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Lead Your Team Strategy

Understand Your Customers: 8 Survey Tools for Small Business

Understand Your Customers: 8 Survey Tools for Small Business
Credit: TATSIANAMA/Shutterstock

Consumer surveys are valuable tools for taking the pulse of your target audience. What are your customers watching, listening to, tweeting about and buying right now? What do they think of your products and prices? What are their expectations for customer service? Rather than acting on a hunch, you can make business decisions based on data. 

There are all sorts of tools for conducting consumer surveys and market research, and some are more hands-on than others. You can find free products that require you to do the heavy lifting, or you can pay to have a company do the work for you and analyze the results. Some tools tap into your own contacts, while others survey focus groups or broader Web audiences. From giants like Google to tiny startups, here are some of the newest and most popular consumer survey vendors, along with their features and pricing.

Google says its consumer-survey service predicted the result of the 2012 presidential election. Choose your target audience, submit a question and collect results over the upcoming hours and days. Google shows your questions across news, reference and entertainment websites, offering access to free content in exchange for answers. Demographics are inferred based on the participant's search history. On mobile devices, answers are rewarded with credits for apps, music and books, and users must provide demographic info. The tool is simple to use, fast and inexpensive, but the aggregated data is not rich in detail. There's also no guarantee that people aren't choosing a random answer just to get to their content or freebie. 

For a single question, Google charges 10 cents per completed answer. For surveys of two to 10 questions, rates range from $1.10 to $3.50 for each completed survey. Custom survey projects start at $2,000. More interested in feedback on customer satisfaction with your website? Default questions are free, and custom questions start at 1 cent per answer.

Validateit is a new market research tool that uses the Google Consumer Surveys platform, plus some of its own features, to help you make business decisions. The service can be used to rank ideas for new products or product features, test demand for a new product or service, or determine if the market will support your pricing. A business name testing tool is also being developed. Surveys incorporate 10 questions and 250 respondents for $1,499. The price also includes a one-page analytical report. Results typically take five days. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration developed this free tool to help small businesses figure out how they stack up to the competition. Business owners can find out how their revenue compares to similar businesses locally or nationwide, and find out which areas generate the highest revenue. Budding businesses can use the tool to identify store locations where the pool of potential customers is large but there are few competitors. The service, which offers data on more than 90 percent of U.S. businesses, can also be used to compare employee salaries to those of the competition, locate the best places to advertise, compare health care costs and more. To get started, provide your industry and city, and then select the kind of information you're seeking. Some of the features require you to register and provide an email address. 

SurveyMonkey has been around for 15 years, and it is well known for the kind of surveys you create and send to your own list of contacts. The basic version, which allows 10 questions and 100 responses, is free. Monthly plans that allow 1,000 responses are $26. Annual plans with unlimited questions and responses and more advanced features — including customization, randomization and reporting — cost $300 to $780. These plans have design features that allow you to incorporate your own logo, branding and color scheme.

More recently, the company launched SurveyMonkey Audience, which helps businesses collect outside market research. Choose your questions and the number of responses you need, and then select a targeted audience based on demographics like age, gender and household income. This feature is pricier than some other services, starting at $1 per response, but it is highly customizable. You can target an audience based on detailed criteria like exercise habits, political affiliation or living arrangements. 

AYTM offers two options. One is a free DIY tool that can be used to send a survey to your contacts or social media followers. Email the link, distribute it, tweet it or post the survey to your Facebook page. The questions and responses are unlimited, and you can target based on eight basic demographic categories. The paid version, which starts at $995, handles all the details for you. Answer some questions, share your research goals and the kinds of questions you want to ask, and AYTM will draft a market survey for you to review and approve. Once the survey is launched, AYTM monitors progress, analyzes results and creates an executive summary. 

GutCheck offers screening and refinement advice for business concepts, products and copy, as well as shopper insights. The feedback is more detailed and personalized than some of the other services because it is based on live interviews. You can conduct video interviews with members of GutCheck's consumer panel, targeting people to survey based on demographics. Or, have GutCheck conduct the interviews for you and report back. Pricing is not advertised. You have to call for a quote, and the price is based on the scope of the project and the number of interviews. 

uSamp has its own pool of niche panelists that are consulted for 95 percent of its consumer survey projects. The company is not an aggregator, so its samples are considered higher-quality. Panelists include people from all demographics, across more than 100 countries, and you can consult a panel that caters to your specific industry. The company also offers a product to survey your own list of contacts. uSamp also does not advertise, either; the cost depends on the scope and focus of the project. 

Like Google Consumer Surveys, Survata partners with websites to exchange free content for answers to basic surveys. For more advanced surveys, the company consults a research panel. Define your target audience based on factors like region, age and gender, then write survey questions. The tool supports open-ended questions, closed-ended questions and multimedia. Survata will suggest edits to your questions and make recommendations on the sample size. Once you give final approval, the survey is launched. A survey of six question and 100 respondents costs $100. The cost is $400 for 400 respondents and $1,500 for 1,500 responses. The tool filters out people who speed through the questions in an effort to deliver quality results. In the end, you’ll receive data that includes the age, gender, location and technology of each person who responded, as well as analysis.

Originally published on Business News Daily.