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How to recruit B2B UX research participants
A comprehensive guide - including low effort ways to find research participants if you’re in a B2B business
The biggest challenge with UX research in a B2B organisation is finding the right participants in your project quickly. Some organisations I have spoken to need up to 6-8 weeks to find and schedule participants. It is due to policies, data access and organisational process. I have put together a quick list of ways I have used to identify and find participants.
This article was written based on a subscribers’ request.
Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash
Customers who have submitted a support ticket
These are customers who might need help with something, making a complaint, or bug report.
Pros: They are active users. You could set up a system set up to get the suggestions/feedback forwarded to you and you can follow up with them.
Cons: If they are frustrated with their experience, it might be a bad time to request them to take part in research. You will need to gauge their sentiment or make sure their issue is resolved before making a request.
Active community members
Look for places where your users congregate - either on your community site or social media (LinkedIn, Slack, Reddit).
Pros: They are active users and likely to be looking to improve their work or learn more
Cons: The community might not like you reaching out to their members, and might be wary of sales tactics. The number of potential people to recruit will vary based on how engaged and active your users are.
This might be a conference, meet up, training session, product announcement, either run by your own organisation or another organisation.
Pros: These will be very engaged customers.
Cons: The marketing team might have concerns about you taking away focus from the event. You may want to collaborate or set things up formally way in advance with the event organiser. This may need more lead time if it’s an external organiser.
Professional industry groups and events
Another place your users might congregate.
Pros: Members are going to be focused on improving their skill or work. They might be more engaged since they have paid to be a part of the group.
Cons: You will have to coordinate with the group or event as they may not like you reaching out to their attendees.
This team focuses on retention of the customer. Larger organisations will have this department but not every organisation will. It helps to build a really good relationship and share your research with them.
Pros: Inviting customers to participate in research can give engaged customers an opportunity to give their feedback and feel heard.
Cons: If customers are at risk of churning, the Success or Account Managers will want to protect their relationship and ask you not to reach out to them.
Sales will be focused on hitting their targets and converting more potential customers to actual customers.
Pros: If you help the sales team with their transaction, it makes them look good. There’s a potential value add for the customer being involved in the roadmap or feature input. It gives salespeople a reason for getting in touch with customers.
Cons: Might not want you to talk to the customer if they are a churn risk or renewal period
Conferences/conference booth/public events
This could be either having people opt-in somewhere where they check-in, a call to action in a conference talk, or a specialised both. This has some similarities to the professional industry groups.
Pros: These are customers who have either paid to be there, so they have a vested interest in individual or broad/process improvement.
Cons: They may be focused on learning and not want to spend time answering questions or joining a list for research later. If the goal is to increase sales, the team might have concerns that it distracts potential customers.
This online tool focuses on finding participants based on their existing panel. There is also a referral feature in case people know someone who fits the criteria.
Pros: You only have to pay for the participants you select. It helps you look for participants on their platform but also incentivises referrals.
Cons: It can take a while and it could be costly. These users could be professional participants. If they are referred to your study by others, they are less likely than other market research panels.
External participant recruitment agencies
These are organisations that specialise in finding participants, generally through their existing database.
Pros: Convenience. Most of the effort will be handled by an external organisation and they can handle the incentives and rewards. No shows will be replaced by the agency.
Cons: It can be expensive. If not screened properly you can get some professional participants. Their database may be limited, so ask for demographics or details before agreeing to proceed with them. A higher chance of no shows compared to other methods. You might need to create a master agreement with this agency or work through procurement to vet the agency.
Other existing customer panels
Pros: Panels tend to be large so there will be a lot of customers.
Cons: Tends to be limited for B2B or finding specific customers. Some platforms are limited to surveys or unmoderated platforms. Could be professional participants so you as a researcher will need to write a rigorous screener. They will recruit from their existing group and are unlikely to recruit new participants based on your criteria.
Customer advisory group
A customer advisory group is a select and tight group of customers that you regularly and consistently invite back for research.
Pros: It is a benefit Sales and Success can offer to customers - they get to influence the product roadmap. Great for longitudinal studies. More likely to be decision-makers.
