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Surveys Don’t Work (and other lies we tell ourselves)

Surveys are a very important part of your sponsorship program. Every organisation should be surveying their attendees and their database if they want to grow (or maintain) their sponsorship program.

I talk a lot about the power of audience data and cover the importance of surveys in all of my in person and online training and it is easily one of the most controversial topics that I cover. The controversy stems from the belief that surveys don’t work. Let me address this assumption now:

Surveys work and you need to be doing them.

But Surveys Don’t Work Anymore

I’m not sure where this claim comes from. It sounds like there was some golden era of surveying where 100% of people asked replied to surveys but now people are so cynical that surveys don’t work anymore.

The only people who can make this claim are those who have actually sent a well-crafted survey, with an appropriate incentive, to their database and heard nothing back. I have yet to meet someone who followed survey best practices and heard nothing back and we always get excellent results from our surveys.

If there was a golden age of surveying…it isn’t over!

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I Will Never Get a Response Big Enough

This is a variation of the first objection but it also includes the belief that you need a 90% response rate to have confidence in the results of the survey.

This is incorrect.

How many responses do you need to have a decent response rate for a sample size of 5000 people?


That’s it.

If you have a database of 5000 people and you can’t get 256 people to reply to a survey designed to help you deliver better events, programming, communications etc. then you probably shouldn’t be doing sponsorship until you figure out why your database is so unresponsive.

How did I get this number? Using this free tool.

My Audience Would Never Tell Me…

“I could never ask my audience for their preferred brands or their income or, or, or…”

The list goes on and on but you would be surprised at what people are willing to tell you in a well-crafted, properly incented survey.

A fascinating trend has emerged with this objection and it belongs to charities. Charities hold this view more than any of our clients, the belief that their donors and volunteers will be offended by any questions asked about them personally.

The people in your database have agreed to receive communications from you, have attended your events, have paid you money for your services and in the case of charities, have given you money as a donation, for nothing in return, purely because they believe in what you do.

This is exactly the type of audience who can’t wait to give you their feedback, especially if it means a better experience for them and helping you accomplish your mission.

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People Will Unsubscribe

Of course they will! But only a few. This objection is rooted in the belief that people will unsubscribe in droves and your database will be decimated by one survey. If a survey designed to solicit feedback causes someone to unsubscribe, then that person was never really your customer (or donor). They aren’t members of your Tribe (in the Seth Godin sense).

If a survey causes them to unsubscribe then what will happen when you start to activate your sponsorship by sending samples, coupons and commercial messages to your database (all of which are part of typical sponsorship agreements)?

Having subscribers for their own sake doesn’t make sense, you want subscribers who are fans and who will participate, attend events, buy products, donate, volunteer and who are willing to help you make your programming better.

Case Study Alert! The Two Million Dollar Mistake

I was working with two identical clients, or at least very similar in terms of their audience profile and mission. Neither knew their audience very well and both were looking for major title sponsorship for a signature event. I suggested a survey to both clients, Client One offered all of the excuses in this blog post and bowed out of the survey process. Client Two challenged themselves and moved forward with a survey.

As of this writing (and what inspired this post) ,Client One is still trying to sell sponsorship based on their cause and not based on their audience data, which is a big mistake and isn’t working for them. Client Two spent the last year negotiating with a major sponsor and have now closed a seven-figure opportunity.

Client two told over and over again while we worked together to negotiate the deal:

“The valuation gave us the confidence to negotiate while the audience data gave us what we needed to beat our competition and prove that we could deliver ROI to our prospect.”

Without audience data, Client One is just another cause while Client Two is a genuine business partner.

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Don’t Decide for Your Audience

If I have learned anything as a consultant, having surveyed millions of people across Canada and the US, it’s that you should never make decisions on behalf of your audience. Deciding that your database will never answer a survey or that they don’t want to help you succeed is a bad idea. I can also say that every single time we deliver a survey, without exception, we are surprised by the results.

But What About…

I can already hear the objections pouring in!

But what if I am a big, small or medium org? A charity? A conference? The arts? If you hold the belief that sponsorship changes based on the type of organization you work for, read this.

Chris Baylis is an expert in sponsorship valuation and sponsorship strategy. Chris works with brands and sponsorship properties to define their sponsorship goals, determine market value of their sponsorship assets and create strategies that work. Chris is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and an international speaker and consultant on all things sponsorship marketing.