Eleven months ago, when my co-founder Alec and I decided to start a company together in the user research space, we had a simple mission in mind: We wanted to make it easy for teams to talk to their users.

While we both deeply believed in the power of user research, and its ability to positively impact decision-making, we were shocked at how “talking to your users” — something so seemingly straightforward — was actually a super complex and hairy problem. 

As a research-first company, before building any of our own software, we naturally started by talking to users. We spoke to 300+ UXRs and ReOps folks from all sorts of industries, ranging from companies as small as 10 people, all the way up to the largest enterprises in the world.

We asked about their most burning problems, and we learned A LOT. 🤯

One key learning? Recruiting non-users of your product or service is not the biggest challenge.

Where things do get complicated is when you need to recruit your own real users. No matter the company size, industry, or audience, it is exceedingly difficult for UXR teams to just “talk to their own real users.”

Let’s demystify participant management

Here’s what to expect:

  • A breakdown of what we uncovered in these 300+ conversations
  • Why every UXR team needs a participant management strategy
  • Why it’s SO difficult to recruit and manage your own internal users
  • How different best-in-class UXR teams are doing this today
  • What key things should you look for in a solution

My goal is for you to finish reading with more questions than answers — there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for this problem, which is why so few have truly solved it.

Why you need a participant management strategy

Put simply:

  • Demand for research is skyrocketing 📈
  • No participants = no research 👎
  • You need your own real users 🥰

So, if you’re trying to bring a practice of User Research into your organization, why do you need a participant management strategy?

Through our own research both scraping LinkedIn data and anecdotal learnings from our early customers, we found that the UXR role and therefore demand for research has been skyrocketing in organizations. We estimate that it’s growing about 30% YoY. 

As demand grows, there’s a significant need to talk to real-life users. But the reality is that no research participants = no research. All too often, teams lean on “look-alikes” from external panels because they’re easier to recruit.

What becomes clear is that recruitment and participant management for internal users is a foundational step in the UXR process, which is why it is actually one of the Eight ReOps Pillars that were so well articulated by Emma Boulton, a UX Research Leader at Meta.

Why is recruiting your own real users so difficult?

The reality is that your users aren’t just anybody — they are your customers and your organization’s most precious asset. So naturally, there’s a lot to consider:

  1. You’re not the only one talking to users or wanting to talk to users. There’s a substantial amount of internal communication and collaboration that must be done to manage this process.
  2. Recruiting users for research studies is no small feat. There’s typically a multi-step process that requires different tools for each step, leading to tool-jumping and manual data entry.
  3. There’s a limited universe of people for you to reach out to.⏳ It’s up to you to make the most of every interaction or outreach

While these are some big challenges to overcome, doing so can lead to an amazing opportunity. If you can build an A+ participant experience throughout the research process, you can leave an incredible impression and drive affinity with your brand, product, and team. 

👏 Better participants will yield better insights.👏

By having a well-thought-out and executed participant management and recruitment process, you can unlock a new level of insights for your organization.

How are teams doing this today?

Across research organizations, there are typically one of four ways folks manage this process:

  • The good old spreadsheet (typically a Google Sheet or Airtable)
  • A survey tool (like Qualtrics)
  • A traditional CRM (like Salesforce or HubSpot)
  • A purpose-built User Research CRM (like Rally 👋)

Each has their pros and cons.

Spreadsheets are often a great place to start and an important capability to have internally. Typically, teams will find that as the demand for research scales, spreadsheets don’t, and they need a better long-term solution.

A lot of organizations are already using tools like Qualtrics, Salesforce, and HubSpot, which is why many teams attempt to repurpose one of these tools for a UXR participant management system. While certainly more robust, scalable, and secure than spreadsheets, these tools are not built for UXR needs and can have significant usability
& feature limitations. Additionally, seats to tools like Salesforce can be quite expensive and require a lot of custom development time to maintain and improve. 

Hence, the need for a User Research CRM, which is a single place for teams to manage their participants for research and automate the recruitment process for specific studies. This platform brings together participant management, email automation, screening, scheduling, consent forms, incentives, and study management.

What makes for a good User Research CRM?

When thinking of implementing your own User Research CRM, regardless of the tool you decide to use, these are some of the key questions to ask:

  • Can I easily collaborate with my cross-functional counterparts?
  • Is this system intuitive and easy for the PMs and designers who are not doing research every day to pick it up and run with it?
  • Is the system dynamic enough to handle our specific use cases, screeners, consent forms, and types of incentives?
  • Does this system take away some of the manual processes that bog down my team, or does it just add more work to our plate?
  • Is this system GDPR compliant and safe enough to store and handle my sensitive participant data and PII?
  • Does this system “play nicely” with the other tools and systems that store customer data? If not, does this just become another silo for data?
  • Does this system allow me to set rules on contact frequency and incentive limits,
    so we can ensure we’re doing right by users?

If you are building out your participant management process or considering different solutions or pathways out there, we are happy to chat and always looking to add more insight and unique experiences to our knowledge and understanding of the UXR and ReOps space as we build Rally.

About Rally

Rally is one of 15 companies participating in the 2022 Stage 2 Capital Accelerator. Rally is a User Research CRM that makes it easy for teams to do research with their users. By automating outreach, scheduling, incentives, and participant management Rally replaces messy spreadsheets and disjointed tooling, saving teams hours each week.