Stop Talking To The Mirror!

There are, depending on the size of your business, somewhere between 10 and 1,000 people who care enough about your company to offer free advice, insight, and the unfiltered truth directly to you. Each month you can ask these people anything about your business that you’d like to and get back a response rate of around 70%. Get ideas for new products, feedback on new ad concepts, or simply ask for their solution to your biggest problem. It sure beats talking to the mirror where all you get are predictable answers to your questions. Wait. There is a catch though – the cost. It’s anywhere between free and $599 a year.

This is what I call a customer advisory board, and you can have one in four easy steps.

1. Invite your customers to join
– For my home builder, I simply added one statement to the end of the survey that is filled out at the end of closing. It states “I would like to participate in the customer advisory board to give critical feedback on a variety of issues. I understand that I will only receive one survey per month, and that there will be rewards for involvement.” Over the past year and a half about 40% of those surveyed have opted-in.

2. Choose your survey tool
– I recommend either or Survey Monkey offers a $200 per year unlimited use plan that is perfect for medium to large companies and remains light on the budget.

3. Create your survey
– Both sites mentioned offer What You See Is What You Get survey creation. If you can create a word document, then you’ll be creating surveys like a pro in no time. Get creative and ask questions that help you solve problems for yourself and others in your company! You won’t believe the looks you’ll get when in the meeting of a meeting you offer “hey, why don’t we just ask 200 of our current customers what they think?” Try and keep it under 5 questions – show them you value their time.

4. Send the survey, and reward someone

– No more than once a month, send out the survey to everyone on your list. Then from those that respond select a winner at random. Be sure to announce the winner at the beginning of your next survey. It makes the winner feel good about being recognized, and it shows everyone else that you really do reward good behavior.

There you have it. Why not tap into this powerful form of research starting today? Stop talking to the mirror and break out of the corporate bubble. They may not say exactly what you want to hear, but aren’t you getting sick of listening to your own echo?

A couple of quick hits to keep you out of trouble:

– This is NOT quantitative research. Do not make the mistake of using this as THE decision making tool (keep flipping a coin for that). It only offers insights, and sometimes can raise as many questions as it answers. That is not a bad thing.

– Sometimes the customer isn’t right. Apple computer knows this – they don’t ask people what they want. Instead, they create something that people will want before they know they want it. If you ask the group to give input on something that’s never been done before, expect some puzzled responses. A more concrete example is this – don’t ask your advisory board how much profit you should make on a home. They will probably not give you a “right” answer (However, their perceptions may surprise you!)

– Remember that these people have already done business with you before! That’s good because they know how you operate, but it sometimes means you have to be creative with your questions so you don’t offend or alienate them.

– Two or three times a year let everyone on the board know how their feedback has caused change at the company. This helps them feel connected and keeps them excited, even if they aren’t winning the monthly prize.

Author Bio:
Kevin Oakley is a branding and marketing expert specializing in real estate. He is currently the Director of Marketing & Sales Training at Heartland Homes— a top 100 builder. You can interact with him on his blog at

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