Surveying Your Own List: The Pros and Cons of Cheap Wine

So you’re planning to do an online survey. Good for you! Now one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to use an in-house list you already own, or purchase one, say from the Ask You Target Market Panel. On the surface that may seem like a simple choice — go with what you have and save some money, right? But stop and think a minute. Is that really your best option?

It’s a little like BYOB in a 5-star restaurant. Sure you could save a few bucks, but is that really what would best compliment that lovingly prepared Beef Wellington?

In-house, or out?

Both are valid options. Realistically though, there are risks to using an in-house list. True, it may save some money, and it’s convenient, but there are some serious considerations:

Limited scope — Your list is likely based on your clients or people who already know your brand, right? So unless you have a need to focus on your existing clientele, using an in-house list for your survey tells you only what your current customers think. What about potential ones?

The wrong list — Is your list comprised of the right people? For example, if you want product idea feedback, does your list include people who actually use your type of product? I’ve seen many cases where a company has a list of purchasing managers at companies, but that’s not the target market. Alternatively, a consumer product may be purchased by moms, but used by someone else. Oh, and if you think the people on your list will just forward your survey to the right contact, think again. That’s just not happening.

Lack of Permission — Having an in-house list doesn’t automatically give you permission to use it for research purposes, and people are very sensitive to a perception of violation in that regard. This is especially true in the international arena. Some countries have very strict privacy laws, and you can quickly find yourself in trouble using your list inappropriately. Where did your in-house list come from? Will its members be annoyed or upset at receiving surveys via email? Do you have permission to use the list for survey research?

Quality — Is your list accurate and up-to-date? Be honest with yourself. If 10 percent of the names or e-mails are bad, both you and your project will suffer. If you have any doubts about the quality of your list, save yourself the aggravation and delay. (As an aside, consider testing your list. Send your survey to about 50 random people from your list and measure the response and e-mail bounce-back rates.)

In the final analysis, using an in-house list may work if your goal is to survey your current customers, you have the right contacts, the list is clean, and you have permission. If you can do all of that, fantastic! But if you’re not quite there, consider looking outside your own back yard for the higher quality an AYTM list can offer. And when you go out to a nice dinner, leave that cheapo wine at home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathryn Korostoff
Kathryn Korostoff teaches Market Research best practices at for Ask Your Target Market, and is the president of Research Rockstar, delivering Market Research training and support services. She can be reached at KKorostoff AT ResearchRockstar DOT com.