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Benchmarking Process

4 Best Practices in Goal Setting for Your Benchmarking Study

Jan 23, 2017 3:00:00 PM

It’s the time of year when energies are high and attitudes are positive, all charged with a renewed focus on fresh starts and resolutions to make this year THE year. What organization doesn’t want to be more effective? More impactful? Who doesn’t want to do better? Looking for ways to improve upon past performance is the keystone of strategic planning for most organizations. Making sure to include your benchmarking studies in your goals can be very effective in improving the data quality, participation rates and user engagement with your benchmarking studies, and should become an integral part of your benchmarking process.


Right now is a good time to evaluate the results of last year’s study. Take a smart look at your survey and start planning for its next iteration.

  • Evaluate the questions. Questions that receive few responses may be asking for information that your users don’t have, don’t want to share, or may no longer be relevant.  Think about the value of the question - is it used for a Key Performance Indicator (KPI), performance ratio, or filter?  If not, consider removing the question. We are all strapped for time, so make sure that each question has a purpose.

  • Clarify ambiguities. Review the responses to the questions paying particular attention to outlier data. Are all users answering the questions using the same set of criteria?  If not, maybe the question should be reworded or additional support text is needed for clarification.  

  • Go beyond the data when you look at results. If you find you’re not getting a sufficient number of responses to a question or series of questions, the information just may not be of interest to your members. If you’re finding a drop off in responses near the end of your survey, it may simply be too long. 

  • Improve efficiency. Consider ways to streamline and/or re-organize your questions so users spend less time participating in your survey yet still get the reporting, performance measures and outcomes that drive participation.


When it comes to engagement, your members are the best resource for feedback on what information is the most meaningful to them. Some members are your super-users, while others rarely participate. Both ends of this user spectrum will provide valuable insight into what’s driving participation and data usage.

Ask your most active users, your ‘champions’, what motivates them to participate? Look for patterns in the types of organizations and departments they represent. Gather feedback on which KPIs are most meaningful to them and how they’re using that information within their organizations. 

On the flipside, contact inactive users to ask what prevents them from participating and/or using the data provided. Is the study too long? Are the data points not of value to them? For best results, conduct personal outreach to these individuals. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as an overloaded inbox that keeps a member from responding. 


The marketing of your benchmarking study is integral to its success. At goal setting time, you need to step back and, with a neutral perspective, and determine how well you communicated the purpose and value of your study to your members. Knowing what information is most valued by your members is key to a successful survey, but so is communication. If your members don’t know about your study or aren’t clear on its purpose, the likelihood of them participating in it is slim.

Study what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps one segment of an audience responded better than another? Review your messaging to see if you could have better addressed the needs of “potential” study participants who did not respond. Look at your marketing vehicles. Is email effective or do your messages get lost? Have you tried a postcard? Have you used your online community? Have you incorporated messaging on the front page of your website, email signatures, blog banners?  What about peer pressure?  Identifying logical groupings and then making sure that each grouping has representation can be very effective. 

Finally, don’t forget timing. If you’re launching your data collection period during your members’ busiest time of year, chances are they’re going to opt for revenue-making opportunities over participation in your study. Be sure to schedule your study during your members’ most convenient months and when the data has relevance. Following an annual pattern can be helpful as members can begin to expect the data collection AND rely on the results. 


There is more to your success than member participation and data usage. You want to know what your members are doing with their study data to really understand what is of value to them. 

The feedback from your study champions is just one way to learn how members are using the data (e.g. Are they generating one-and-done reports to support strategic initiatives or are they tracking trends?). Use their feedback to actively teach other members how study data can be used to improve their own organizations through webinars, testimonials, blog posts and videos.

You can also use the same approach internally to evaluate how to improve your own usage of study data. There are many ways to use your study to drive member engagement. Ask yourself:

  • Do KPIs indicate that your members would benefit from training in certain areas?

  • Can you include participation and results analysis in your certification program?

  • Can you identify topics for use as a webinar series, blog series or roundtable discussions at your meetings?

  • Can you create groups for your members to learn from each other? Groups can be based on region, size, problem area. Members engaging with members is a key membership renewal driver. 

  • How do you report on the results to your general membership?  Do you present findings at your annual meeting? Do you conduct a webinar? Do you provide a report or article that your members can download? 

Soon you’ll have a host of best practices for data utilization that will quickly become your best marketing message.

Each year, your benchmarking study should evolve into a more focused, more effective and more efficient business intelligence machine. By continually evaluating what data you gather, how you collect it and how it’s being used, you will make continuous improvements in what will likely become the major driver of the strategic direction of your organization, that of your members, and potentially even your industry.