Powerful Questions

Building powerful questions: creating an intelligent survey that does not insult the respondent.

Building a good series of questions is much like studying a chessboard. You have to have a strategy. The right questions will quickly guide the respondent through the interview guide and provide you with the information you want.

The key is constructing the right questions and then putting them in order.


Setting the tone. Do you remember a particular job interview that you sat through that absolutely blew you away? You walked away thinking “these guys are really smart,” I want to work for this company.

The same goes for your online survey / interview guide. Make it intelligent.

The key to good questions is to know what you want to learn. As we mentioned in a previous blog, know “what are the business questions” you want answered.

Start out with a purpose statement as well as a benefit for the respondent. Why the heck should someone want to fill out this goofy survey anyway?


XYZ Diagnostics is developing an advanced molecular platform to support laboratorians. Intelligent design means that we have incorporated the features that will help you provide timely results for your physicians and their patients.

 We need 10 minutes of your time to provide your ideas and comments. In appreciation of your time we will send you a gift card valued at _______.

There you are: purpose and benefit.

Did you notice that we also stated how long the survey will take? Too many people get caught in these online surveys that keep bouncing from screen to screen. Make it short and sweet.

Now you have your work cut out for you; build a survey that will only take ten minutes. This means a lot of check boxes and table questions…click, click, check, check.


Plan your strategy. You need to collect information from a couple of areas when it comes to instrumentation:

  • Menu- what tests will be run / must have and nice to have
  • Volume- what are the high volume tests
  • Labor- how many people will interface with the equipment
  • Budget- how much has the laboratory either budgeted or is willing to pay
  • Decision process- how long will it take to evaluate an instrument and who will be involved

Now go to each of these sections and build a series of questions.

By giving yourself a time limit “this survey will be completed in 10 minutes,” you will need to be judicious about the actual questions. Avoid the open ended questions like:

  • describe the ideal instrument
  • how would you improve on molecular biology instrumentation
  • what type of software would you want

Instead of the open questions, build a series of tables with options and have the respondent work through these.

Lastly, too often marketing managers go nuts and want to add more and more questions or build a survey by committee. Someone will always have “just one more question” to add. Remember, your final question can be: “would you be interested in conducting a phone interview to explore more of these areas?” This is your opportunity to pick four or five or fifteen respondents and then do a “deep dive.”

The question that needs to be answered

Understanding the business question that needs to be answered: why is the research being undertaken?

Market research does not have to be an enormous undertaking requiring tens of thousands of dollars and many months of data collection and analysis. Rather, market research is a dynamic tool that provides the business manager with specific answers to a pressing business question.

One of the best ways to drive a project is to ask yourself, “what is the business question that I need answered?” In other words, you need data to make a good decision. Some of the business decisions you may be asking are:

  • Do we need to offer a larger kit size
  • Should we make tech support available 24 hours per day
  • Should we add electrolytes to our chemistry instrument
  • Could I raise the price if we had a faster result

You will also find that when you keep it simple and focus on the one business question your project does not “wander.” Too often projects grow because “as long as we have them on the phone, let’s ask them about new equipment then lets add a question about new cancer markers.”

When you have a very clear business question that needs to be answered, you will find that your market research project becomes crisp and short. Your results come in quickly and the project budget is very friendly.