How To Make Your Survey Reports More Credible To Buyers

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Many B2B companies use surveys and survey reports to fuel their thought leadership marketing programs. Here’s a proven way to make your survey-based content more credible to potential buyers. 

Research surveys and survey reports* have become important marketing tools for many B2B companies. A growing number of companies are conducting or sponsoring surveys and featuring survey results prominently in their marketing programs.

The proliferation of surveys and survey reports has been driven by the growing importance of thought leadership in the B2B marketing mix. Real thought leadership content must provide novel insights that are supported by authoritative evidence. As a practical matter, therefore, real thought leadership content requires primary research, and surveys are one of the most widely-used forms of primary research.

B2B marketers obviously want potential buyers to view their survey results and survey reports as credible and reliable. The reliability of survey results depends primarily on the quality of the methodology used to design and execute the survey. But whether potential customers perceive your survey results as credible also depends on how well you describe the research methodology.

I frequently work with clients to prepare survey reports, and I review many survey reports published by others. Over the years, I’ve developed a mental checklist of items relating to survey methodology that I look for whenever I review a survey report. I use the same checklist when I’m preparing a survey report.

Marketers can benefit from using a similar checklist both as producers and consumers of survey-based content. Marketers are increasingly using survey results to support important decisions, and it’s important to make sure those results are reliable. It’s always a good idea to approach survey results with a critical eye because, as Mark Twain wrote:  “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Describe Your Methodology Thoroughly

A survey report should include a thorough description of the methodology used in the research. This enables knowledgeable readers to assess the quality of the methodology and have confidence in the reliability of the survey results.

For a survey of business professionals about a business subject, the description of the survey methodology should include the following:

  • Sample size (the number of responses the survey received)
  • When the survey responses were obtained
  • How the survey responses were collected (e.g. online, telephone)
  • How potential survey participants were selected
  • If appropriate, how survey respondents were qualified
  • Respondent demographics/firmographics (more about this below)

Include Respondent Demographics/Firmographics

Surveys are frequently used to capture insights about a defined population by collecting data from a sample of that population. However, this approach only works if the survey respondents constitute a representative sample of the larger population. 

If the survey respondents aren’t a representative sample, the survey findings can’t be “projected” to the larger target population. In essence, the findings are only valid for the survey respondents. When a survey uses a representative sample, the survey report should include a detailed explanation of the sampling process in the description of the survey methodology.

Very few of the surveys I review claim to be based on a representative sample. Such surveys can still be useful – they’re just not as compelling as surveys that use a representative sample.

When a survey isn’t based on a representative sample, the survey report should include a disclaimer similar to the one used by Gartner in a recent survey report:  “Disclaimer:  Results from this study do not represent global findings or the market as a whole but reflect sentiment of the respondents and companies surveyed.”

Whether or not a survey is based on a representative sample, the survey report should include a description of the demographic attributes of the individual respondents and the firmographic characteristics of the companies they are affiliated with. 

When I’m reviewing a survey report, I want to see data on the following demographic/firmographic attributes:

  • Job title/job function of respondents
  • Industry verticals/types of companies represented
  • Company sizes represented
  • Geographic location of respondents

Respondent demographics/firmographics are important for interpreting survey findings and assessing their relevancy, particularly when a survey isn’t based on a representative sample. For example, I recently reviewed a survey that dealt with marketing data and analytics. 

In that survey, 83% of the respondents were with companies having $1 billion or more in annual revenue. So, the findings in this survey may be highly relevant for marketers in large enterprises, but less instructive for marketers in small and mid-size companies.

The Takeaway

Many B2B companies are relying on surveys and survey reports to play a vital role in their marketing efforts. Marketers can add credibility to their survey-based content by providing a thorough description of the research methodology, including a detailed picture of respondent demographics.

*The principles discussed here also apply to other types of long-form research-based content such as white papers and eBooks.

Illustration courtesy of epictop10.com via Flickr (CC).

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Dodd
David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist, author, and marketing content developer. He works with companies to develop and implement marketing strategies and programs that use compelling content to convert prospects into buyers.

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