Cons: It will be a select few customers that the researcher will work with repeatedly. So if you need a broader sample or variety of customers they may be skewed in one way. Ideally you have a good sense of what you want to research. Once defined, then you can invite organisations to fit that criteria. Be careful of only including the loudest or highest paying organisations. Might be limited to decision makers and less likely to include direct users unless the decision maker agrees.
A random pull of customers from your database
This is a generated list of potential participants based on project/segmentation or usage from your own internal database.
Pros: This will be quite accurate to your ideal or proposed user. It reduces the likelihood of professional participants
Cons: Your customers need to be primed or accustomed to different teams reaching out. Otherwise, it could be as difficult as cold calling, with a low response rate. You may have to rely on another department if you don’t have the access or skills to generate a list. In these cases it’s helpful to know SQL. A higher chance of no shows compared to other methods.
Your own organisation’s customer panel
This is a list of customers who have opted in to take part in research. It’s a long term panel for all kinds of research. You might need to have a software or system to maintain this list. It’s important to consider what incentives or recognition are interesting for these customers.
Pros: These customers are likely to have a higher response rate because they have opted in to participate. Customers might feel more involved in the product development decisions of your products.
Cons: You will have to make a concerted and ongoing effort to build and fill this panel. A partnership is needed with Sales, Success and Marketing to help promote the panel. If you want to reach the end-user, and there’s a layer in between there’s even more effort and planning needed to reach these users.
Something that pops up to invite people to sign up for a particular project or for your user research panel. This could be done via a chat, some tools which specialise in site intercepts like Ethnio, or other embedded tools like Sprig or Pendo.
Pros: You are catching people when they are doing a task related to your business. There’s an increased chance they are a legitimate customer or potential customer. You might be able to sign up accurate potential customers which can be difficult to recruit for in general.
Cons: If your organisation is measured by conversion or other funnel metrics then you are compromising this by interrupting a user path or journey.
Opt in from various points in a customer facing process
Similar to site intercept but it could be opt-in with any business <>customer interaction e.g. when they get onboarded by an account manager
Pros: You are catching people when they are doing a task related to your business so it is highly likely they are a legitimate customer or potential customer. You might be able to sign up accurate potential customers which can be difficult to recruit for in general. If they are asked in person, they are likely to opt in compared to a generic email.
Cons: If your organisation is measured by conversion or other funnel metrics then they might not want to interrupt any process they are tracking.
If you have a product that your company is dogfooding, internal users will be easy to reach. I would work with this group and still compare it with a set of external users. Internal use of your product is likely to be highly sophisticated compared to external use cases. Your internal users as part of the organisation will have expert level product knowledge.
Pros: Users are easy to access, have fewer steps to access, and are likely highly engaged. They may have a sophisticated setup of your product. They will have many thoughts as the product may be critical to their role.
Cons: They are probably advanced users and not as well representative as from your customer base. You will still have to recruit another group.
Close enough participants - maybe they are not your current customer but have similar needs to your actual or targeted customer group.
Incentives - sometimes you need to think about what would motivate your users. Some examples - money, early access, donations, swag, or even having an influence on your product roadmap. If it is a monetary incentive the amount of money to offer a B2B customer is usually higher than consumer research. These users are more specialised, time-poor and harder to find and identify. If you are looking for non-customers in the B2B space, the amount offered needs to be even higher than your customers. There’s minimal incentive to improve your product as a non-user.
Method - for some roles participants are very time-sensitive. Potentially changing to a more asynchronous method might encourage participation.
Different sources - you might need to use a combination of the above methods to get enough participants. Particularly if there are low response rates.
Availability - if you will be doing interviews, consider opening up slots before or after work, or lunchtimes.
Convenience - consider doing a Zoom or video call instead of having a participant need to travel somewhere to participate. Especially if they are time-poor.
Professional participants - sometimes people participate in research as a side gig or other source of income. That’s totally OK, but you might get the odd one who falsified their information just to participate. It helps to have a rigorous screening process so you don’t waste your and your stakeholders’ time.
Next up (inspired by Niels at The Lindhal Letter):
Communities to join or follow as a UX Researcher
Communities to join or follow as a Product Manager
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