What do you really need to know about your members?

Stu Perlmeter

Why your surveys may be skewing your perceptions

One of the hardest tasks Association leaders own is knowing what is truly on members’ minds, and how to shift the agenda in response. Part of this is knowing what they don’t know. Clouding the picture is being too close to it to see it objectively; separating the forest from the trees.

Association leaders and staff have plenty of contact with members – dozens of time per day, typically. “So what’s the part I don’t know?”, you might ask. It’s probably true that there’s nothing you haven’t heard once, if not hundreds of times.

The problem is in giving too much weight to the voices you hear. Member surveys are a way to balance this selective listening problem. In a perfect world, you would send out your survey request email and within an hour, every member has completed it. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The reality is that we’re all bombarded with email, and many of those inbox items are other requests for surveys. You do have a leg up, in that your emails are not likely to end up in spam – in fact you probably have a high open rate.

Whether they are your greatest supporters or your biggest detractors, there is a tendency to over-react.

With that, the same squeaky wheels and raving fans are going to be over-represented. Research geeks call that the “crater in the middle of the bell curve”. If you remember taking statistics (we called it “sadistics” in business school), any population in theory provides a “normal distribution” that kind of looks like a bell.

In actual practice, many of the members who might otherwise respond to your survey don’t take the time, because they are not presently animated by loyalty or vitriol – they’re just busy. They might think you’re doing a great job, but still – they’re busy.

There are ways to improve the situation and get a great response that overcomes this problem. We’ll cover that in future posts. In the meantime, think about what you really need to know.

About the Author

Stu Perlmeter

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Stu brings 30 years of marketing and research experience to 1st Resource, which he founded in 1996. Stu’s primary expertise is in understanding the market insights that tie to success formulas for companies seeking to grow their business in strategic ways.