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Should Your Business Survey Have a Cash Prize?

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It’s staple of many business marketing campaigns: run a survey and offer a prize. But are direct incentives good for business or do they undermine the quality of the data?

Here’s the question in its simplest form: Should you give a prize away when you’re running a survey? The answer is a firm “maybe.”

To understand the relationship between surveys and incentives, we have to once again delve in to the science of motivation. This topic comes up all the time in business productivity and process design, because the reason why people conduct work impacts how they do the work.

In this case, the incentive for completing the evaluation is at least, in part, the value provided through the prizes. Consider a contest in which people receive free event tickets or a gift card. These are called extrinsic motivators, because they come from the outside world.

consulting on prize money

© Flickr user Tax Credits

There’s also the sense of intrinsic motivation of helping to improve a program by giving feedback. Hopefully some people are inspired to help others, or at least to help themselves by getting concerns off their chest! But as many have noted, the people that are most likely to offer you their thoughts are the ones that typically have a bad experience.

In an ideal world, you want everyone to be intrinsically motivated. We know that extrinsic rewards are the worst way to improve employee satisfaction. And indeed, if you look at the data from most surveys, almost no one leaves any comments. Most people check a few boxes, perhaps hoping to score a prize. In fact, there’s every incentive to race through the survey, since the quality of your responses don’t impact your chances of winning.

While it’s true that adding a prize does impact the quality of the result. However, doing so is also likely to increase the number of participants. The size of the incentive is the major factor at work here. So what if you get a high response rate? Is that always good?

When it comes to business surveys: Is more, in fact, better? And are these kinds of surveys really advertising in disguise?

Ultimately, the fundamental issue here is the degree to which this effort constitutes marketing. Like all small businesses, we want potential customers to know who we are and have a chance to find out more about our services. At the same time, we want to be careful about how we motivate those individuals. Clients should be people who believe in our value and want to pay for our expertise, not people who have been motivated mostly through gifts, prizes and discounts. The best customers, like the best employees, are those that are driven by a sense of purpose. Prizes should be used sparingly. Motivation is what gives work meaning.

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