At a recent luncheon with a few friends, we were discussing surveys and questionnaires, and someone in the group said it was his opinion that a nonresponse was a yes answer. Respectfully, I disagree. Respectfully, I think that is ludicrous.
When I ask for a show of hands for volunteers and no one raises his hand, does that mean they have all volunteered? Does that mean that the person with the fewest votes gets elected? Does that mean that if I introduce several different car models, the one that sells the fewest is the most popular? “Hey Frank, we only sold 12 units of our Model 1635. We better ramp up production on those babies.”
If I send out a questionnaire asking, say, “Do you like McMillan’s Margarine?” and no one sends the survey back, does that mean there is an overwhelming desire for McMillan’s Margarine? Or is it more likely that they never heard of McMillan’s Margarine, never tried McMillan’s Margarine or really don’t care about McMillan’s Margarine one way or the other?
And if my friend’s premise is correct, why send out a survey at all? If you do send one out, I can pretty much guarantee that you will get no responses back and that would, according to him, result in a pretty high approval of the survey questions.
On a personal level, I have tried getting some sort of response from the members of one or another of organizations that I belong to. I have sent email requests. Usually there is an overwhelming nonresponse. I guess I should interpret that as an overwhelming positive response.
Recently I was in a position of needing to determine what sort of response I would get about a particular issue. Whenever I have sent similar requests via email and then complained about very little response, the replies I got later were, “I never got your email,” “It must have gone into my spam box,” “Are you sure you sent it to the right email address?” etc., etc. So this time I sent my survey by snail mail and I included a self-addressed, stamped envelope with it. I even designed the survey so that it took all of about two minutes to complete. The response results so far? About 10 percent positive. I guess that means I have a 100 percent approval rating because the other 90 percent nonresponse means approval, too.
Or maybe not.
— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul