How Effective is Your Questionnaire?


Getting project-critical information from your clients… it ain’t easy.

A popular way for designers to get information from clients is to send them a questionnaire. But is that effective?

We service providers love these forms. After all, how well the client answers the questions on the form tells us many things, right? Like whether or not they are a serious buyer, how big their project is, and exactly what it will entail. We think our form shines a magical light into the inner workings of the business.

Kind of like a mind-reading x-ray.

But in my experience, it’s never worked like that. Clients have tended to fall into two main categories.

Nope, not doing it

“Pfft, no way am I filling out this silly little questionnaire.”

Or, if it’s a big fabulously well-thought out version: “No way am I filling out this monster…. if I had time for all this I wouldn’t need to hire you.”

Okay sure,  I guess…

These clients are game to go along, but they’re frazzled and busy. They race through the form, tossing out haphazard answers, just to be done.

And maybe, they feel just a little resentful, because… isn’t doing all this work your job?

And I decided that yes, figuring out what the client needs is my job. When I go to an auto mechanic, or a tax accountant, I don’t tell them what I need. I pay them to figure out what I need and make it happen.

So I have replaced my questionnaire with a Zoom call that I get permission to record. Guess what I go through, point-by-point, on the Zoom call?

Yep, my all-encompassing questionnaire.

I have noticed that people who barely answered anything from a questionnaire will happily chat at length about their business. Providing a human touch and listening while clients talk helps to establish trust.

I ask the questions and note the answers. This new system has worked out great. Talking to clients gives me way better insight into their processes and perspectives than if they filled out the form themselves. I hear hesitation, uncertainty, excitement, overwhelm – things I would never glean from a hastily-scribbled answer.

What to put on your questionnaire?

And what about the questions themselves? What do you ask? Once you’ve interviewed a few dozen leads, you’ll have experience to draw from. But it’s hard to know, especially when you’re starting out, just what to ask.

In my early freelancer days, I scoured the web and found many forms that asked the same questions. I thought, this must be what I need to know, right?

I found one that looked like a good collection of questions, and based my first form on it. Its first question was “Do you want to build a new website or redesign an existing one?” Being a newbie, this seemed like a reasonable question.

client filling out an online questionnair

Fast-forward several years and now that I realize what a dangerous question that is. Every time I have redesigned/updated an existing website, it’s been a far more gnarly hassle than a new build would have been.

So I went on another search for a better form. I found one on a popular blog with over 70 questions. Seventy questions, for crying out loud… that’s too much for even the nerds who love filling out forms and checking off boxes.

It’s enough to make powerful, educated, grown-ass women ugly-cry.

Cut your clients a break, hop on a call and let them talk to you.

Fill out your form yourself.

And be prepared to deviate from it on a moment’s notice. Make sure you capture the info that is vital to the way you work. I make sure to uncover hidden stakeholders and assets. Like these examples from my real life:

  • A former business partner with the power to veto an SEO strategy right as it was ready to launch.
  • A college buddy who dislikes all of the photos and graphics on a website.
  • A client’s husband (who considered himself the Tech Guy) who liked to log into their website to update things. Egads.

Living through these scenarios was… let’s say unpleasant. But it helped me ask better questions and be a better listener. It made me a better marketing professional – and for that I am grateful. 

My own questionnaire is constantly updated as I refine my approach. Hit the button to see the current version.

Resources for marketing pros

My Current Questionnaire

Should I Show Prices on My Website?

Resources for Your Business