How to Collect Data (Hint: It’s About People)

by Scott Kaufman, Cofounder & CEO, PeerAspect

We all talk about "survey fatigue", but I believe we're really tired of all the busywork associated with collecting and sharing data.  But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it should be completely different.

Data is the raw material of our professional lives. It is like the alphabet, or a dictionary - it is the building block of our business language. On its own, or out of context, it means nothing. It's not a stretch to say that it's burdensome. But put together and woven into a compelling story, it comes to life and can inspire, or even enlighten us.

It's no secret that the need for data is growing, and very few of us welcome the prospect of collecting (or providing) more compliance information. However, it seems clear that a lot of this has to do with the fact that we treat data like a "tax" - we send out sterile forms, with boilerplate letters, demanding that this precious information be turned over so it can be "verified". We tend not to know who specifically is requesting it, or what they intend to do with it. It's like being judged by a jury of non-peers who you never get to meet. It's cold, impersonal, and oddly divorced from day-to-day reality.

It's no wonder that surveys are so ineffective - people don't want to be probed by strangers, and will never be happy to turn over valuable information to a faceless entity. This is true even if that entity is an important customer, and they are demanding that you surrender your data in order to retain a "preferred" status. Who could ever possibly feel good about such a dynamic?

So what is the "right" way to do it? Not surprisingly, it's all about people. If you went into a local coffee shop and said "I demand that you provide me with the ingredients and sources of a medium latte, or I will take my business elsewhere", you're not going to find a very receptive audience. But if instead (and I'm aware that this is a ridiculous scenario, but indulge me) you were to say, "Hi, how are you today?" Then, after some friendly banter, "hey, do you remember last month when we discussed dairy product sourcing, and I had some ideas about where you guys could get some good, local, organic milk?" How much different does that feel? 

People want to be treated like people. And people actually love to talk about themselves - just not at gunpoint. So the next time you need to collect data from stakeholders, take some time to start a conversation with them. Explain what it is you're doing, and why you're doing it. Listen to their concerns, their worries. You'll be shocked by how much more receptive an audience you'll find. And you'll be rewarded for it - you'll have the information you need, of course, but you just might find that you have more engaged, cooperative and all-around happier partners as well.

It's vital to think about this now because as product stewardship continues to grow in importance, the ability to quickly and efficiently collect and share high quality data will also grow in importance. It’s better to be prepared for -- and potentially even embrace -- this new reality.