Send Periodic, Cumulative Reports

Survey sponsors should not restrict themselves to publishing a single, comprehensive, final report. Opportunities exist for them to loosen up and turn out interim aggregated reports.

If you launch a survey and keep it open in the field for months, and if during that time you keep up a drum beat of publicity and reach-out efforts, you can decide to release a first report based on the early returns. More and more respondents hear about the survey and take part. Then, you can release a second report that wraps in the answers of the first group with those of the new arrivals – a cumulative report. Rinse and repeat for a third report, especially if you recruit the third batch of respondents with your thank you emails to the second group to help spread the word (you can send the second batch of respondents the first report immediately to give them more to crow about). You gain a persuasive point when your later email invitations can boast how many respondents are in a previous cumulative report. “Our first release covered 101 respondents” makes a powerful claim. People fasten their attention on topics at different times, so if the survey stays open for months, you capture latecomers that you would otherwise have lost.

This build-up of participant numbers, punctuated by cumulative reports, works. I pumped out four reports a year based on my law department benchmark survey. It launched in March and stayed open the rest of the year. Early birds got quick numbers and then enjoyed more and more robust data as the year passed and they received the cumulative reports. I sent the first release in the early summer, a release with additional respondents in the early fall, a third release in early December, and the final report that rolled up all the participants the first week of the new year. The releases after the first one included all respondents to date and went out to all respondents. Thus, the earliest participants (from March to the end of May) received a total of three more releases.

Cumulative reports afford you the opportunity to improve them as you proceed. A few readers write you with comments or suggestions that combine with your own ideas for enhancement. You choose more informative graphics, add tables with summary data, or write better findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

If you have revised any questions or selections, the cumulative reports will pick up the new information and incorporate it. By tinkering with the questionnaire, you can find out which questions are taken up and which are not, meaning whether most respondents answer them or not. Or you learn that too many choose “Other,” and you should add a selection or better instructions.

If a rapidly changing situation is captured by a question, such as work from home policies or numbers, it is possible that a cumulative report could create a short-term snapshot of a trend or direction of change. Plus, each report that you send out creates a touch point with a potential customer.

A minor downside of cumulative reports is that you will inevitably collect a few responses from the same person, duplicate responses. Strange how busy people forget! While a few duplicates may sneak in, they are not hard to spot and handle.