The last decade has seen a quiet revolution in survey engagement, with new online sample methods and ideas being used to resolve an old issue - how do you get people to fully complete surveys? In a world with ever-increasing attention-grabbing distractions, people simply have less time and inclination for surveys, and researchers have needed to innovate to push up response rates and prevent a problem from becoming a crisis.
Innovation in the industry has mostly taken place in the field of consumer research. B2B research is a different case and needs different best practices. It is imperative to understand B2B survey engagement because research providers cannot simply migrate successful B2C techniques to the B2B world.
The main barrier is not just the lower incidence rate of qualified respondents, it is the reality of how busy those people are. Solutions which do not take this into account will fail to make an impact on projects which need top, C-level respondents.
Most B2C engagement strategies take a two-pronged approach. They look to be more efficient - shorter surveys, more relevant questions, easier to use interfaces. But they also look to be more diverting and entertaining than surveys used to be - often using gamification tactics like points, badges or game-like survey design to reward participants.
It is this approach that fails when it comes to B2B. In the middle of a working day, distraction tactics do not cut it. Gamification-based approaches simply do not respect the reality of B2B participants’ working lives, and the more senior the desired audience, the more acute this issue becomes. Projects requiring a substantial C-level sample size need a different path to engagement.
So, a smarter way to B2B engagement requires focusing on the other half of the B2C approach - making surveys more efficient. The core insight behind gamification still applies in B2B: a more emotionally satisfied participant is a more engaged one. But in B2B surveys, that satisfaction begins with respecting respondents’ time.
Here are some keys to making sure you hit the completion rate you need, even with the trickiest sample:
1. KEEP IT RELEVANT
This should be the table stakes for any B2B survey. Is it relevant to the audience? If a survey does not feel relevant to their working lives, they will simply not complete it. The good news is that any survey worth doing will include some relevant topics. Increasing relevance can simply be a case of reframing invitations to change their emphasis, for example moving away from abstract topics like “the industry”.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE
Relevance will get a survey opened, but not completed. Every minute counts, and an engaging B2B survey must use its respondents’ time effectively. We have seen surveys with high open rates which then suffered high drop-out rates, until their questions were re-ordered and the survey length dropped from 5 minutes to 3. A good sample provider can help with this, for example by using respondents from high-quality panels where some data comes ‘pre-filled’, reducing the number of questions required.
This is an area where stress-testing the survey before launch - for instance by completing it with a timer running - can be invaluable. If a senior respondent feels their time is being respected and the survey is genuinely short and to-the-point, it will make them far more likely to engage and complete the questions.
3. KEEP IT AGILE
Making surveys simple and relevant does not end with launch. In fact, the process of survey optimization may just be beginning, as modern surveys can be improved and changed during the fielding process. Monitoring of in-field surveys used to be a very blunt instrument, with no real transparency - sample buyers would see completes, but have no view into which elements of the survey were causing drop-out.
That has changed, and agile surveys are becoming more common. It is good practice now to proactively track the status of surveys in-field, and quickly learn where the pressure points are that are creating respondent drop-out. This allows for in-field changes to elements of a survey - like the intro page, layout or even question order - to improve engagement.
Monitoring engagement is particularly crucial in B2B surveys because the incidence rate of desired respondents is often much lower than in consumer research. This makes any drop-out proportionally more costly, so swift action to improve engagement and completion rates is essential.
4. KEEP IT HELPFUL
There is an emotional element in B2B surveys, just as there is in consumer research. While the gamification tricks appropriate to B2C do not work, there is plenty of room to design incentives that deliver an emotional payoff and drive engagement up for even high-level executive survey participants.
Like everything else in B2B survey work, the bedrock is respect for your respondents and their status. Most C-level individuals appreciate incentives which reward them with exclusive information (like the results of the study) or make the time spent feel valuable in other ways, for instance by offering to make a charitable donation. In some cases, offering no incentive - other than warm and sincere gratitude for their time - will be more effective than offering something which feels inadequate.
Even the best-designed and most relevant B2B survey will still reach people who are simply too busy to take any action. But by following these four principles and honoring respondents’ time and career level, a B2B survey will not only maximize engagement, but it will also leave a better impression for the future.