How to Recruit Hard to Find Research Respondents

Performing market research requires direct interaction with your target demographic. Researchers need hard data from the individuals in their market. This data comes in the form of answers to survey questions, interviews, focus group responses, test sessions, and any other study being used by researchers.

 In some cases, it is perfectly acceptable to use qualitative data retrieved from panel services such as and to gather data on your product or business. 

But then there are cases where you need data from people who fit narrow criterion – this is when things get complicated. Let’s say, for example, you are doing a study that requires sessions with a specific type of business professional? Or perhaps, you need user feedback from people who have very specific consumer behaviors? 

 There are certain types of participants that can only be found by grassroots recruitment methods, or in other words, by hitting the pavement. 

We have successfully sourced participants for these types of research recruits. Many times.

A few examples of recent recruits include:

  • High income parents of children who have had head lice more than once.  
  • People with a rare digestive condition that are willing to describe bowel movement situations on camera.  
  • Agriculture professionals who make purchasing decisions on dairy enzymes. 

Each group had its own unique challenges. Recruiting members of niche demographics require more than just an understanding of what you’re looking for and access to Google.

In the ideal situation, you will work with a trusted recruiter to isolate your demographic. But, if you are trying to locate these respondents on your own, here’s what you should keep in mind.

Short & Sweet Screeners Work Best

 Qualitative research is based on understanding the “why” behind anything you do, and any product you bring to market, is important. While the entire process of recruiting and researching your demographic may take some time and require a more hands-on approach, your screener qualifications should be simple.

Don’t bore qualified respondents with boring forms to fill out. Leave those long in-depth questions for later in the recruitment process. Stick with simple questions that give you a basic gist of who they are.

Look for Sponsors

Sponsors are people who fit your demographic, or who have direct access to those people, and are willing to help you out. 

Nailing down sponsors is a great way to start your respondent recruitment process. They give you contact with their network, provide tips for how to find new people, and might even volunteer to find qualified participants on your behalf. 

And don’t hesitate to provide referral incentives for your sponsors. The right sponsor can save you time and money, especially when you’re opting to go the grassroots route. Prove you value their time and effort through worthwhile rewards.

Listen and Learn

Once your sponsor or other recruitment methods brings you potential respondents, the next step is probably to qualify them. If you qualify people by phone, be friendly, relatable, and approachable. Your role is to ensure the respondent feels comfortable enough to continue. This is especially true if you are dealing with people who have rare diseases or other potentially sensitive types of life situations that make them ‘hard to find’.

Also, expect to step out of your comfort zone. You may be calling strangers and asking somewhat uncomfortable questions. Step up your conversation and communication skills before you make these calls as well. They are already in the door, so with and politeness, they’ll likely be happy to participate provide the qualitative data you need.

Utilize the Platforms They Frequent

Research respondents are far from one-dimensional. They exist in social media, in public places, on online forums, and within the networks of countless businesses.

Your job as a recruiter is to fully understand and empathize with your demographic. Each group you attempt to recruit has their own sensitivities.

For example if you’re looking for respondents over the age of 60, they won’t likely be on social media or use email as frequently as younger demographics. Think about what your demographic is interested in and where they exist.

Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and think about how you can appeal to them and make them comfortable with the questions you’re going to ask. Doing so also makes it easier to ask for referrals and connections.

Make yourself an imitation of them. Read the publications they read. Watch what they watch and browse the comments of these locations to make connections online.

The key to localization lies in your understanding of the demographics.

Building Trust & Relationships

Before you get the qualitative research you’re looking for, you must gain people’s trust. Don’t use alias’. Instead, be upfront with who you are and what you need. Don’t lead people on or invent qualifications just for the sake of research.

Do your best to find information honestly and ethically and watch as your connections increase, and your network grows. And always remember that the confidentiality of your client and respondent are of paramount importance.

 Invest in Incentives

As we previously mentioned, incentivizing the experience for respondents is a great way to increase your chances of gaining qualitative data. The higher your incentive is, the easier it will be to find people. 

Show people you value their time by parting with a reward of some sort. For niche groups, like we’ve discussed today, it’s a great idea to provide an incentive of $75 per hour for remote studies, and $150 for in-person interviews/focus groups.

Of course, this number is flexible with the niche group you’re working with. Some respondents will demand a higher incentive. Give it to them. The value of their response is well worth it.

When You Should Use a Recruiter

With this being said, finding niche groups of respondents is never easy. A talented recruiter makes it easier.

If you opt to hire a recruiter to aid in the process, don’t choose the first recruiter you find. Get quotes from multiple agencies or individuals to isolate your general costs. Keep in mind that the more niche your respondent group, the more a recruiter will charge you. Some large agencies might not even take on your project if it’s too challenging.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Be flexible with your timeline—niche respondent research may take longer than you’d expect.   
  • Avoid changing the requirements mid-project.  
  • Choose to work with one recruiter and stick with them—this way you can track their progress and stick with the program. 

Qualitative research provides you with preference objectives, makes localization easier, and can help you increase the usability of your product or service. Don’t shy away from this process, even though it can be difficult. Use these strategies to find the right respondents and get the data you need. 

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