The key to any research – whether qualitative or quantitative – is finding the right participants. That’s
the only way you’re going to get the information you need from your research project. It’s also why the
marketing research industry as a whole is so concerned about maintaining strong response rates! Today,
unfortunately, it’s no easy task to maintain strong response rates because participants are busier than
ever and more concerned about data privacy and confidentiality. That’s especially true for qualitative
research, which often requires a longer time investment, a higher commitment, and a need for more
personal information to be divulged from the participant in order to complete the project.
Recruiting is more art than science, from finding the qualified participant to making an instant
connection to gaining the participant’s trust and confidence. That can’t be learned by reading a blog, of
course. However, there are some things you can do to give yourself an advantage in recruiting or to help
you get the most out of the recruiters you hire to complete the task.
Before we get to our specific tips, there are some general guidelines you should consider. First, what
qualitative technique will you be using? Asking a respondent to travel to a focus group is a different
request than asking them to do an online in-depth interview. Asking permission to come into someone’s
home is still another challenge. Using a webcam to participate in an interview or focus group may also
be challenging for some participants (although it’s getting less so every day!). Consider your
methodology and the incentive amount you’re offering, so that you can tailor your recruiting
Here are our tips:
Relationships may help. If possible, recruit your participants from an existing panel or a facility’s
database. Because those respondents have a longer-term relationship with the recruiting
company, they may have more of a foundation of trust with the recruiter, and that can facilitate
participation. (Make sure your vendor allows you to recontact your participants on your own for
the follow up research, as some sample providers may not.) If you can’t use a panel or an
existing database, plan on a longer recruiting period to allow time for building sufficient
confidence and trust with participants.
Remember that timing is everything. Attempting to schedule too far in advance or with too
short notice will give recruiters headaches. Without enough notice, many potential participants
will be booked up. Too far in advance, and they may not know their schedules and be unwilling
to commit to participation, or they may forget. And this goes triple for B2B participants! If
you’re recruiting to phone in-depth interviews from a web survey, don’t wait too long or they
won’t remember responding to the survey. Finding that recruitment timing sweet spot will make
the job go much more smoothly.
Scheduling the recruit. Everyone’s time is valuable, and everyone has too little time. That goes
for participants, recruiters, and moderators, so it’s important to have all possible dates from the
moderator programmed in the screener ahead of time. You could also use a calendar type of
question to show dates within a certain range. Be sure to “hide” the expired dates so
participants cannot sign up for dates that have passed. And if you’re recruiting online for in-
depth interviews, try to get a few alternative time slots from every participant – just in case!
Finally, don’t forget to send calendar invitations to everyone to make sure appointments stay
coordinated. This will go a long way.
Share information completely. When it comes to information about participants, the more, the
merrier. Make sure your recruiters have the information they need by providing accurate and
complete lists. Make sure your recruiters give your moderator the information they need for
contacting the participant. Give participants the information they might need in order to
reschedule or get additional information. Make sure everyone understands who is in what time
zone. Nothing makes an in-depth-interview participant less likely to continue than being called
in the middle of the night because someone forgot to give the moderator the time zone!
Stay in touch. In the time between scheduling and conducting the interview, it’s important to
remind participants of their appointments. You should confirm their participation by phone or
email a minimum of 24 hours before their appointment. If there is a longer time lapse, you
might also send additional information or “teasers” to keep the respondent engaged and more
likely to participate.
Ask for referrals. This is especially important if your recruit is challenging (e.g., people who own
retired racing greyhounds or people who use a certain woodworking tool). Even if the person
you’re communicating with does not qualify for the project, they might know someone else who
will. This works especially well with B2B recruits, physicians, and high-net-worth individuals. You
might have to give an additional referral fee to make this successful.
Get social. Social media is so prevalent in our daily lives, it makes perfect sense to leverage it for
recruiting qualitative participants. Especially for B2B, LinkedIn lets you easily find people in a
particular industry, company, or profession. Leverage your website, Facebook, and Twitter
accounts to reach people who are already following you. Even a direct email to individuals on
these accounts might yield a valuable respondent.
Be culturally aware. Especially for international research projects, be sensitive to the norms of
the local culture and adjust your approach accordingly. Some cultures do not welcome “cold”
introductions, so you would do better to use a referral recruit. Other cultures have certain
formalities about communication (especially between men and women) that you should keep in
Securing the participation of an optimal participant will ensure that you get the most out of your
qualitative research project. By using these tips and working with experienced recruiters, sample
providers, and moderators, you can avoid participation pitfalls.
Need Qualitative participants? We can help! Symmetric has been completing traditional qualitative
projects with their online panel for over 20 years. Contact us to learn what else we know about