SurveyMonkey Has Quizzed Us Since 1999. Now It Has Answers

When Dave Goldberg stepped into the role of CEO at SurveyMonkey in 2009, he saw an opportunity to transform the company. Back then, the company behind the world’s leading online survey platform was made up of just 14 people. It was profitable and successful, Goldberg remembers, with lots of happy customers. But Goldberg believed SurveyMonkey could do more than ask questions. It also has a lot of answers.

Goldberg is under no illusions that when people hear the name SurveyMonkey, they could be tempted to dismiss the company out of hand as unserious. But there’s a good chance you’ve taken one of SurveyMonkey’s surveys since the company was founded during the height of the first dotcom boom. SurveyMonkey says that these days its servers handle 3 million survey responses every day—about 100 MB per minute, or almost 150 GB per day.

That pipeline is precisely what Goldberg realized he could leverage. In April, the company introduced SurveyMonkey Benchmarks, a product it bills as a way to unlock its vast database of answers. Today customers include 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies, along with organizations ranging from academic institutions to neighborhood soccer leagues. With such a wide spread, SurveyMonkey believes it can offer an incredibly accurate picture of how you stack up against everyone else.

Points of Comparison

In 2011, SurveyMonkey released a product called Question Bank, a collection of pre-written questions SurveyMonkey says it’s methodologically inspected to remove biases and help survey makers get the best quality answers from respondents. The answers feeding into these standardized questions became the starting point for the company’s Benchmarks product.

After several years of cleaning up and ordering the data (one employee described the process as “building a plane while it’s flying and accelerating”), Benchmarks is launching with four categories: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, net promoter scores (a metric that looks at whether or not customers are recommending a product or service to others), and website feedback. For users who want to run those same sets of questions by their own customers, employees, or the public, the idea is that they’ll now have a rich context to which they can compare their results.

To explain how it works, SurveyMonkey shared its own internal employee engagement data with WIRED, comparing results with SurveyMonkey benchmarks. In the category of how employees evaluated the work atmosphere at SurveyMonkey, for example, 75 percent of employees surveyed said they agreed SurveyMonkey is dedicated to diversity. Though getting two-thirds of the respondents to respond to the survey question positively seems like a clear majority, the context changes when you know the base percentage of all those who had ever agreed when asked the same diversity question: 63 percent. In other words, SurveyMonkey still does better than average, but depending on the gap in percentage points between the baseline response and what the internal survey returns, a company may choose to make adjustments to its policy accordingly.

Democratizing Context

Benchmarking products have existed before, but they’ve typically been offered by entrenched research firms that focus on a specific vertical—Towers Perrin for the HR industry, for instance—and the data can run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Other players in the space include management consulting firm Bain & Co., which created the Net Promoter Score also included in Benchmarks, and enterprise feedback outfits like Allegiance Software, Qualtrics, and CustomerGauge.

SurveyMonkey believes it can offer insights of comparable quality at a much lower price thanks to its reach. The benchmarks are refreshed every quarter, and SurveyMonkey gives the average benchmark—average across all industries, that is—for free. If customers want to cut the data further, for instance, looking only at responses one industry vertical, or if they want to compare themselves to the top 25 percent companies in a certain industry, or a firm of a certain size in a certain industry that looks more like them, SurveyMonkey charges a fee for the product, starting from about $800.

SurveyMonkey also claims its model allows it to offer specificity in domains where establishing benchmarks wouldn’t typically be worth the cost, such as in the education and nonprofit sectors.

“We’ve been able to give people democratized access to making decisions based on data,” Goldberg says. “Now we want to democratize the context of that data.”

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