There is usually some form of compensation for participating in a market research project. For focus groups and in-depth interviews, research participants are usually offered some kind of stipend in appreciation of their time. The question I get asked frequently is – how much?
I’ll start by saying that the stipend is usually NOT the primary motivation for participating in technology market research. I find people are genuinely interested in expressing their opinion. They like to be heard; they like to hear about new ideas coming down the pipe; they like thinking they are influencing the market or the product; and – in the case of focus groups and customer advisory boards – they like to hear what is happening with their peers. And let’s face it, corporate IT employees are typically paid reasonably well, so a hundred bucks isn’t going to really compensate them for trucking across town to a focus group facility, spending 2 hours talking to you, then trucking back home.
That said, the stipend is key in attracting the right audience, and is perceived as an important added benefit. So back to the question of how much. The answer depends on a variety of factors:
1. What are you asking people to do? Focus groups typically take about 2 hours of participants’ time. In-depth interviews usually take from thirty minutes to one hour. In addition, for in-person focus groups, the participants need to get to a specific location. As a result, focus group participants are usually compensated more generously.
2. How big is the target pool of participants? The harder they are to find, the more you should sweeten the pot to simplify the recruiting. If you have a straightforward recruit like “application developers” or “network administrators”, there are plenty of those and you don’t need to have a particularly large stipend to entice them to join.
However, if you need something really specific like “DBAs responsible for MATISSE databases”, or customers of a competitor that only has a few hundred users worldwide, you want to have a large stipend to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to attract the few people out there that match the recruiting profile.
3. What level of participants are you looking for? CIOs and other IT executives make more money than sys admins or developers, so the stipends need to be higher to match their expectations for the value of their time.
4. Customers or prospects? Depending on the context, offering a customer money to give you feedback may be tacky. Particularly if it’s a customer advisory board meeting, the real value is the chance to be heard. In this case a nice gift with the corporate logo on it is much more appropriate.
5. Give the philathropic option. More and more corporations have implemented strict policies that employees CANNOT receive any gifts of any kind. Dimensional Research always offers our research participants the option of donating their stipends to the charity of their choice.
6. Web surveys are different. When you’re looking for hundreds or even thousands of respondents, any stipend, no matter how small, can quickly blow up your research budget. There are certainly options like being entered into a drawing for a gift certificate. Or the ever popular drawing for the hot electronic item of the day – the iPod Touch has been particularly common in survey drawings in the past year.
One thing to consider, if the findings are not confidential, is to simply offer a copy of the final report to participants. This is a very high-value offer to people who care about the topic – probably even more than a gadget – and has the added benefit of not attracting participants who don’t care about the topic and might not give the most insightful or informed answers.