How to Get Survey Respondents: 3 Ideas for Marketers

We get a lot of questions from marketers who are interested in survey-based research for content marketing, but this one tops the list:

How do I get people to respond to my survey?

In its simplest form, have three options to get survey respondents: 

  • Surveying your own list
  • Forming a partnership
  • Using a panel

TL; DR? This flow chart walks you through the high-level decision process to decide the best way for you to get people to answer to your survey, but read on to learn about all of these methods and decide which approach is likely best for you.

How to get survey respondents for content marketing

How to field a consumer survey

Who are you surveying? This is the first question you need to answer when deciding how you will get survey respondents.

  • Do you want to survey consumers (e.g., adults in the US who use a mobile phone)
  • Do you want to survey B2B professionals (e.g., marketing, IT, finance, etc.).

If your focus is consumers, the easiest and best way to get responses is to use a survey panel. This is essentially buying a sample from a third-party panel provider such as SurveyMonkey Audience, Cint or Lucid (or one of many others).

Consumer panels are easy to access and are often relatively inexpensive. If you want to get an estimated cost, check out SurveyMonkey Audience. Simply enter the criteria you are looking for, and you will automatically a price. You can adjust your criteria to see how that impacts your expense.

It’s important to remember: consumer panels aren’t only for B2C businesses. Even if your audience is B2B, you still may want to survey consumers.

Such is the case with one of our clients, PowerInbox. Their customers are publishers (a B2B audience), but we survey US adults. Our goal is to help publishers learn what factors impact how US adults interact with publishers. Their 2021 Digital Publishing Industry Report shares four trends we have seen since we started covering this space.

If you are in a B2B space, consider if it makes sense to survey a consumer-based audience because they are easy to access.

Want more ideas on how to conduct and publish original research? Sign up for our newsletter, The Data Chronicles, which is delivered every other Tuesday.

How to field a survey of B2B professionals 

While using a consumer panel is often the easiest way to field a survey, there are a few options if you want to field a survey of B2B professionals, even on a limited budget.

Here are your options from least to most expensive.

Option 1: Use your own list

The easiest way to field a survey of B2B professionals is to reach out to your own audience, including your email lists, community members and other connections if they are representative of those you want to survey.

For instance, I worked for Content Marketing Institute (CMI) for many years and we conducted annual content marketing research, Content Marketing Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends. One of the ways CMI fielded respondents for its survey was to reach out to its email subscribers. (They also have a partnership with MarketingProfs, but more on partnerships below). This was ideal because their email subscribers are marketers, the exact people we wanted to learn from.

However, sometimes your own list won’t work, even if it’s large and engaged. Here’s another case from my days at CMI. We wanted to understand how B2B buyers thought about content. Which type of content is influential? How are colleagues sharing information when making purchasing decisions?

This time, our subscriber base was not representative of those we wanted to survey (B2B buyers), so we did not have access to a list. In this case, we partnered with SmartBrief to survey their audience of B2B buyers and shared the results in How Content Influences the Purchasing Process. You can read more about partnerships in the next section.

PRO TIP: In my experience, sending a dedicated email to ask people to complete your survey is oftentimes the best way to get responses. Of course, you can also include a link to your survey in your newsletter and other mailings, but email sent from the express purpose of asking someone to complete the survey often works best.

Option 2: Partnerships

If you don’t have a large, engaged community or email list of those you want to survey, you can still organically get subscribers if you form a partnership.

This means reaching out to an organization that:

  • Has a large, engaged list that is representative of those you want to survey
  • Is interested in getting learning answers to the same question you have

A partnership can take many forms, but one approach that works well is to ask the partner to field the survey to their list while, in exchange, you will do the “heavy lifting” of designing the survey and creating the report.

This is the approach we used when Mantis was in its infancy. Our business was just starting and we had (literally) no audience, but we wanted to understand if and how marketers were using research.

To get the responses we needed, we reached out to Buzzsumo, a company we not only admire but one with whom we have had a relationship.

Both of our organizations share a story and vision: we believe original research is a true opportunity for marketers, and we wanted to understand if and how they are using it. We explained that we would execute all aspects of the survey and reporting (with their review and approval, of course) in exchange for them surveying their audience. The process worked quite well, and the result is the State of Original Research for Marketing.

Option 3: Panels

If you don’t have a list or a suitable partner, your last option is to pay for a panel.

Panels do work for B2B — and we use them successfully for — but they do have a couple of challenges.

First, panels of B2B professionals can be quite expensive. For instance, it’s not uncommon for prices to start at $20 per respondent and go up from there. (There is HUGE variance based on who you are surveying so I would not consider this to be an estimate; I just want to be clear that B2B panels are far more expensive than consumer panels.)

Unfortunately, this means B2B panels are oftentimes not ideal for those with a limited budget.

Another issue with B2B panels is that you need to be very cognizant that these individuals have broad expereinces in their fields and they may not have the specific experience you are looking for.

For instance, one common request is fielding a panel of marketers. The client often has a very specific aspect of marketing they are interested in, and not everyone who participates in the panel will have the in-depth expertise to answer the types of questions you are most curious about.

If this is the case, one option is to include in questions to qualify respondents to verify they are indeed the type of marketer you want, but this will increase your cost and lower the number of people who can answer your survey.

The last issue with B2B panels is that you need to be wary of those who want to take surveys to get the incentive from the panel company.

This means that you need to add in additional quality checks and do more rigorous data cleaning to make sure the responses are as credible as possible. When I clean B2B survey data, it’s not uncommon for me to remove 20% of the responses because the data does not meet the quality standards I have set.

What if I am on a limited budget and I don’t have a list?

Survey-based research is an incredibly valuable asset for your business, and it’s worth the investment.

But, I’m also a realist, and sometimes that investment may not make sense. Specifically, if you are on a limited budget and you don’t have access to your own list or the ability to form a solid partnership, it may not be the right time for you to conduct your own research.

Instead, consider curating research in your industry and sharing that. I personally don’t get the same thrill and ah-ha moments of fielding something net new, but this can be a highly effective way to generate website traffic and backlinks.

Are you ready to conduct a survey? 

If so, we’re here to help. Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter that offers tips on how to conduct better survey-based research or reach out with any questions. 

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Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.