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May 11, 2020
Finding the right customers for your research can mean a deep dive into your company’s usage software and CRM. Here’s how to organize them.
There are two common cases for running research with your own customers:
For earlier-stage companies or companies with a small customer base, research with your own customers may not make sense, or be possible. The pool of people may be too small, and the likelihood of you finding enough of the right participants could be low. If you don’t have a product yet, you don’t have users. And don’t make the mistake of counting your co-founders, friends, and family as users, either.
If you need help finding target users for your product to give you feedback, check out our previous article on how to recruit research participants through popular recruitment channels, including live intercepts, social media, online recruiting platforms like User Interviews, and more.
If you have many customers already, or you’re building a feature where feedback from current users would be the most useful, recruiting your own customers for a study can be rewarding and fast. 64% of the respondents in our State of User Research survey do over 50% of their research with their own customers.
And for many companies, some of their customers (often their best customers) actually want to be part of the research process.
If this is you, read on for insights into how to execute the recruiting process well.
If you consider the steps involved with participant recruitment, you need to have tools for the following DIY process:
Which users you recruit depends on what kind of research you’re doing. For example, if you’re a product manager for a SaaS bookkeeping software and you’re rolling out changes to a feature relevant only for startups, then startup founders and their bookkeepers are your end users. You’ll likely want to use your company’s CRM to identify a list of customers who work at startups.
Going further, you may want to speak with only customers who have used that feature in the last month (or another specific time period).
Note: If you don’t have access to a product usage tool, you might need to reach out to your Business Intelligence (BI) team to help compile that list. Or in some cases, you might be able to get it from Marketing. It often takes working cross-functionally in an organization to get the baseline data you need.
At this point, you should end up with a spreadsheet of names, contact information, and other relevant data for the users you want to run tests with. These are the folks you’ll email to get started.
Returning to our example, suppose you don’t want to talk to founders who are doing their own bookkeeping and really just want to talk to hired bookkeepers. Since your CRM might not have that information readily available, you might need a screener survey to get that information from potential participants.
You’ll need to include an invitation to the screener survey in your email outreach. Then, you can manually assemble your final list of participants from those who responded the way you hoped.
The type of testing you’re doing will also determine how many customers you need to contact. Usability testing won’t need as many participants as a series of generative interviews, for example. A good rule of thumb is to reach out to ten times more people than the number of participants you actually need (since some will not respond, and some that do respond may be no-shows). You may need to invite more if you have more specific needs (such as a longer screener survey, in-person testing, long sessions, a quick response time, busy professionals, etc.).
Once you’ve finished qualifying testers to participate in your study, you can use a calendar management tool like Calendly to schedule them for a research session. Afterwards, if you promised them an incentive, you’ll need to distribute it in a timely manner to avoid alienating perfectly good customers.
Lastly, in order to avoid pitfalls such as inviting people too often or inviting people who have already participated in a study, you’d also need a spreadsheet set up to manage and track your interactions with these customers and to actually keep it up to date.
As you can see, facilitating this process properly takes a pretty extensive set of tools, diligence to keep your records up to date, and strong cross-functional relationships to get the customer access you need. Setting this all up is time consuming, and it’s still going to take some effort to maintain everything you’ve created — after all, you’ll likely have different user groups to keep track of in addition to repeating the recruitment process as needed.
In the next section, we’ll describe how this all works in Research Hub, our product designed specifically for “bring-your-own” user research.
You can think of Research Hub as a CRM system that’s been built specifically for performing user research. It allows you to upload data from other CRMs (such as Salesforce or Marketo), product usage, or insight management platforms. And then it gives you a plethora of tools, filters, and mechanisms to facilitate your research study.
Many researchers get started with Research Hub by seeding their CRM with a list from their marketing or sales teams, or perhaps a list they’ve already been building for a research panel or customer advisory board. To get started this way, you will upload the CSV file of that list to Research Hub:
You can map any column from your CSV to a field in the participants section of your account. You can also add new fields from there.
For example, many researchers start by importing columns with contact information and when they were last emailed, and then they add in activity fields for demographic info, contact information, and perhaps product usage metrics. User Interviews tracks contact frequency going forward in fields such as Last Invited and Last Applied.
Research Hub has a deep suite of labels and filters you can apply to your list along with research-specific fields we track for you out of the box: last applied, last invited, last participated, and the total incentives paid out to a participant (which our platform handles for you via Amazon gift card). Everything can be managed and executed in one place.
Once you’ve run a few studies, our filtering features become more and more useful. You can segment your list by any field, whether it’s an activity in Hub (like applications or incentives) or a metric you’ve added yourself.
As a simple example, if you wanted to just pull up the people who were last invited before six months ago, you can easily do that.
Many of our users also like to take advantage of our opt-in form feature, which lets you create a passive, evergreen screener survey to recruit participants. You can customize what you want to ask people and then use the link provided to share it with customers however you’d like (e.g., in the footer of your website or email newsletter).
Anyone who signs up through your opt-in form is then automatically added to your participant list, along with any data they provided in the form. You can add a custom data consent form to the opt-in form if you need one.
Some companies choose to build up their own customer “research panel” this way because it’s a simple method of avoiding internal politics, which aren’t so pleasant and can really slow down your research. You don’t need to ask sales or marketing for permission to talk to these users because each person has given you express permission to do so. You can more easily control your research fate — and get research done on the fly — if you start building up your list before you need it.
Remember that list of tools for managing screener surveys, scheduling, incentives, and more? All of them (except Calendly) would be redundant if you’re using Research Hub.
Here’s how typical research project management plays out in Research Hub:
Performing user research with your own customers needs to be done with care, but it can be an incredibly valuable exercise for companies that have a large enough user base. We’ve seen that many of our own users love participating and being involved in the process! After all, they stand to benefit from an improved product in the long run.
The key to doing it well is to strike a balance in your communication — reaching out to the right people with respectful intervals between each request.
Planning to do user research with your customers? Try out Research Hub to manage the entire process with ease.