Are You Asking Your Customers the Questions That Truly Matter?

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"Are you asking the right questions?" asked Benny DiCecca, CEO, Wellesley Information Services, a division of UCG, speaking of the research and surveying his company does before creating events. "One question we weren't asking was, 'Are you willing to pay to go to an event to learn on this topic?' There is certain information that people would open up a checkbook and some people would not." Are people willing to travel, he added. What would they pay for?

According to Robin Wedewer, a senior consultant at Tecker International, you must define the kind of questions you need answered—and how—before contacting customers/members for their opinions. She believes that companies and associations need to conduct more research, but it has to be the right research.

"I would guess that about 90% of the research I have worked on and seen falls into the member needs assessment/member satisfaction category," she told a reporter for Associations Now. "These types of research are focused on: Who, exactly, are our members? What kind of job do our members think we're doing? What can we do to better serve our members?"

She thinks this is all fine and good but doesn't help our forward-thinking strategy. "[How are you] making the high-risk decisions... about membership models, mergers and acquisitions, which markets to serve, where to invest resources in product development, or when to abandon under-performing products?" Wedewer said. "From what I have seen, they are cobbling together information from financial reports, anecdotal information and opinion."

But Elizabeth Petersen, executive vice president, health care for BLR, cautions that even the best-researched products have no guarantee of success. "The information industry is changing so rapidly and there are so many unknowns. Even the most thoroughly researched product may not gain market traction. The key to developing a humming new product development engine is to be comfortable with risk and to set measurable (and transparent) benchmarks for product success."

Asking readers the right questions came up on the SIPA Forum last week. (If you are not on this great discussion place, you should be. Click here.) Here are some of the responses for obtaining the most useful information:

1. Ask readers how they use the information you provide (i.e. Making buying/selling decisions; As a reference or as a part of other resources they rely on).  Knowing how your readers actually use your content keeps the editorial staff focus razor sharp.

2. Rather than evaluating the newsletter, consider evaluating the profile of the reader. What demo is reading the newsletter? What are their topics of interest? What are their concerns?

3. Use open-ended questions; they more often result in valuable, top-of-mind responses, which can be used to develop new content and sales ideas.

4. Track your topics. If you have sections/editorial topics that you feel aren't being read, you might ask: Please rank the importance of these items to your daily work. You would then functionally define the topic coverage in a multiple choice response. Always be sure to leave an N/A response in a question like this.

5. Provide a list of article titles and ask which would be read first and last.

6. Ask what has changed in their world. What issues used to consume your time and effort? Then give a multiple-choice list. Then to be more forward-thinking: What issues do you see consuming more of your time today and in the near future? (Leave this open-ended.)

7. Proceed cautiously with your answers. Readers may say they are not interested in a certain topic or area. But the mission of a good newsletter includes alerting readers to new issues, being thought leaders and getting ahead of the curve. So that when that topic does surface, you're ready with a webinar or product.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…