5 recruitment methods for your customer research panel

Megan Johnson
August 16, 2022
5 recruitment methods for your customer research panel

Customer research isn’t possible if you don’t have customers to research. But you probably do have customers, because if you didn’t have customers, you wouldn’t be doing customer research. 😜 The problem you might be facing is that you have a bunch of upcoming research activities and you need some customers to join your research panel.

There’s never a shortage of great questions to ask; the challenge is finding the right set of folks to answer them. But a well curated customer research panel will supercharge your customer research. Do you have some wireframes you want to run by your customers? Select some customers from your panel and do some prototype testing. Do you want to know how the onboarding process for your business can be improved? Select some customers from the panel, do some usability testing, and so on.

This sounds fantastic, however, recruiting customers to join your panel is easier said than done. That’s why we’ve listed 5 recruitment methods you can use to turn your customers into research participants and join your panel.

What are the benefits of your own customer research panel?

You’ll be able to improve your research by having deeper insights. You’ll be able to interview customers and really understand their pain points, and what makes them happy. Also, you’ll get some brutal honesty. If your customers think your product is subpar, they’ll tell you. Customers that participate in research panels are invested in your future and success as a company and they’re willing to give you any kind of feedback (good or bad) if you ask for it.

A customer research panel is cost-effective, although you do have to pay people to participate, once you have a steady pool of participants, you can manage all the outreach and communications yourself using your panel management tool, instead of using a recruitment agency. 

Your own customer research panel is a long-term partnership and a commitment to serve your customers better, once your customers see that you’re invested in serving them better, they’ll develop a sense of loyalty.

5 recruitment methods

Here are 5 methods you should use to recruit your customers to join your panel.

1. Customer success teams

Customer Success teams should be the first port of call when you’re looking for panelists. You might be wondering why, but the answer is simple. Customer success teams know customers more than anyone else in your team.

CS managers know a lot about your customer’s teams, your customer’s business and most importantly how they engage with your product. If you mention to a CS manager that you’re looking to conduct user research, your CS manager can probably think of some potential participants from the top of their head.

Also, CS teams already have an established point of contact with your customers. CS teams work closely with customers, solving their problems and often get casual feedback about the product. A CS manager often doesn’t need to ask a customer to fill out a questionnaire to know how a particular customer feels about the user experience of your product. The customer has probably indirectly told the CS manager when reporting bugs or errors.

A hard part of the recruiting process is making sure that you find the right participants to speak to. Your CS manager knows the right participants. If your Research Ops manager mentions that they’re looking for 5 customers that fit into a certain demographic (like industry, location and plan type), to take part in some usability testing studies, chances are your CS knows who should be included in the participant panel.

Given the close relationship between your CS team and the clients, you can use your CS team as an effective channel to build and maintain your recruitment pipeline. Before any upcoming research, see if your CS manager can use any weekly check-ins between the CS manager to ask your customer if they’ll be interested in joining your research panel for upcoming research activities.

Warning: JUST using this channel may result in research bias. It’s human nature to be able to rattle off a list of the most demanding, kindest, or largest customers, but if you JUST conduct research with the folks your CS managers have suggested, you will end up hearing from a biased set. Any research is better than no research, and CS managers are a great place to start, just don’t get stuck with this channel. 

2. Customer newsletters

Another effective method to recruit for your research panel is to advertise in your customer newsletter. If you have a research project coming up and you’re looking for participants, include it in your newsletter. You want to announce your upcoming research activities like it’s exciting news. You need to convince your customers why they should take part in your panel.

How you craft your newsletter announcing your research panel is important. Include your regular customer newsletter content but also mention in the first 2-3 lines of your email that you’re recruiting participants. There’s a high chance a lot of customers won’t reach the bottom of your newsletter.

Provide customers with a direct link where they sign up to be part of your research panel. Or if you need specific customers, send your customers to a landing page with a screener survey.

Here’s an example of how we recruit our awesome customers to join our panel.

an image of GQ newsletter inviting customers to join our customer research panel

Lastly, don’t forget to mention the incentive you’re offering to customers who take part.

3. Email your customers directly

Email your customers directly and ask if they want to be part of your panel. It sounds simple in theory, but it does require some strategy. Although they’re already your customers, they’re not your research participants, so you need to treat your panel recruitment like any other email marketing campaign. You need to convince and convert your customers to participants.

Emailing your customers and asking them to take part in online surveys or user experience research is easier than asking customers to join a panel. When you’re asking customers to take part in one-off research requests (like surveys or usability testing studies) you’re more likely to get more respondents than asking customers to be part of your panel.

Let’s use this email I received from a product manager at SEMRush as a case study.

an image of a SEMRush email

The subject line of the email is enticing, the incentive was in the subject line. This captured my interest straight away. I mean who wouldn’t be interested in opening an email when the first thing they see is a dollar sign?

