You’re asked to provide feedback and ratings all the time. Hotels, flights, ridesharing, restaurants, grocery stores, online purchases, and even restrooms. Businesses all want to know how they performed. Did you have a good experience? Were you satisfied? Would you recommend us? And the biggest “survey” of all is getting underway: The U.S. Census.

All of this surveying can lead to survey fatigue. The ubiquity of being asked about all manner of topics every day has led to challenges gathering responses for companies who don’t survey very often.

We’ve noticed a trend across our various B2B clients and industry sectors of declining survey response rates. B2B audiences have always been more difficult to research — whether compiling online survey research, conducting phone interviews, finding customers to profile for case studies or articles, or other research needs. Typically, you’re trying to reach them during the workday, when they have many responsibilities beyond helping you with your research project.

Whether we work with a research partner, conduct a survey in partnership with a trade publication, or conduct the research on our own or distributed by a client’s email list, generating a sufficient number of responses continues to be a challenge.

Quantitative or qualitative research?

Often, what we want to be quantitative research actually turns out to be more qualitative in nature. Qualitative research, while useful at providing trends and perspective, may not be replicable or representative of all audiences. If you talk to ten people, you could get a completely different result by talking to the next ten people; the answers aren’t less valid, they are just subject to a different level of interpretation or scrutiny.

Making massive, important business decisions solely based on qualitative research is often not advised — but it can be used to help frame up a problem, understand an issue, or illuminate other considerations as you are conducting this research.

Understanding how your research results will be used — and the level of importance to the business attached to the results — should help point to the right research methodology. It can also help you decide when you should push for more responses or when to accept the information you have. If we’ve attempted to do something quantitative but ended up short, what can we learn from the results we do have and how does that shape our decision-making path forward?

How can we boost survey responses?

We almost always recommend — and attempt — to deploy some of the following methods to boost survey response, though increasing survey response rates can still be difficult even when trying these tactics.

  • Offer incentives. A chance to win or everybody gets something can help with responses, depending on the level of incentive.

  • Conduct your research at the appropriate time of year for your industry. Knowing when your B2B audience is at their busiest or least busy can make a difference. Conducting research in the busy construction season or planting or harvesting season can be tough; winter might be the best time for those types of seasonal industries.

  • Request participation from a known source. While this may eliminate the anonymity of the survey sponsor or be seen as biasing responses, sending from a known/trusted source can be better than an unknown source. It’s less likely to end up in a spam folder or be ignored if it comes from someone they know.

  • Follow up. A friendly reminder or a heads-up from their primary contact can help encourage response.

  • Keep the survey short and simple. Long surveys see quite a drop-off and abandonment in the middle.

How to be successful

We can also look to other ways of learning about our audiences beyond even considering conducting a survey.

  • Consider their online behaviors and things we can learn from digital means and what they are actually doing.

  • Capture feedback “in the moment” at trade shows, within Salesforce, or through other means via your sales team. Sales can sometimes be a resistant audience to doing work like this, but they often have the customer’s ear and can capture good intelligence. Sharing is key to learning.

  • Look into existing research sources and findings, particularly regarding questions that are more generic in nature (e.g., where one looks for product information). These types of questions and answers have been widely researched by many consumer companies. B2B customers are people too!

Be prepared

Overall, we need to recognize and acknowledge that survey research has become much more challenging with B2B audiences to get a strong quantitative response done quickly. We need to manage our expectations on response rates and the cost of conducting surveys appropriately — those incentives can add up! And, use other research methods to get the answers we need.

As always, plan in advance. Look for the opportunity to gather the best and most important feedback needed in one attempt, versus trying to conduct multiple surveys throughout the year.

Think about yourself and your own personal behavior. How many surveys do you take? How often do you provide feedback on your flight or your hotel or the clothing item you purchased? Now imagine being asked to do that in the middle of your workday from multiple suppliers.

There is still a place for conducting survey research, we just need to be aware of the challenges and limitations and plan accordingly. Talk to your account service contact or reach out to us today to explore the best research options for your B2B questions.