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Friday, July 30, 1999

A Tale of Two Surveys

Reported by Hayley Green

Is  the Web the answer for those searching for a low cost way to gather feedback from their potential customers? McHenry Consulting and Gail Weiss & Associates (jointly with Cerulli Associates ) are two companies conducting surveys online and potentially learning the answer to this key question. Although these two companies might be doing essentially the same thing they have two very different stories to tell.

Related Links
  • McHenry Consulting Group
  • Gail Weiss & Associates
  • Cerulli Associates
  • McHenry Consulting provides consulting services to financial service firms, benefits consultants, employers and employee groups and unions. When it wanted to determine how employers integrate benefit programs or stock option plans and who makes the decisions -- a survey was in order. (The 401kWire.com is one of sponsors of the McHenry survey. It has no role in the Weiss survey).

    "Online is the way business is going to be done in the future and we do business in the future not in the past," Ward Harris , managing director at McHenry said. Harris explained that conducting the survey online was much more complicated because he did not have the participants e-mail addresses an therefore had to rely on long-relied upon solutions such as the postal service and phone follow-ups.

    "We would have had a better economic return if we didn't do the survey online because we had to mail invitations by letter and then we still had to call to remind them," Harris said. "But if we could have e-mailed the letters it would have been staring them in the face."

    According to Harris the response to the survey has been "pretty good. When the day comes that we have everyone's e-mail address then it will be different," Harris said.

    Taking up a project like doing a survey online may not be easy but is something that helps a company like McHenry get better at what they do, which is helping their clients. "We are trying to do better business for clients that want to do things in new and better ways," Harris said.

    Some of the disadvantages of conducting a survey via the Internet, according to Harris, is that the medium itself is self limiting. By using the Internet you are only targeting computer users and some people are still uncomfortable and insecure about the technology, he said.

    Online surveys may have carried some disadvantages for McHenry but Gail Weiss Associates' survey done jointly with Cerulli Associates had a very different story.

    Gail Weiss told The 401kWire.com that creating an online survey was much more economical. "Last year we did the survey in hard copy. This year it was much more simple, we got the e-mail addresses and did a mail merge. It was much better than stuffing envelopes."

    Cerulli Associates is a management consulting and market research firm that works with financial institutions to help them develop strategies to distribute financial products. Gail Weiss & Associates is a consulting firm that markets software and revenue sharing opportunities to TPAs.

    They are jointly surveying the TPA marketplace to gain a better understanding of the TPA marketplace, how TPAs impact the distribution of 401(k) products and to better understand the technology and revenue needs of TPAs.

    Weiss said she got e-mail addresses from a client newsletter, word of mouth, from people going to their web site who forwarded the information to others. "That wouldn't have happened if it was on hard copy," she said.

    Weiss's survey was e-mailed to 800 people and within 24-hours she said she had over 50 responses. Last year Weiss said she sent out 140 questionnaire and got a total of 58 responses. She expects to hear back from 200 to 300 TPAs from the online survey.

    Follow up e-mails can also be sent reminding people about the survey. "I know if I was to get an e-mail about a survey I would either do it right away or else it would get lost in the other 100s of e-mails that get left not taken care of."

    The hard copy survey sent out last year cost Weiss & Associates $4 a person. Posting the questionnaire online took only a weekend of a programmer's time, Weiss said. "And then after you send them through the mail I had to sit down and enter each response into the database. On the Internet it comes back to you already in a spreadsheet."

    Weiss could not think of many down sides to an online survey but she did admit that some people do have issues with the Internet's security system. In those cases she faxed the questionnaire to the person and entered the information into the computer.

    She also said there is the possibility of connectivity problems which can discourage someone. Lastly, Weiss said she missed peoples' individualized comments they would write in the margins of the paper-based survey.  

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