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Customer research recruitment strategies for product managers, UX designers, and marketers - picture of hands typing on laptop with a woman peering over the laptop with a magnifying glass

8 Uncomplicated Customer Recruitment Strategies for Product Managers, UX Designers, and Marketers

How product managers, UX designers, and marketers can recruit customers for research—without going back and forth with Sales and BI teams.

Customer research is valuable—but recruiting participants for it isn’t always easy. 

The recruitment process is often slowed down (if not blocked entirely) by the back-and-forth communication and approvals needed from sales, BI, and success teams. 

This back-and-forth isn’t unwarranted. Customer-facing teams want to feel confident that customers’ security, privacy, and satisfaction are protected throughout the process. After all, the participant experience is part of the overall user experience, and a bad one could leave a lasting mark on the business’s reputation. 

But what if people who do research (that is, folks outside the core UX research team who do research as a part of their jobs, such as product managers, UX designers, and marketers) could do consistent, secure, and professional recruitment on their own? 

They can, with the right tools, guardrails, and processes. We know this because, at User Interviews, we’re 100% focused on simplifying participant recruitment and panel management—it’s all we do, and we do it better than anyone else. 

Straight from our internal UX research playbook, here are our tried and tested strategies for bureaucracy-free recruitment. It covers:

  • When to recruit your own customers vs. participants from an outside panel
  • How to recruit customers the right way, from determining the ideal sample size to maximizing your response rate
  • Tools to streamline (and standardize) recruitment for UX research

🎨 Learn more: Designer-specific tips for user research

First off: When should you recruit your own customers vs. participants from an outside panel?

The most critical part of any research project is identifying who you need to speak with and why. Adjusting this after your project has started can impact the quality of the data you collect. 

Whether you recruit from your own customer panel or from an external panel like User Interviews depends on the type of research you’re doing.

When to recruit customers vs. external participants for UX research
How to identify the right audience (customers vs. external participants) for UX research

Recruit your own customers when… 

  • You're making improvements or updates to the existing experience
  • You require speaking with someone who already has experience with your product
  • You need to do a usability test with power users (people who use your product often and to the full extent of its capabilities) vs. new users

Pro tip 💡 Use a purpose-built panel management platform like Research Hub to build and manage your own customer panel. Learn more about our free and paid pricing plans for Research Hub.

Recruit external participants when…

  • You want to develop a new product or brand
  • You want to test with new customer groups
  • You want to understand competitors’ customers
  • You need to test usability among novices

Pro tip 💡 Use a self-serve recruitment platform like User Interviews’s Recruit to target any audience. It’s easy (and free) to sign up—try Recruit today

How to recruit customers for research: Best practices for product managers, UX designers, and marketers

You’ve refined your user research question, developed an effective research plan, and determined whether or not you need to speak to current customers or recruit from a third-party panel. From there, the recruiting process can be fairly straightforward, provided you have the right systems and guidelines in place. 

1. Identify your target audience. 

As we mentioned in the section above, identifying the right audience is one of the most critical steps in running a successful study. 

Once you’ve determined whether you need to speak to current customers or external participants, dig a little deeper to define the specific, ideal segment within that audience. 

Ask yourself:

  • Who do I need to speak with to uncover information that informs my decision?
  • Which behaviors and characteristics make up that audience? 

Make note of this criteria, as it will help you build your screener survey (or opt-in form for current customers)and target your audience later on. 

2. Determine your sample size. 

Revisit your study goals within your research plan to determine how many participants you need to speak with to uncover valuable, statistically significant insights. 

Your study goals will come with potential risks and implications, so it’s important to consider them when determining your ideal sample size. For example, if you’re doing research about a major feature release or strategic business change, you’ll probably want to recruit more participants than if you’re trying to decide whether blue or green buttons drive more clicks. 

Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re determining your ideal sample size:

  • Are you conducting a qualitative or quantitative study? Quantitative studies usually require more participants than qualitative studies. Ask yourself: How many participants do you need to speak with to achieve statistical significance? Get more tips for recruiting for qualitative research.
  • Recruitment requires adaptability, so it’s best to target a range rather than a concrete sample size. Set a goal “N” (number of participants) and minimum N to give yourself some wiggle room. 
  • No shows and cancellations can happen. For every 10 participants, aim to recruit two more above that goal, so you don’t have to restart the recruitment process if some participants can’t complete sessions for whatever reason. 

📚 Learn 16 strategies for reducing no-shows in UX research. 

3. Determine your logistics for the recruit.

Time, resources, and budget will have an impact on your recruitment plan. 


  • How much time will you need to fill the recruit? Niche, hard-to-find audiences will typically take more time to recruit than general population audiences. Recruitment and panel management tools can help you fill your studies faster—for example, User Interviews’s median time to the first matched participant is just one hour. 
  • Where, how, and when will the study take place? Usually, remote studies are quicker and easier to fill than in-person studies—and they generally save you money on incentives. Additionally, make sure your study is set up to be accessible to your target audience. 
  • Are there enough participants in your audience to meet your sample size? This is especially important to consider for customer research—if you’re recruiting from an internal panel, you’ll probably have a limited number of customers who are qualified to participate. 

