Many marketing directors believe that there are certain groups of individuals who will not participate in focus groups. It is their feeling that these individuals are unwilling to become involved in this phase of the research process because of their business position or academic background.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have found that the higher the educational level or corporate position the more likely the individual is to participate. Very seldom will you find the "wallflower" who attempts to fade into the background. Successful business people are ones who have aggressively worked to reach their position and can usually articulate their experiences and attitudes very clearly.

One example illustrates my point. I was conducting a project for a pharmaceutical company that was preparing to introduce a new product. Ph.D. nutritionists were asked to play a key role in the introduction. It was critical that this group be presented the salient information about the new product in a form and manner which would get favorable reaction.

I recommended focus groups as being preferable to personal interviews. I knew that other competing products had been introduced in the preceding two to three years and that I was likely to get more information using a setting where there would be interaction among participants than I could obtain from a one-on-one situation.

Recruiting the qualified

The most critical part of the process was getting only qualified participants. Most of the screening process was done prior to the contact with the individual. We used a variety of sources to identify the most likely prospect within each of the targeted firms. Once we had identified these individuals, we submitted the names to the client for final verification. The client, because of its involvement already in this industry, had final approval as to whom we would contact.

Monetary incentive was a key element in our recruitment strategy but what was more important was the use of peer pressure. We had a finite group to select from, the industry was small and the prospective participants knew each" other from industry meetings.

I personally contacted and recruited the first three participants for each meeting and explained what we planned to do. The ability to use the names of these three individuals in the remainder of our recruiting proved invaluable. It provided us and our project with the credibility we needed to convince others of the value of their participation.

As with our other focus group programs, each participant was sent a letter repeating what had been told to him or her in the phone recruitment. The only difference was that we provided more information about the purpose of the meeting than we would do for consumer focus groups. This was done to reinforce the image we had attempted to create as to the important role they as a participant would play in the development and introduction of a new product. Finally, the day before the meeting, each participant was called to verify attendance.

Ten participants had been recruited for each of the two meetings. The 20 companies represented controlled approximately 40% of the purchasing power in this market. We felt confident that the information obtained would be reflective of the total industry.

Everyone arrived within five minutes of the announced starting time. Because of previous contacts at industry meetings and shows, no introductions were needed.

We were able to get into the subject matter much quicker than we could do with consumer groups. The participants understood the purpose of the discussion and were, of course, well-versed in product knowledge. Because a number of them had been in the industry for a number of years, we were able to obtain a history of competitors from the customer's or prospect's perspective.

Quality participation

Without giving away any confidential information, the participants provided glimpses into the factors which are taken into account when making buying decisions. Price, service, sales support and technical assistance were discussed. Each of the participants were able to contribute to the discussion because of their involvement with these products within their respective companies.

The previously announced time limit of 90 minutes was strictly adhered to. Because the participants were knowledgeable in the subject matter and could articulate this knowledge succinctly, we were able to cover much more ground than could be accomplished with consumers. Our meetings obtained the information we were after and were a major input into the client's marketing plan.

Many times, we as researchers have people tell us that they do not participate in research projects. It seems to be a "knee-jerk" reaction that some individuals feel they have to make. However, when properly approached, these same people can become enthusiastic participants in research projects. Careful planning, sensitivity when making the initial contact and proper follow-through are factors which help give participants the assurance that their cooperation is important.