Getting started with qualitative surveys

We’re living in the age of the customer, where individual software users drive product decisions and market tactics. The trouble is, many software companies don’t know their customers—not really. 

A huge reason for this is companies aren’t talking with their customers. A Hubspot analysis found 42% of companies don’t survey or ask for feedback. And 81% of companies don’t have a formal customer advocacy program. Even among companies who do talk with customers, data from User Interview suggests over 60% of stakeholders don’t know how to access customer research findings. 

With findings like these, it’s no surprise teams struggle to put the customer first.

Hunches, directives, and lots of caffeine

“Trying to stuff a product down the throat of an unsuspecting bystander is a good way to build the wrong thing.”

— Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox

Customer-driven is easy to say and hard to do. In truth, most teams run on hunches, directives from leaderships, and a good deal of Starbucks—not the customer. These teams reorganize every quarter and are tasked with new features that add theoretical value.

But data indicates these hunch-based features aren’t as valuable as teams think. When ProftWell asked 2,500 product leaders to assess the last 5,000 features they’d built, leaders put most features in the high-value and high-willingness to pay bucket. Yet when ProfitWell asked 1.2 million customers to assess those same features, customers put them in the opposite bucket—low value and low-willingness-to-pay. What ProfitWell considers “trash land.”  

To build better products, gather qualitative data 

“Overall, if you want to deliver an AMAZING customer experience, the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do is LEARN more about your customers so you can custom tailor that experience to them. It's not magic. It's not science. It is simply building a tighter relationship with your customer.”

Eric Carlson - Founder, 10XFactory

To be fair, many teams want to run on customer insights, not hunches. They’ve seen the success of product-led companies like Shopify, Twilio, and Atlassian. (Product-led companies like these have over 2x enterprise value, over 1.5x revenue, and over 9% higher revenue growth than other SaaS players.) SaaS teams know customer understanding is the key to growth. It’s figuring out how to use the key that’s so difficult. 

There are two sides to the customer understanding coin
When it comes to customer insights, there are two types of useful data: quantitative and qualitative. 
Quantitative data provides important context on what customers are doing and how much. Quantitative data is fixed and measurable. It provides valuable information in contexts like A/B tests and market research.
Quantitative data is incredibly useful, but it has at least one major shortcoming: For all its statistical significance, it cannot help you understand why customers are taking certain actions. For that insight, you need qualitative data. Qualitative data illuminates the why behind the what
This why information is incredibly important. It allows teams to move from reactive to proactive—from what customers are doing this week to what they’ll adopt in the future. Amy O’Callaghan is a product manager at Snagajob who has practiced customer discovery for over a year. She’s experienced the reactive-to-proactive shift and explains, “I feel confident pushing for things that we’ve prioritized because we know they will bring value—we aren’t taking nearly as many risks with development time as we used to, and the dev team appreciates that.” 
To many product managers (not to mention marketers), that level of confidence sounds magical. But obtaining this confidence isn’t magic or even a well-hidden secret. In fact, many teams could start gathering information from their customers today using the simplest of tools: the survey. 

Why the survey is a great starting point 

Surveys aren’t a revelational idea. The earliest ones date back to at least the Roman era, and they’ve been widely used in the US since the 1930s. You probably have one sitting in your inbox right now.
For many teams wanting to collect more qualitative data from existing customers, they’re a great starting point. Chances are, your team already uses a tool (such as Hubspot, Typeform, or Intercom) with survey capabilities built-in. Surveys are also lower cost and lower effort than more robust customer research options like interviews and focus groups.
There are many types of surveys, but in this course, we want to walk you through creating one specific type: the qualitative survey. This type of survey targets a specific group of people with specific feedback questions. Oftentimes, those questions are open-ended. The goal of a qualitative survey is to generate insights that help solve business-critical problems. 

Other qualitative survey benefits include:

  • A richer understanding of the customer’s context
  • A clearer picture of the customer’s overall journey
  • Raw voice of customer data for powerful marketing
  • Context for confusing quantitative data 
  • Clarity around which experiments to pursue 

The rest of this course walks you through how to craft a qualitative survey so you can get these benefits. By the end of the following three lessons, you’ll have a firm understanding of who to survey, what questions you should ask them, and which channel you should use. 

Next Up
Targeting the right customer segment