This is the most expensive form of survey. Direct meetings take time to organize and conduct. However, they do enable you to ask questions in considerable detail and probe qualitative issues. Personal interviews are best suited to customized programs where the deal is substantial and a number of people on the same site are involved in the buying decision.
You'd be surprised how many people are prepared to give up a few moments and end up spending five or 10 minutes discussing your project. Many of us secretly take it as a great compliment when someone is interested in our opinions. Even so, keep the questionnaire short. If you decide to conduct your survey at a trade show, avoid the first day or last day when things are hectic, or times when everybody just wants to sidle off. A quiet intermediary day is best; often you'll find people in food and beverage areas taking a break. Asking for a few moments of their time is usually acceptable. But be aware, every competitor in the place will know what you are doing.
In practice you'll have to conduct the bulk of these interviews via telephone. Even so, do try and conduct some interviews face-to-face so you can see the recipients' body language and appreciate how your survey is being received.
Telephoning is the most immediate method, but you may find that many people are too busy to speak to you at length. It is often better to whet their appetite by explaining how this new product might be useful or by mentioning some incentive. Once motivated people will give you more time; but you can only count on this if your questionnaire is interesting.
These are the most commonly used means, particularly in combination with the telephone. To get a statistically valid sample you will almost certainly need to conduct at least 250 interviews. Many software houses can cut down the time that formal interviews take by introducing themselves by telephone and following up via e-mail or the Web. The great advantage of conducting the survey electronically is that it is faster and cheaper. All the data can be posted directly into a database for immediate analysis. This method is particularly recommended if your target market is also online.
When a questionnaire has to be long, you'll almost certainly have to include some incentive to encourage respondents to wade through it, so keep it short and sweet. You also need to personalize the cover letter that explains what the firm is doing and why. If personal questions have to be asked, guarantee anonymity and organize the questionnaire so they can complete it without having to identify themselves.
Contacting prospects via their e-mail address isn't the same as spamming them. It is advisable to include a preliminary message explaining that you are thinking of producing a new product that does such and such, and as someone who is involved with similar tasks, you'd appreciate their views. Ask them if they would mind if you sent them a short questionnaire.
Unsolicited mail does not normally get a good response unless the introduction is skilfully written and the software topic is of genuine interest. If the survey follows a positive response to a telephone inquiry and you include a postage-paid reply envelope, the number of responses is improved and you can ask reasonably detailed questions.
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