Then if you look at the body of the email, you’ll see that I am being validated as a valued customer, which of course makes me feel great. The next paragraph gives details of the research study and why my participation is important. Again, SEMRush are making me feel like I am important.

Lastly, the email closes with my incentive and a link to book time. It’s very clear to me that this is a one-off research request, I take part in the research and then I get $40 off my next bill. A win-win for both of us.

When you’re recruiting customers to join your panel, there’s a bit more convincing needed, partly because customers may not be contacted to join a user research study immediately, so there’s no immediate benefit (incentive). But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recruit customers via email. Let’s take a look at how to do it below.

How to write a compelling email to get customers to join your panel

As with any email, you need to go in with a subject line that’s immediately going to pique interest. I would go along with making the subject line “You’re invited!” or “You’re invited to join our panel!”. Personally, I prefer “You’re invited!”, it’s a little mysterious and your customers will probably be thinking “what am I invited to?” it can lead to higher open rates.

Next, I would follow SEMRush’s lead and validate their custom to your business. You can say “At X, we appreciate you as a customer and that’s why we’ve invited you to join our customer research panel” if they’re a specific user of a certain feature, mention that feature.

Then you go in and give details.

“You might be wondering what a research panel is, it’s simply a group of customers that we’ll contact for some customer research. Your feedback is extremely valuable to us, and we want to ensure we build a product you’ll continue to love. Our research can be an interview with you where we walk you through new product ideas or just a simple 5-minute survey”

Now it’s time to seal the deal, let your customers know what they get out of joining your panel.

“So you might be wondering what’s in it for you? Well, each time you take part in our research, we’ll say thank you in the form of gift cards, product discounts or even some cash”

It’s time to validate your customers one more time. “Your opinions and thoughts will help with our product development, which will, in turn, give you a better user experience and improve your workflow”

You also need to mention that you’re not going to overwhelm your customers with constant research requests. “We promise not to contact you too frequently”

Now, provide a link where customers can opt-in to your panel.

Sounds easy right? Luckily for you and your research team, we have created an email template, that you can download here.

4. Online user groups

You should also leverage any online user groups (this could be LinkedIn or Slack) you have with your customers, some customers might not open your customer newsletter and they might not keep in touch with your customer success team.

A Slack group is quite a direct and personable way to ask customers to join your panel. Unlike the customer newsletter or direct emails, where you have to think carefully about the copy. With Slack, you can drop 2-3 lines talking about your panel and asking your customer if they’re interested in joining.

When you’re recruiting via online user groups, don’t go straight in and drop the link to join your panel, and we want to ensure we build. Your customers might feel pressured to join cause of the direct approach.

Instead, consider an approach like this, “Hey, we’re doing loads of user research at our company right now and we’d love for you to join our panel, so we can get your feedback on some UX design wireframes and other potential feature upgrades, does this sound like something you’re interested in?”

If your customer says yes, go ahead and drop the link to the panel landing page. If your customer says no, make sure you reply courteously. With online user groups, you’re likely to get a faster response. Instead of waiting for the next customer check-in call or seeing which customers sign up a few hours after the newsletter has gone out, you’ll get a faster yes or no.

5. Social media

Social media platforms are a great way to engage with your customers, and this method comes in handy if you’ve exhausted emails and the other channels above. Plus posting your request for customers to join your customer research panel can lead to you reaching more users.

When you post on apps like LinkedIn or Twitter, you’re widening your reach and increasing your visibility. People who aren’t your customers will see the post and might feel enticed to click on your website or view your social pages. You might also end up with people joining your panel because they want to take part in research, although they’re not existing customers.

Instead of being frustrated with people joining your panel who aren’t existing customers, try and use that opportunity to turn them into a customer. You can send a follow-up email that looks like this:

“Hey, we noticed you joined our customer research panel but we noticed you’re not a customer yet, that specific panel is for our existing customers. If you’re interested in our product, please feel free to book a demo”.

Best practices

Now that you know the methods you can use to recruit customers, let's go over some best practices.

Build a landing page

No one has time to be directed to a form where they’ll be asked a bunch of questions before they can join the panel. Instead, build a branded landing page where customers will fill out their details to join the panel.

Branded assets identify your business and add a sense of surety, recipients will know the information is coming from your organization. Ensure that the copy on your landing page is consistent and convincing. Here’s how we do it at Great Question.

An image of a landing page example

Advertise your incentives

Advertise which incentives are available to your customers, so they know how their participation will be rewarded. Customers want to know what they’ll be getting out of participating, so make sure it’s clear early on.

It’s a great idea to vary the type of incentives you’re going to offer. 

Recruitment is important to your ReOps

Now that you’ve got the recruitment under control if you need any help building your own panel, we’ll be more than happy to help. We’re here to walk you through it, just get in touch with us today.

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