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Surveys as a Growth Engine: Using Positive and Negative Feedback LoopsNovember 29, 2016
Take a page out of biology’s book. Positive and negative feedback loops are the silent mechanisms that grow ecosystems and organisms—and they can grow businesses, too.
Whether it’s learning how to skyrocket your site traffic or make sure that your customer acquisition doesn’t outpace your hiring process, you can take these biological principles and apply them to your business.
You’re probably already applying them without even knowing it. These feedback loops sometimes occur naturally in business, but once you know how to identify them, you can capitalize on them. You can use surveys as a growth engine by using them to power your feedback loops.
Positive Feedback Loops Give You Exponential Growth
A positive feedback loop happens when growth begets more growth.
A lot of positive feedback loops are found in nature, but one of the best examples is blood clotting. When a platelet clings to the site of an injury, it releases chemicals that attract more platelets. The platelets come together to make a scab and stop your body from bleeding. It’s the snowball effect.
This doesn’t happen naturally in nature—it also happens in businesses. For example, when your blog traffic grows, that growth causes more growth. Especially with evergreen content—content that doesn’t lose its relevance over time—the more your new visitors view your blog and backlink to it, the higher it will rank on search results. The higher it ranks on search results, the more people will view it over time.
Improving your SEO is a perfect example of a positive feedback loop in business—the more progress you make, the more progress will happen naturally. But even though positive feedback loops happen naturally, you can use surveys to initiate and accelerate them.
Use Surveys to power your progress
Surveys can power the engine of your positive feedback loop. While growing your blog via positive feedback loop happens naturally, surveys can act as an accelerator. Ask your customers if they find your blog helpful. If they don’t, it’s time for you to change your strategy, but if they do, ask them what they’re interested in seeing next.
By tailoring your blog content to what your visitors want, your content marketing is a sure thing—you’re not chancing a hit or miss. You can cater to what your visitors will read next to drive the engine behind your blog’s growth.
This process works the same way for other parts of your business, too. For example, if you want to know what’s driving your conversions, you can use surveys to discover why and accelerate a feedback loop. If your customers were attracted to your product because you’re the cheapest high-quality analytics tool on the market, you can accelerate your feedback loop by placing reminders of your pricing all over your site.
Negative Feedback Loops Prevent Crash and Burn
A negative feedback loop is a regulatory system. It keeps ecosystems and organisms (and businesses) stable. But instead of change producing more change, like in a positive feedback loop, one kind of change produces the opposite kind of change.
Think of a negative feedback loop like the human body’s temperature regulation system. When your body heats up, you sweat to cool down. When your body gets cold, you shiver to produce heat.
While some elements of your business benefit from positive feedback loops, the wrong kind of growth can tank your business. If you grow your customer base before hiring enough employees to accommodate them, your customers will churn because they’re not getting the proper attention.
Webvan, the first online grocery platform, had the opposite problem—they grew their infrastructure without first growing their customer base. They bought trucks and groceries for the delivery process, but grocery profits are contingent on the customers buying right away, otherwise the product perishes. Webvan went bankrupt because they grew their platform without growing their customers—the groceries they bought kept going bad.
To make sure you’re growing your business the right way, you need checks and balances—you need a negative feedback loop. Surveys are one way of creating that regulatory system.
Use surveys for checks and balances
Negative feedback loops don’t happen naturally in business the way that positive feedback loops do. While nature has regulatory systems to keep things from getting out of control, you have to put those checks and balances in place for your business.
For example, if your number of customers grows, but they aren’t customers that will stick around, you’ll lose money. Your customers will churn after a little while if your product doesn’t cater exactly to their needs, and because of the subscription model, you’ll be in the red.
But you can use surveys to make sure that your growth is the good kind of growth—that you’re acquiring customers who need your product for the long haul.
I Done This used Qualaroo to expand their base of paying customers. While they offered a free tier of their product for individual productivity, they wanted to put their focus on the paid, team-based product. To acquire data about their niche, they polled the people who signed up for their free trial of the team-based tier. Most of them were still individual productivity users.
I Done This used the results of this poll to direct their marketing and sales materials more towards teams. Even though they narrowed their niche—and in the process neglected a customer base—they dedicated growth resources to their valuable customers.
Like a negative feedback loop, change caused the opposite kind of change. I Done This had to whittle down their focus on personal productivity users to expand their focus on teams. While they could have grown their user base with individual users, it was important to make sure they grew with the customers they wanted—the ones who would get real, lasting value from their product and pay for it over time.
From Biology to Business
While positive and negative feedback loops are the silent mechanisms that drive nature, you can bring them to the forefront of your business strategy.
Use surveys to accelerate and initiate your positive feedback loops—that growth will beget more growth. Keeping your business stable isn’t about eschewing growth entirely; it’s about putting systems in place for stable, long-term growth instead of quick results, whether that’s through your conversions or your hiring process.
By identifying positive and negative feedback loops in your business model, you can use surveys to power them—and drive your business to success.
This post was written and contributed by Alex Birkett of HubSpot.
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