Recruiting the Best Market Research Respondents

Focus Groups, Market Research, Recruiting


Whether you’re conducting qualitative or quantitative market research, the quality of your respondents is the most critical factor in your project’s success. Excellent recruiting is a three-way street requiring strong communication and understanding between the client, the market researcher and the recruiter. And because there are so many moving parts to recruiting, there are many ways that it can go wrong.Here are some tips to make sure you recruit the best respondents for your research project:

  • MARKET RESEARCH VIRGINS AND OTHER MYTHICAL CREATURES: Thirty years ago, it was typical that researchers specified that they only wanted respondents who had never previously participated in market research. Those respondents inevitably became known as market research “virgins”. While it is now cost-prohibitive to limit your recruit in this manner, you do want to avoid those respondents who participate too frequently in market research. (A friend once told me that his wife, who had taken early retirement from a large corporation, “did a few focus groups a month” to supplement her income. Talk about a “professional respondent”!)
  • KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE: The screener qualifications should be as simple as possible. After all, you don’t want to lose a qualified respondent because they got bored with long and overly-detailed screener questions! Keep the in-depth questions for the actual market research and use the screener to focus on the respondent qualifications that are most important to meet your project objectives.
  • FREQUENTLY EXAMINE THE RECRUITING RESULTS: Once the project starts, the recruiter will send you a report of the respondents that have agreed to participate. Take a look at the report as soon as you receive it and let the recruiter know of any changes you need. If the recruiter has missed a key requirement, or if the balance of the recruit is not what you want, the sooner the recruiter knows, the sooner they will be able to adjust. Don’t leave these reports until the recruiting is nearly complete; reviewing even a few recruits can give you valuable information to fine-tune the respondents with whom you end up.
  • A WORD ABOUT INCENTIVES: You have to manage incentives responsibly, but in nearly every case, you must offer an incentive to secure participation in a market research project. Consumers expect cash, cash equivalents (e.g., gift cards) or merchandise. Business respondents also expect incentives, but some may be prohibited from receiving an incentive due to their company’s policy. Giving a charitable donation in the respondent’s name, or providing a summary of the research results can sometimes work as an incentive to reward business respondents while keeping within the limits of their corporate policies.
  • BEWARE THE CLIENT LIST: Often businesses have a list of clients and prospects that they want to use to recruit respondents for a market research project. It is critical that the recruiter and the market researcher evaluate the list and understand how “good” it is as a sampling frame. In particular, is the list big enough? With screening questions and decreasing participation rates, it is not at all unusual to need a 10:1 list to participant ratio for successful recruiting. Because the list works for marketing doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for recruiting market research respondents. Work with a recruiting partner who has the flexibility to recruit from a client list first, but can draw from their own database if the client list is exhausted and you still need more respondents to fill a study.
  • UNDERSTAND INCIDENCE RATES: Do you know how many people in the United States bought a manufactured home between 6 and 18 months ago and who had a warranty claim for a defect with the home? Turns out to be 0.7% of the U.S. population. Do you know there are only 270 hemophilia doctors in the entire U.S.? (Both of these examples are real, so don’t assume this can’t happen to you!) Obviously, rare and unusual populations are more difficult to recruit and may require greater creativity from your recruiter. They will also probably cost more to recruit, may need higher incentives, and will likely take longer to recruit, so plan ahead!
  • UNDERSTAND PARTICIPATION RATES: It is no secret that participation rates for market research are declining. It is therefore critical to understand how the population you want to explore typically participates in market research before you get started. Participation rates are influenced by the length of the survey, how interesting the topic of the research is, convenience (e.g., time and location of in-person research, being able to start and restart easily for online surveys) and the value of the incentive, so take this into consideration as you plan your project. Often, being able to mention the sponsor of the research can make a huge difference in participation rates, so consider if keeping the identity of the sponsor confidential is really necessary for your research objectives.
  • SOURCE OF RESPONDENTS: Where is your recruiter going to find these respondents, anyway? Respondent panels, in-house databases, social media, purchased lists, association or company directories are all sources of respondents used by recruiters. What’s the best source for your project? It simply depends on your project. Is it qualitative or quantitative? Are you looking for consumers, business professionals, or medical professionals? How rare is the population of interest? How representative should the respondents be of the total population? Work with your recruiter to determine the best approach.
  • CONSIDERING MEDICAL RESPONDENTS: Market research with medical professionals and patients is understandably more complex due to the obvious confidentiality and patient privacy concerns. Before you begin your project, make sure that you are educated about medical and healthcare topics. You need to know enough to understand how to best explore your particular research topic.
  • PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: The simple fact is that the more recruiting you do, the better you get. Make sure your recruiter has strong experience, especially if your project includes a difficult recruit. Check their references and look at the types of projects and clients they work with most frequently. An experienced market research recruiter will have the skill and expertise, as well as the creativity and resources, to get you the best, most qualified respondents for your project.

Quality recruiting is the difference between marketing research success and failure. While recruiting may take a large percentage of your market research budget for an individual project, don’t try to save money at the expense of good recruiting. After all, bad recruiting leads to bad information. And, in business, bad information can lead to bad decisions, which can be expensive. Invest in the best recruiting possible to make sure your market research project succeeds