📚 Recruiting can suck—but it doesn’t have to. Learn 9 actionable strategies for relieving common recruitment and panel management pains as your UX research practice scales.

4. Choose an attractive incentive. 

Pick an incentive that fairly compensates your participants and keeps them engaged. Consider the audience’s background, time to complete the study, and level of involvement to determine the right incentive amount. 

Ask yourself:

  • Does my incentive fairly compensate participants for their time?
  • If targeting professionals (or B2B audiences), does my incentive cover their average hourly income?
  • Will my incentive keep participants invested with the rigor of participation? 

For example, a study that involves interviewing customers about Fruit Loops and one that tests users’ abilities to assemble a printer while wearing eye-tracking glasses require different levels of rigor from the participants—scale your incentive up or down accordingly. 

💡 Pro Tip: Use our Incentive Calculator to quickly find a data-backed recommendation for the ideal incentive range. 

5. Collect informed consent.

Provide participants with an informed consent form prior to participating in research. A consent form is a legal document informing participants of what to expect with your study. It is meant to protect the safety of both the researcher and participants.

💡 Pro Tip: User Interviews’s Document Signing Add-On allows you to upload documents like consent forms and NDAs to projects ahead of time to streamline the signature collection process. 

6. Build a strong screener survey. 

Screener questions help you validate the behaviors and actions of the participants you're targeting to make sure you’ve recruited the right people. Be sure to keep your questions neutral to help prevent bias on responses.

Your screener questions should be designed to confirm the validity of the applicants who are qualified to participate, while weeding out unqualified candidates. 

📚 Learn the most common screener survey mistakes (that even experienced researchers make) and how to avoid them

7. Launch recruitment and send reminders at ideal times.

Consider the ideal time to send recruitment emails—when is your target audience most likely to respond?

For working professionals, Monday afternoon through Thursday morning tends to show better results than on Fridays or weekends, while general consumers might be responsive to emails outside of these times. 

Other tips for sharing recruitment messages include:

  • Stagger recruitment reminders to go out every 2+ days so you are not overwhelming or annoying people. 
  • If you’re working with participants in multiple time zones, send recruitment messages to be delivered during their ideal times, not yours. 
  • Along with email, you can also send recruitment links and surveys using social media, Craigslist, pop-up forms on your website or within your product, and via recruitment platforms like User Interviews. 

🏁 Doing a 1-1 interview study? Get started with a pre-loaded recruitment project, templates and guides for interviewing, and answers to frequently asked questions about interviews in our User Interview Launch Kit

8. Keep tabs on your response rate and adapt if it’s low. 

If the response to your recruitment calls is lower than anticipated, try some of the tips and tricks below to see if you can increase engagement: 

  • Increase the incentive amount.
  • Go back to your recruitment criteria and see if there are any low-risk criteria you can be more flexible on.
  • Work with customer success and sales teams if you're trying to recruit your own customers—they may be able to reach out on your behalf! 
  • Simplify your invite emails and make the language more fun and engaging.
  • Extend the deadline or offer more session options by adding more dates and times.

📚 How We Use Research Hub: An honest, insider’s look into how our UX Research team uses our own recruitment and panel management solution.

Recruitment with User Interviews is unbelievably fast and easy

Whether you’re a full-time researcher or you do research as a smaller (but no less important) aspect of your job, User Interviews is the fastest and easiest way to recruit quality participants for research. 

Get insights from any niche within our pool of over 2 million participants through Recruit or build and manage your own panel with Research Hub, the #1 panel management platform for teams that do research at scale. 

Our tools simplify the process of sourcing, screening, data consent, scheduling, messaging, incentives, and other aspects of research recruiting—no matter who’s conducting it. For enterprise orgs, we offer endless customizations and admin features to help large research teams stay coordinated, consistent, and compliant as they scale. 

📊 Need to demonstrate the value of UXR to your stakeholders? This article breaks down the 4 most common objections to doing research using cold, hard, stats. These will help you show your team that research is worth the time, budget, and effort—even in an uncertain economic climate.

Other tools to streamline (and standardize) recruitment for UX research

If User Interviews doesn’t look like the right solution for you, you can check out other recruitment options like:

🗺 To browse even more recruitment tools and gain a full view of the user research tools landscape, don't miss our 2021 UX Research Tools Map

The bottom line: Recruitment doesn’t have to be complicated

Product managers, UX designers, and marketers can do consistent, secure, and professional recruitment on their own—with the proper tools, systems, and guidelines. 

Learn how to remove the bureaucracy and red tape with our easy-to-use recruitment platform, while ensuring brand consistency, privacy, and effective governance with the ability to pre-configure limits, guidelines, and other controls—book a demo today.

Lizzy Burnam
Product Education Manager

Marketer, writer, poet. Lizzy likes hiking, people-watching, thrift shopping, learning and sharing ideas. Her happiest memory is sitting on the shore of Lake Champlain in the summer of 2020, eating a clementine.

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