How to Get 3x as Many Research Participants Without Paying More

One small change to my recruiting method tripled the willing participants among a tough B2B audience

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve been experimenting with recruiting, and the results have been surprising.

Recently, I’ve avoided recruiting participants for interviews directly. First, I start with a survey. But at the bottom of the survey, the last question asks if they’re willing to join an interview with me to share more feedback.

This isn’t really a tactic. Yet since I’ve switched exclusively to this method of recruiting for , I’ve actually tripled the willing participants among a tough B2B user base.

Yes, on average, people are willing to join even my longest, most challenging interviews.

How to get more research participants without higher compensation

This finding was a happy accident — I wasn’t originally trying to increase participation, though recruiting is always one of the toughest things about research.

It was also by accident that I realized it was happening. I was listening to an audiobook, The Catalyst, this week, and suddenly in the middle of a chapter, author Jonah Berger started telling me exactly why I was getting more participants.

Berger detailed how a group of researchers was trying to increase responses during their study. They first asked people to allow the researchers into their homes for a few hours — a pretty big ask — and most people declined.

Then, they changed their approach.

Instead, they first requested a short phone call with just a few questions — a small request — and many more people agreed. Researchers called the participants and asked their few questions.

Only during the call, did they ask if they could also come to their homes (their initial objective). At this point, a full of the participants agreed — a noteworthy increase in participation compared with their first attempt.

The final task — participants letting researchers into their homes for the study — didn’t change. So why did the level of participation increase so dramatically?

Why starting with a smaller ask works

By asking the big thing after they’ve done the small thing, you move people’s :

Move the person’s zone of acceptance first

When people move their position on an acceptance-rejection spectrum, their range of willingness moves, too. The final ask (the interview, in my case) had originally been in a person’s zone of rejection — it was too far away from the position where they started.

But joining my survey actually . They’d become “people who do this sort of thing,” as Berger says, and joining my interview now fell much closer to the task they’d already completed.

We can also compare this to the challenge of making big life changes, something many of us have experience struggling with.

Most people can’t fathom running 50 miles per week right from the start. The first request, the end goal (run 50 miles per week), is too far away if I’m starting from the couch. It’s too drastic a change.

Starting small, with 15 miles a week, moves my zone of acceptance. Running 50 miles comes closer into view when I’m able to run 15 miles a week, and then 30 miles. The numbers are no longer in a completely different realm from the final “request” I’m making of myself. And suddenly I’m also believing that I’m and therefore If I tried to commit to 50 miles a week from the start, I’d have given up immediately.

Break things down into smaller steps

I’ve always been a bit afraid of asking of someone who has participated in research already — be it a survey, or NPS, or other. . I didn’t want to be that mouse. But as it turns out, this works.

The key to increased participation is breaking down the big request into smaller pieces that are easier to commit to.

This is what happened when I “accidentally” received more participants by getting them to respond to a survey first. By joining the survey, they’d become in their own eyes. I’d moved the goal post closer: joining a survey is closer to joining an interview than they had been from the start, having never joined my research before.

In four rounds of recruiting, this has generated an average of three times as many participants for my deeper research, mostly interviews, than I’d ever had previously.

Have you tried this approach?

I’d be really curious to hear if others are using this tactic, and how it’s working out for you.

If this is the first time you’re hearing of this, then best of luck trying this for your first time!

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +755K people. Follow to join our community.

Caitlin D. Sullivan

Written by

User Research Lead and Service Designer. Solving big startup challenges through lean insights processes. Also, ceramic studio owner.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +755K people. Follow to join our community.

Caitlin D. Sullivan

Written by

User Research Lead and Service Designer. Solving big startup challenges through lean insights processes. Also, ceramic studio owner.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +755K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store