How can business-to-buisness (B2B) researchers recruit panelists and survey respondents for hard-to-reach audiences—for example, in manufacturing or in fields where respondents are literally difficult to reach due to travel or accessibility issues?
“I have found industry trade shows and conferences to be the most effective way to access hard-to-reach audiences. Research domestic and international conferences that target the market you are trying to reach. Pay for a booth so you can recruit or conduct research.” — Cara Woodland, Global Voice of the Customer Manager, Columbus McKinnon Corporation
Quirk’s has some ideas to share. On March 13, they published an article, “Needle in a Haystack: Tips for Recruiting Respondents in B2B,” written by Cara Woodland of Buffalo-based materials handling manufacturer Columbus McKinnon Corporation.
Woodland’s challenges finding end users “in manufacturing plants, on oil rigs, in nuclear power plants or underground mines around the world” spurred her to pull together a list of resources to help other B2B researchers facing similar difficulties.
She divides her article into four areas: Internal Resources, Marketing Channels, Go Where They Are, and Trade-offs.
- Internal Resources. A B2B researcher’s own company can be a helpful place to start, Woodland says. “Your internal sales team, distributors, suppliers and employees can be excellent resources when recruiting. Internal sales teams can provide you with direct access to your target market.” To reduce resistance to your request, Woodland suggests providing a brief description of the type of respondent you need, plus an outline of your research goals. For projects with tight budgets, company employees can provide excellent insights (especially if they use the product themselves). However, distributors and suppliers may be your best chance at reaching end users outside the company.
- Marketing Channels. Woodland shares the five channels she uses when she’s searching for B2B research respondents: direct-to-customer e-commerce sites (online sales data); website and social media channels (using analytical tools or contact form responses); direct target marketing databases (direct mail and email campaign lists); warranty and customer service databases (as potential sources of insight regarding future product changes); and past research studies (to cultivate respondents who are willing to participate in ongoing research or on a customer panel).
- Go Where They Are. Attending industry trade shows and conferences, and even union meetings and boards, is often an effective way to reach out to hard-to-reach audiences. Woodland suggests paying for a booth to recruit respondents or conduct actual research on-site. Other spaces researchers shouldn’t overlook include: industry associations; community colleges and technical or trade schools; training and professional development centers; online forums; trade journals and magazines; social networks and online industry groups; and target companies.
- Trade-offs. “B2B companies are often faced with trade-offs when recruiting respondents to participate in research, most of which boil down to introducing bias into the research,” Woodland points out. Although blind recruits are ideal, for credibility purposes B2B researchers often have better luck attracting participants if they share who’s sponsoring their research. If you’re really struggling to find B2B respondents, incentives may seem like a good idea—but remember, many companies will not allow their employees to accept gifts for ethical reasons. Any incentives offered should be an optional, not required part of the respondent experience.
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