It’s amazing how much is known by customers, competitors, suppliers, distributors, employees, owners, managers and people in general. More importantly, it’s amazing how candid and realistic their opinions generally are.
For those reasons, it’s often worth asking targeted people a few important and relevant questions. You will be amazed at the quality of information and insight they can provide. Generally, these respondents come from a very broad and relevant range of friendly categories, for instance, your shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers and competitors. Often, these respondents are willing to share points of view, opinions and experiences candidly while maintaining their own confidentiality.
As my consulting link to many projects, backgrounds for articles, and generation of feedback, I have surveyed a large number of companies, organizations and other groups, and have grown to love the interfaces and informal discussion that we share. Interestingly enough, my collected information has never been used to take advantage of a competitor’s private info, expand an individual’s career aspirations, steal private data, opinions, competitive plans or other secrets. Rather, the benefit comes from broadly understanding various group preferences, concerns, issues, priorities and areas of emphasis.
Try these surveys
Some examples of valuable surveys include:
- Shareholders (especially those in medium-size corporations), whose preferences may include acquisition or spinoff of certain businesses, ranking among competitors, aggressiveness of strategies, or satisfaction with management and strategy.
- Acquisitions: Candidates generally require a thorough understanding of that candidate’ s reputation and market position, often using survey techniques to provide the perspectives, comparisons and insights that are necessary for a valuation and decision.
- Customers (especially in tightly defined markets), with regard to comparisons of capabilities with competitors, opinions of responsiveness, effectiveness, communications, product development, product line, marketing messages, financial terms, access to desired resources, etc.
- Employees, generally broken into two groups:
- Management, with regard to policies, ideas and suggestions, effective concepts of competitors, availability of resources, career planning, cross functional effectiveness, policies, etc.
- Functional, regarding management, communications, functional support, comparison to additional or outside resources, “suggestion box” recommendations, career planning, etc.
- Suppliers, with a focus on responsiveness, relationship quality, “best” customers (and why), new product development, challenging issues and areas, relationship process recommendations. (Additionally, “friendly competitors” are likely to fall into this category.)
- Supply chain partners, including issues relating to transportation, warehousing, logistics, scheduling, reliability, communications, issue resolution and responsiveness.
You may think that individuals’ contact information and willingness to respond would be real challenges, but, from my own experience, I have found that 1) telephone and email contacts are remarkably accessible (just Google their website!), and 2) once the discussion begins, it is amazingly easy for the interviewee to share their favorite issues, ones that they deal with every day (especially those issues that are sensitive to their job focus). Even more so, I have found that offering to provide summary feedback at the conclusion of the survey is a great incentive to those who participate.
The next time you want to pick the brains of your staff, competition, suppliers and customers, take a shot at a survey! And if it’s intimidating to you, feel free to call me for some free tips and best practices that will make the experience a valuable one for you.
Robert Sabath is director of Transportation and Logistics Advisors, LLC. Questions, comments and observations are greatly appreciated. Reach Sabath at rsabath@TandLA.net.