People often ask me where I get my research participants from. Finding the right participants is one of the real value ads of working with an external market research firm compared to any internal processes. When you hire a market research company such as Dimensional Research, you get the ability to talk to the EXACT prospect or customer you are targeting.
It’s not that hard to have a conversation about your product with your brother’s wife’s cousin who works as a system admin for a non-profit company that is 30 times smaller than your typical buyer, whereas you are trying to sell to large financial services companies. Or even worse, you could talk to your VCs as if they represent your target customers! VCs have a very different point of view than corporate IT: VCs are visionary while corporate IT is usually extremely conservative.
It’s not that you shouldn’t have these conversations. They can provide you with very important insights. But you need to understand that they’re not the people you’re ultimately selling to. You need to invest effort and money to reach the people you are selling to. These are the people you must understand intimately.
Market researchers like Dimensional Research work with you to identify exactly who you want to talk to and who you don’t want to talk to, then use huge databases to recruit participants. Recruits can get incredibly specific so you know you’re talking to the people who are just like the ones you believe will buy your product.
So what makes a good recruiting guide?
First, start with a clear understanding of who you want to talk to. What companies? Do you want only financial services or is any corporate IT organization a fit? Maybe you don’t know and you need a mix of participants to find out. Government, education, non-profits and ISVs all have unique ways of buying and using technology that may or may not be relevant to you.
Second, figure out who the people are. Job titles are often misleading. It’s pretty common for a client to say they want to talk to “VPs of Application Development” and finish a great project without a single participant with that title. It’s best to focus on job functions – roles and responsibilities – rather than on titles.
Third, have a clear understanding of who NOT to talk to. You can read more about that here. This final step – weeding out the wrong participants – is the most challenging. You need to look at the recruiting guide and identify the kind of person that the guide might allow into the study that you aren’t really interested in. Remember that participants often use vocabulary differently than you.
Several years back, I did a study with CPG (consumer packaged goods) marketing executives responsible for “fast moving packaged goods.” We wrote the guide, had the guide approved by the client, and got the participants. Two of the participants answered quite clearly that they sold “fast moving consumer goods” and did not sell “durables”, but the participants had a different definition of these terms than the client did and we ended up excluding those participants from the final analysis. The project was still successful, but we could have done an even better job, and gotten two more valuable points of view, if we had done more work on our industry vocabulary up front.