Late last night I was in conference with a potential client in South Africa (I’m in Australia, right now).

Towards the end of our conversation, he asked if I thought much market intelligence could be gleaned from customer surveys.

I answered (almost instinctively), data, yes; but, intelligence, no.

When pressured for a more coherent answer, I explained that I had never seen customer survey responses that provide any market intelligence. Never. Never. Never!

My position is that, to qualify as intelligence, survey results must be:

  1. Unexpected (if you know the answer already, why ask the question?)
  2. Actionable (if data doesn’t cause you to do something differently then where’s the benefit?)

Think about the survey results you’ve seen.  How often have you been surprised?  And how often have you been motivated to take some specific action?

Now, of course, I’m not advocating ignorance. Market intelligence is critical. You shouldn’t try to survive without it. It’s just that surveys are a pretty poor way of generating intelligence.

Here’s the thing …

In your business, you bank behavior, not attitudes.

My advice then, is stop measuring attitudes and, instead, measure behavior. Run controlled experiments. Change offers, change headlines, change opportunity-management workflows (not all at once, of course) and measure the impact of changes on, enquiries, conversions and, ultimately, sales.

Now, those who make their living from surveys will argue that attitude is an antecedent to behavior. I’m sure that in most cases it is. And in some, it definitely isn’t (how many smokers genuinely believe that their’s is an intelligent choice?)

But even if this claim is true, this position contains another assumption: that surveys actually measure attitudes. Do they?

Before you answer that question, consider another: which do you think is the more accurate predictor of a client’s future behavior:

  1. Their current attitude
  2. Their prior behavior

Tell me if you disagree but, to my mind, it’s a no contest!

And behavior is much sexier than attitude for another reason too: it’s inherently measureable (in a much more objective sense than the surveyor’s 1-5 scale).

If you value market intelligence, can the surveys. Objective management is a philosophy, not a once-a-year event!