending out an e-mail invitation to purchasers, people who are tying our service and to those who have registered. In the survey, we begin with a variety of satisfaction questions about our software, hosting service, and technical support (this data is really valuable by itself. We'll talk about customer satisfaction surveys next month).

Next, we ask demographic questions about their industry, areas of responsibility, budget and company size. Last, we pass hidden values to the survey including member status (purchaser, trialer, or registered user), purchase date, sales amount, and renewal status. We do not, and strongly recommend that you do not include any identifying data. Knowing how individuals respond can bias your analysis. However, if you do choose to include identifying information, notify them in the survey introduction - and be prepared for lower response rates!

Information You REALLY Need

Next, identify the information you really need and create your surveys. Yes, surveys. You can usually ask more questions of someone who has purchased from you than someone who has selected a competitive product or who will not purchase. My own rule of thumb is:

Customers: 25 or fewer questions
Prospects: 15 or fewer questions
Leads: 10 or fewer questions

Although it can be difficult, create the shortest survey first. You will identify your core questions, and can build the longer questionnaires based on these. Remember to keep your demographic questions identical for all of these surveys, or it will be difficult to compare different sets of data.

Here are a few demographic questions that may be useful for you to ask:

Example Business Demographic Questions
Example Consumer Demographic Questions
  • What industry are you in?
  • What department do you work in?
  • What size is your company?
  • What is your job title?
  • Where do you live? (City, state or country)
  • What are your gender, age-range, education level and household income?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?

Next, include data that you have collected previously which would be valuable to aggregate with your newly-collected profiling data. This data can include purchase history, respondent "status," lead source, or sales representative names.

Case: Advertising and Promotions

An online retailer, Mr. Jones, wants to identify when and how he should advertise. His three question survey asks:

  1. Marital Status
  2. Gender
  3. Household Income

He passes three data points from his customer database into hidden fields in the survey:

  1. Purchase status
  2. Purchase date
  3. Purchase amount

Here is an example of the survey data set he collects:

Status Purchase Purchase $ Marital status Gender Income
Prospect     Single Male $50,000
Customer 2/2/02 500 Married Female $75,000
Customer 8/21/01 4,000 Single Male $25,000

From these six data points, he can extrapolate the following:

  • Purchase likelihood based on marital status, gender, income (who is most likely to purchase our products?)
  • Purchase season by marital status, gender, and income (when should he advertise to which market segment?)
  • Purchase amount based on marital status, gender, income (how much should he spend on ads targeted to the different audiences?)
  • Income brackets by marital status by status, for customers and prospects (does he advertise in magazines that target high-, mid-, or low-income demographics? Married or single? Women or men?)

As all marketers know, however, it is much cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new customer. Returning to our example, our Mr. Jones adds a question about future purchase intent to this survey. He now knows which types of customers are most likely to purchase again, when, and how much they'll pay. Based on this information, he can send targeted purchase incentives when they are most likely to result in purchases.

Case: Product Messaging

A biotechnology marketer, Ms. Smith, wants to develop positioning for a new test tube launching at an upcoming symposium. She conducts a survey, inviting participation from her database of customers, prospects, and leads. Her demographic questions include:

  • What is the focus of your research? (Drug discovery, human genomic research, veterinary diagnostics, etc.)
  • What type of facility do you work for? (Pharmaceutical manufacturer, government research, university, private hospital, etc.)
  • Which of the following technical symposia do you plan to attend this year?

She already knows that the new test tube would be particularly interesting to drug discovery researchers at universities and pharmaceutical companies. Ms. Smith also knows that other types of researchers will attend the symposium. So she describes the product to her survey audience and asks:

  • Would you use this type of test tube in your research?
  • If so, how would you use it?
  • Rank the following features of this test tube by how important they are to your research.

Once Ms. Smith has collected responses to this survey, she will know which types of researchers she can expect at which meeting, the most common type of research being performed at different facilities, and what types of facilities will be represented at each symposium. By combining these facts with the questions about the new product, she will also know which research specialties are most likely to use the new product, how each specialty is likely to use the product, what product features are most important to each type of research. Based on her survey results, Ms. Smith can define appropriate messages, focusing on the features that appeal to the audience who will attend the symposium and is likely to purchase.


Your ability to find market opportunities, reach those potential customers, provide the products they need and measure their satisfaction over time will differentiate both you as a marketer, and your company as a market leader. Creating and keeping a portfolio of customer profiles up to date helps you know where to focus your marketing, sales, support and product development efforts. The days of marketing as an art-form are far from over, but by integrating this type of left-brained measurement with right-brained creativity, you and your company can maintain a definite competitive advantage.

Survey Templates

Customer satisfaction surveys

Take a look at our survey samples related to customer satisfaction. 5 templates are available right now.

Human resources surveys

Take a look at our survey samples related to human resources. 5 templates are available right now.

Marketing research surveys

Take a look at our survey samples related to marketing research. 2 templates are available right now.

Services evaluation surveys

Take a look at our survey samples related to services evaluation. 2 templates are available right now.

Academic questionnaire templates

Take a look at our academic questionnaire samples. We have 2 templates available right now.

Tips & tricks

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Most Effective Ways To Invite Survey Participants

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