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I recently googled to see what other people thought were the best market research survey software programs. I should start by saying that this blog article is more about things you should really consider if you want the best survey software FOR YOU. You’ll see why soon.
Are the top Google hits helpful?
The top hits were www.capterra.com which is a site where suppliers can list their products and users can review. The only problem is that there are not many reviews, although it gives you a reasonable list of products available, but too many to consider seriously.
Next, there was a www.wordstream.com blog article which actually focused solely on free online tools, such as Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, although, in fairness, it was quick to point out that you soon start paying if you want anything more than simple requirements in most cases.
Third hit was a website called www.toptenreviews.com. The author of this article, Whitney Sanchez, is a business writer who specialises in, you’ve guessed it, writing top ten reviews. The article on survey software covers similar products to the www.wordstream.com blog article and helpfully, it would appear, gives comparisons between products. The comparisons are not helpful though for professional market research surveys, so I would steer away from this.
www.mktresearch.org’s Wiki page is more informative
As you go further down Google’s top hits, you don’t find anything much more useful except for the odd review until, of course, you find the software vendors websites. If you google best market research software programs, you do find one website, mktresearch.org, which is informative and puts products into categories so that you can start to consider what type of product is best for you.
What survey software product is really best for you?
And, at last, this is where we get to the part of this blog article where I try to guide you to consider what product is best for you. Because, it may or may not be the cheapest. It may or may not be the easiest to use. It may or may not have thousands of users. So, what should you consider? Here’s what I think are the key things.
What must the software do?
Software vendors often like to dazzle you with features. At the end of the day, the most important features are the ‘must have’ features. If you need a product that can give you charts on the data you have collected, the software product must have charting capability. That’s obvious.
Data collection ‘must haves’
You might need to consider whether you want a software product that collects data in one form – for example, online. Or, do you want a product that can handle paper questionnaires, CAPI (Computer Assisted Paper Interviews), CATI (computer assisted telephone interviews) as well as online. Does the CAPI need to work both online and offline? For example, where there is a poor or no internet connectivity. Do you need mixed modes for some surveys? Some products handle all of these things, but many don’t. Check before you buy is the advice.
Questionnaire ‘must haves’
Questionnaires can be very simple and very short, but other questionnaires can have complex routing and require rotation of rating scales or other features to improve the quality of your research. Most products will allow some level of question routing, but can the product you are considering handle your most complex requirements?
Another important aspect of online data collection software is that surveys need to be engaging otherwise your respondents are less likely to complete your survey. Research has shown that online survey response rates improve dramatically when questionnaires are interesting or interactive.
Data analysis ‘must haves’
Most survey software has some analysis compatibility, but do you need basic question counts/percentages or cross-tabulations or charts? Further, do you need specific features, such as providing significance tests on tabulations? Think about what you must have for your most difficult client and, check whether it is easy to do what you want. You will also find that some software products can do what you want but it may be laborious or error-prone.
How long will it take to become proficient in its use?
Proficiency in the use of a product is an important consideration because, in practice, you should add it to the purchase price of the software. The better suppliers having online training videos to help you to get started. Some suppliers run free or low cost training courses; others will want to charge you hefty fee for training.
Can the software cope with more complex needs?
This is a difficult one because it’s hard to imagine what your future needs may be. You need to check that the software will handle your most challenging client’s requirements. However, if you are providing a service rather than servicing internal needs, you may want a bit of room for growth. Does the software easily cope with what you want it to handle or does it just about cope?
What level of staff do I need?
Another forgotten cost is the cost of the staff that use the software. Some products are easy to use and others take a lot of use to get up to speed. Find out what level of staff you need because a mistake could be expensive. If you really need a Java script programmer to use the software when you intended to use an office junior who can add up numbers in Excel, you may be in for an expensive error.
Can I get my data out of the software in the form I need?
In my opinion, you should only use software that can output data, as a minimum, in Excel, Triple-S and SPSS format. These are the three most common forms of transferring data to other people within the market research industry. If the product you intend to buy does not support these three data outputs, you need to be sure that you cannot supply what clients may need.
What if it doesn’t suit me, can I change easily?
I hate software that traps me inside it. You need to be sure that you can move your data to another product if it doesn’t work for you or no longer suits your needs. So, I can only reiterate that it should be possible to output data in Excel, Triple-S and SPSS formats.
Yes, the price is important, but…..
Remember that the price of the software product itself may not be the major cost. The efficiency of the software may have a real impact. Something complex may take more than twice as long to prepare in a less flexible product. Add in the cost of training and the level of staff needed to drive the software and you have a more rounded picture of the cost of your investment.
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