How To Recruit Participants For B2B User Interviews
To get customers you need to do the research; to do the research you need customers. It’s a paradox. I examined four methods for recruiting user interviewees.
“Use your existing customers!” That’s the answer you’ll get when you ask, "how do I recruit participants for user interviews?". Here’s the thing, if you’re in the early stages of an MVP you either don’t have existing customers, or you can’t keep interviewing the same handful of customers you do have. To get customers you need to do the research, but to do the research you need customers; it’s a paradox. Another often recommended segment is friends and family. But we only have so many friends and family within our target customer segment.
I set out to test four methods for recruiting users for The User Interview Exchange, a site where founders, product managers, and UX researchers exchange user interviews for free (the meta-ness of doing user interviews for a user interviewing platform is not lost on me).
Four User Interview Recruiting Methods That Aren’t Your Customers, Family, Or Friends
1. Forums where your target market hangs out
Where I looked: My (hypothesized) target is founders, product managers, and UX researchers so I quickly dreamed up the forums where these folks hang out. I came up with Reddit, IndieHackers, StartupSchool, HackerNews, and Discord.
What I learned: Seeking users on forums is a give and take. When I wandered over to Reddit and posted into three subreddits where my target market lives (r/ProductManagement, r/entrepreneur, r/Startups) my posts were immediately filtered out by the bots because I had not participated enough in the subreddit, had not lived on Reddit long enough, and did not have enough clout (Karma). Much of my time was spent answering questions for folks on each subreddit before I had enough Karma to make a post. Even then I didn’t find any user interviews from Reddit.
Where I had the most success: I had the most success with StartupSchool. I attribute the success to three things: 1. The first person publicly commented saying that he would be willing to chat. This public offer gave a bit of validation to the others. 2. It’s a super supportive community meant for things like this. 3. I offered to give back by playing the role of a customer for others by answering their user interview questions.
Cost: 8 hours, free
Result: 3 user interviews via video (all 3 from the StartupSchool forum).
Best for: Those who already know their target market and there is a defined community for this market, those who do not have a budget, and those who have something to give back to the community.
2. Direct cold emailing & messaging
Where I looked: I focused all my efforts here on LinkedIn. For emails, I typed in search terms for my target segment and then used a tool to scrape the email addresses called, PersistIq. There’s a bunch of tools out there for this, this one just popped up first and it worked well for my purposes. I also signed up for LinkedIn Sales Navigator to send InMail messages.
What I learned: The standard free LinkedIn profile only allows you to view a certain amount of pages of search results for people you are seeking. I hit this limit for the month a few pages in and had to switch to LinkedIn Sales Navigator. I used a free trial for LinkedIn Sales Nav but it normally costs $79/month.
Where I had the most success: The comparison here for me was cold email reachout vs. LinkedIn InMail. In the end, each came out the same. I got one user interview from a direct cold email and one from a cold InMail message. Every message I sent was personalized and a lot of time went into filtering for who might be the perfect person to reach out to.
Cost: 8 hours, free if using LinkedIn Sales Navigator free trial, otherwise $79/month USD.
Result: 2 user interviews via video (1 from direct email out of 8 reached out, 1 from InMail messages out of 17 messages sent).
Best for: If you have a very specific target market. I had more success when I honed in on UX researchers in software firms instead of general product managers and founders. If you already have a CRM full of sales leads you could probably cut out a lot of time that I spent cleaning the list before reaching out. Not to mention that consultants with swoon as you align sales and product.
3. Meetups and groups
Where I looked: I already am a part of a video meetup community called Lunchclub. Lunchclub is meant mostly for networking, but if the person I am matched with is within my target segment, they’ve been more than welcoming as user interviews.
Cost: 30 minutes, free
Result: 3 user interviews via video (important note: the user interviews were not full-fledges user interviews as much as they were nice bonuses of the meetup).
Best for: Those who have something to give back to the community. I asked user interview questions as a bonus rather than the goal of my Lunchclub virtual meetups. If the sole purpose of using a community like Lunchclub is to get user interviews or sell a product, you’ll either be banner or end up with insincere responses. Asking a few questions is fine, but 30-minutes of user interview questions won’t fly. Other communities like Lunchclub that have worked for others include Shapr and Bumble for Business.
4. Paid user interview services
Where I looked: The largest paid user interview service is aptly named, User Interviews.
Result: Given that I started The User Interview Exchange, their policy prohibits me from using the service, so I was unable to test the results. My hypothesis is that it works.
Best for: Those who have the budget.
Combine Methods To Recruit User Interviews
In the end, I ended up getting users from each method but there wasn’t a case where I had a perfect flow of candidates. Considering we generally don’t have weeks to recruit, we should combine each of the methods above to recruit user interviews.
Important note: I ran into several unexpected positive side effects of doing the user recruiting on the cheap for this study. For example, five users who never responded ended up registering for the product, some responded with quick written feedback, and it helped me define my target market. I’ll write about the positive unexpected outcomes in a future post.
Bonus. Use The User Interview Exchange
What it is: Give a user interview, get a user interview. It's like Craigslist for user interviews: it's ugly but cheap (free) and effective. Learn more about The User Interview Exchange.
Result: Almost everyone who posts gets at least one applicant for their user interview. Most get four to five, and those who offer incentives get more than a dozen.
Best for: Those who are willing to be an interviewee to help others develop their product.