The Two-Phased Approach to Market Research Surveys

November 30, 2010

Surveys are the backbone of effective market research. However, the RROI (Real ROI) lies in the actions you take based on the information you get from your surveys. Too often a survey produces more questions than it answers. The approach described below aims to mitigate this problem.


Survey Design and Analysis has pioneered a very successful approach for customer and market research that helps to ensure you get usable information from your survey. The approach has two phases, the Discovery Phase and the Validation Phase.

  • The discovery phase: involves one-on-one interviews with a small group (usually 4-8) from the target audience.
  • The validation phase is a survey to a broad sample of the target audience.

The purpose of this approach is to make sure the survey asks the right people, the right questions, in the right way.

How it Works

The Discovery Phase

  • Personal interviews not focus groups: These are done in person or over the telephone. You are not looking for “group think.” Instead, you want to explore the variety of views that will be present in the target audience.
  • Skilled interviewer: The art and science of probing during interviewing is very important. Sometimes key issues are at the back of people’s minds and take some skill to draw out.
  • Open format: The purpose of this phase is discovery. Open-ended questions and in-depth discussion are critical.

The Validation Phase

  • Design questionnaire using Phase I information : Use target audience language and focus on the issues that were the most important to those interviewed. Use responses from the interviews to populate choices for multiple-choice questions.
  • Finalize survey: Proceed with survey review and testing as for any survey. Phase I participants can even act as a pilot group for the finalized survey.
  • Distribute to target audience: Distribute the survey to a broad audience suitable for solid decision-making.

Why It Works

  • Two-way communication at the start: One cannot over-emphasize the value of having back and forth feedback on the content of your survey from the beginning.
  • Unique opportunity to tailor the design to the audience: Phase I gives you a chance to get reactions to your survey content before your survey launch.
  • Respondents can tell the survey questions were designed with them in mind: The quality of survey responses is greatly improved when you have an engaged respondent.

I would like to offer special thanks to Dr. Sheila Kessler who pioneered and perfected this approach with me over the last 10 years.


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