Short and sweet — and complete: better response rates on your vendor performance surveys

January 25, 2018 Lindsay Kroes

Vendor Performance Survey

Vendor relationship management is a top priority for many strategic procurement professionals in 2018. But as the popular saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure… and you can’t measure vendor performance if nobody answers your surveys!

Americans receive over 7 billion survey requests per year (Qualaroo). Of those, only 37% are filled out — a concerning trend that points to potential issues with the way surveys are designed and executed: 

  • Too many questions being asked / ‘responder fatigue’
  • Survey was complex or inconvenient to submit
  • People lead busy lives!

When it comes to vendor performance management, the same challenges apply: workloads are increasing for both procurement professionals and end users, while the need for performance data is greater than ever. It’s important to put careful thought into your vendor performance surveys to ensure high quality responses and the best possible response rate.

Here’s how technology and better design can help you boost response rates and unlock better visibility into your vendor performance:

Ask only what you need to know.

Given the demands on your end users’ time, it is crucial to keep your surveys short.

Just how short? Pew Research Centre data has shown that 52% of people won’t finish a survey that takes longer than three minutes.

One easy way to cut down a long survey is to avoid asking questions you already know the answer to—namely the administrative information such as purchase order number, bid number, and employee contact details.

Automation can play an important role in streamlining this process. In Bonfire, end users receive a personalized survey by email, and their response is associated back to the contract automatically. This approach means that you avoid aggravating end users by asking them to fill in a list of administrative details before they get to what you really want to know: the vendor’s performance.

(Bonus: when responses are automatically collected and aggregated, you save valuable time as well).

Build trust by asking for more frequent feedback (and taking action!)

One of the main reasons that people choose to fill out surveys is the belief that their feedback will influence change.

But when feedback is solicited only at the end of a contract, it is often too late to have a positive impact on their day-to-day life, and the motivation to fill out the survey is diminished.

Asking for feedback more frequently demonstrates to end users that the procurement team is attentive to vendor performance throughout the contract lifecycle.

With real-time feedback, procurement teams are empowered to intervene to improve the relationship with an underperforming vendor or champion a high-performing vendor. Platforms like Bonfire makes it easy to set up automatic surveys at more frequent intervals or coinciding with key contract milestones, without putting extra work on the procurement team.


Insights at a glance into each vendor's performance. 

Minimize the 'cognitive burden.'

Cognitive burden refers to the mental effort being exerted by the working memory when performing a given task.

In other words: how much are you asking from your respondents to complete your survey?

This is a significant factor in both data quality and response rate. Many things can increase the cognitive burden on survey respondents, including complicated sentence structure, unfamiliar vocabulary, convoluted question format, or confusing visual design.

To minimize these effects, use simple language, ask only one question at a time, and use design elements to direct attention easily from one question to the next. 

Let the user tell you their priorities.

A survey full of ‘N/A’ responses can be as frustrating as no response at all.

However, many vendor performance surveys ask questions that do not relate to all end users equally, increasing the rate of nonresponse and obscuring the real performance issues.

This is a difficult concept to get right — there is a temptation to tailor surveys minutely for each audience, vendor, etc. However, this process is incredibly time consuming, leaves little consistency across your collected data, and often results in a data-hungry and complex survey for respondents.

At Bonfire, we’ve tackled this challenge a different way — with simplicity.

To give end users the chance to express their priorities, our Vendor Performance Management module asks a single scale-rated question (“How likely are you to recommend this vendor?") and an open-ended comment area.

The open-ended response is a technique used by public opinion pollsters who begin surveying a sample group with open-ended questions first, in order to determine the popular responses for future multiple choice surveys (Pew Research Centre).

Procurement teams, similarly, can use this broad but continuous stream of information on vendor performance to spot trends and seek more targeted feedback around the priorities that have emerged from end users themselves — ultimately, getting to the important feedback faster.

Conducting vendor performance surveys doesn’t have to be a headache — these principles can help you create better-performing surveys, and identify the tools that will improve your engagement with stakeholders.

See Bonfire Vendor Performance Management in action: 


Vendor Performance Management - A fresh approach

About the Author

Lindsay Kroes

Lindsay creates case studies, white papers, and other content to help modern sourcing and purchasing teams navigate the procurement technology landscape.

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