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The Most Important Thing You Can Do as a Business Owner
By Ryan P. M. Allis, CEO Broadwick Corp.

What is the single most important thing you can do as a business owner? That is a question that this week I think I have found an answer to. The answer? Keep your ear to the marketplace by listening to your customers.

Ford’s Mistake

In the early 1920’s Henry Ford launched his assembly-line produced Model T. The car was relatively inexpensive, yet of good quality for the time. In order to reach production goals, the company decided to offer only one color of the car—black. You could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black the saying went. With this strategy, Ford quickly dominated the market, capturing up to 57% of the car market at its height. It was a brilliant initial strategy, but Ford eventually faltered. He simply forgot to listen to his customers that were asking for additional color options. General Motors saw this trend, and capitalized on it, producing cars in a multitude of color options and quickly taking back much of the Ford market share gains. With all the innovative ideas, industry-changing processes, and brilliant strategies Ford came up with, he forgot the most basic principle—the business owner rarely knows better than his or her customers.

Surveying Your Clients

There are a few ways to listen to your clients. Most business owners, at least in the early stages, maintain contact with and speak with at least a few clients each week. This is a good start, but I have found that it is not enough to speak with only our large clients—as these clients often have very different requirements that an average user.

The best way that I have found to be able to get feedback from our full client base is by sending a survey. Surveys can be sent either by mail or via the web. I would recommend sending web-based surveys over printed surveys as it is much less expensive and provides a higher response rate and a quicker return of information. Within IntelliContact Pro, the email marketing software my company Broadwick has developed, there is an included web-based surveying tool called IntelliSurvey that allows anyone to easily create, send, and receive results from web-based surveys.

In sending a survey, there are a few questions that can be especially helpful to ask. These questions include:

  • What do you like about our product or service?
  • How do you use our product or service?
  • How can we improve our product or service?
  • Is there anything we can do to improve your satisfaction with our product or service?
  • Are there any other services or products we could offer that you might be interested in?

Generally I would recommend leaving these types questions open ended. You can also ask non open ended questions such as “On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with our customer service?” or “Which of these five features add-ons would benefit you most?”

Once you have deployed your survey, the next step is to wait for the responses to come in. While this may vary by industry, I’ve found about 90% of the total responses will come in during the first 72 hours after deployment of a web-based survey. With IntelliContact Pro, you can always review and export the results to Excel at any time whether you want to review the initial responses after an hour or download the final results after a week. I’ve seen response rates for web-based surveys range from 5% to 50% depending on the number of questions, the type of list, and how well your customers know you. When we survey our IntelliContact client-base we generally receive about a 10-15% response rate. Our last survey, sent out on July 22, 2005 had five questions and received 295 responses out of a total 2350 clients who received the survey.

Reviewing the Results

Once you have the results, the next and very important step is to review them. If you have more than a few dozen responses, I would recommend creating a Feedback Summary Document that categorizes each reported method for improvement and tabulates the number of times a similar request comes up. At the end of this process, you’ll be able to get a very good idea of why your clients like your product or service and what they feel can be done to improve it, probably the two most important pieces of information you can have as a business owner. With this information you can create an improved roadmap for your product that will allow you to stay competitive and provide the product that your customers want.

In addition to being able to create this improved roadmap, you’ll also likely have a number of very good testimonials or case study material that you can use from the answers to the “what do you like” and “how do you use it” questions. As an example, my company Broadwick has collected and published a number of case studies and customer testimonials that have come from past client surveys at

Implementing the Changes

Once you have a good idea of what the most requested improvements are, you can consider how and when to implement these changes. Depending on your production or development cycle, it may take days or months to make some of the requested changes. Know that not all clients will want the same things. Some may even want changes or new features that conflict—causing you to have to consider offering multiple product lines or completing custom work.

When you have made some or all of the requested improvements be sure to get some additional feedback from your clients prior to launching your new version or improved offering. One of the larger mistakes that I’ve made to date in my still young business career is not getting sufficient client feedback prior to launching a new version of my email marketing product to the full user base a few months ago. If we had allowed access to a few clients to review the new version prior to launch—we likely could have averted a number of the bugs and headaches that occurred after the launch. We since have changed our development process so that this type of beta client review is possible. In your organization, depending on what type of product you are selling, certainly consider showing an early version of your new offering to some clients or holding a focus group session to get the very valuable post-change feedback prior to launch. Giving your client, and prospects for that matter, a role in the development of your product will help them feel valued and also be more likely to want to purchase your new product after launch.  

Here is a review of the seven step feedback process I’ve discussed:

  1. Ask the questions in a web-based survey
  2. Create a feedback summary document from the results
  3. Implement the changes
  4. Get client feedback on the changes
  5. Make final modifications
  6. Go live with the changed product or service
  7. Wait a few months and then restart the process  

Listen to your customers and you’ll get the feedback you need to make customer-centric business decisions that will allow you to increase your client satisfaction, lifetime value, and retention rate.  

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few best practice guidelines for sending out a web-based survey to your client base.

  • Survey your clients at least every year, preferably every 6 months
  • If your organization offers multiple products or services, create separate surveys for the customers of each major type of product or service you offer.
  • Be sure to include questions asking both what your clients like about your product or service as well as any suggestions they have for improving it.
  • Use a web-based survey tool such as IntelliSurvey (included in all IntelliContact Pro accounts) to increase response rates, make collecting and reviewing data easy, and save on postage.  

Sending Your Own Web-Based Survey

If you are a current user of IntelliContact Pro, all you need to do to get started with your survey is log in and click the Survey tab. If you are not yet an IntelliContact Pro client or trial user, you can test out our survey feature for free by signing for a fifteen day free trial at

This Web Marketing article was written by Ryan P Allis on 7/27/2005

Ryan P. Allis, 20, is the author of Zero to One Million, a guide to
building a company to $1 million in sales, and the founder of Ryan is also the CEO of Broadwick Corp., a provider of
the permission-based email marketing software and CEO of Virante, Inc.,
a web marketing and search engine optimization firm. Ryan is an
economics major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
where he is a Blanchard Scholar. [learn more].