Focus groups can be a highly valuable source of qualitative market research, which can ultimately be leveraged to achieve key business goals such as improving customer service, developing products, increasing brand awareness, and so on.
However, it is extremely important to keep in mind that not all market research focus groups are created equal. Some can provide reliable and actionable insights, while others can ironically steer businesses in the wrong direction. And while there are many pieces of the focus group puzzle, one of the most important – and also the hardest for many businesses to get right on their own -- has to do with recruiting.
If your business is considering a focus group (or multiple focus groups) to generate qualitative research, or you want to ensure that the consultant or agency you partner with is applying best practices vs. taking short cuts, here is what we advise you to look for:
Market research focus group recruiting best practice #1: Identify the target audience
There is a balancing act to play here. You need to exclude those that are not representative of your actual customer or prospective customer, but you need to be inclusive of everyone that is. Do be sure to exclude nurses and doctors for your patient experience study. There is sound logic in knowing that their perception of a healthcare experience is different than that of most patients.
Do not arbitrarily decide that exactly three respondents should be married, three single, and three divorced. Normally qualifying people on demographics seems to make sense, but qualification criteria have to have business reasons for existing.
Market research focus group recruiting best practice #2: Specify objective questions and acquire a useable contact list
The next step in the process is to identify samples from the pool are likely to be suitable focus group participants. Factors that might be used to filter unsuitable from potentially suitable candidates include topic area, industry, persona, demographics (age, gender, income, family size, etc.), and past participation in focus groups (either by the same company or another company in the same marketplace/industry).
Market research focus group recruiting best practice #3: Set a budget and timeline that allows for adjustment during recruitment
The best laid plans of researchers have been debunked by inadequate budget on too short a timeline all too often. You are doing research because you do not know the answer. Once the project is committed to, it is best to get yourself actually recruiting real people early on so that you have time to use real data from the call outcomes to make adjustments if necessary. Our preferred timeline, especially when working with new agencies, is to have final project approval a minimum of three weeks in advance of the first focus group. This assumes the research problem is clear enough that we will be able to immediately take action getting started. If the first meeting is, “Ok, who is our target audience?” then you likely need more than three weeks.
That three weeks roughly works out to three to four days to finalize the screening criteria, contact list, facilities, and start recruitment. During the coming week the discussion guide and travel schedules of those on-site should be finalized. Once you are ten days out from the focus group, any issues should have been brought up and decided on. The golden period for recruiting is seven to ten days before a scheduled event. If you are a week out and not 50% recruited, take drastic action. The cut off to be 90%+ recruited is 4 days out. Recruiting productivity drops within 72-hours of a group and becomes atrocious if you are within 24 hours. All of those checkpoints indicate that committing to a shorter timeline is likely going to cost extra and be a bit less than a sure thing. No one wants to be spending $10,000 on a day of focus groups without it being a sure thing. In the right circumstances, all of these checkpoints can be thrown out. Unfortunately they are usually thrown out without ever realizing what is being lost.
Market research focus group recruiting best practice #4: Map out the entire process a recruit will experience in order to complete the research
The most neglected piece of the process in focus group recruiting is the experience of the person that actually has to participate in the research. They will be annoyed if they receive 11 phone calls and e-mails before their scheduled group in an attempt to confirm their participation. Collect the information you need to consider in recruiting them the first time you talk to them. Only go back to them if it is critical to the research. During the first interaction (either online or on the phone) actually specify what they can expect in terms of follow up. When that recruitment process is communicated and followed through on people will actually show up and be more willing to share their opinions openly.
Choosing a Market Research Focus Group Partner
At Communications For Research, we do NOT take short-cuts or compromise on quality when it comes to recruiting for our clients’ market research focus groups. We know where to find potential participants, how to effectively screen samples, and how to design, run and ultimately leverage focus groups into what matters most: actionable insights that achieve key business goals.
To learn more, contact us today! We have in-depth experience in this area, and know what works – and just as importantly, what does not work – when it comes to finding the right focus group. Our experience is your advantage.
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