Editor's note: Amy E. Boren is president of DecisionPoint Marketing and Research, Canton, Ohio. She can be reached at 440-263-5362 or at amy@decisionpointconsulting.com. This article appeared in the January 27, 2014, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.

Today's qualitative recruiting is not for the faint of heart. The recruits are more complex, the turnaround time has been reduced and the bar has been raised for what constitutes excellence. One bid that underestimates incidence can determine a moderator's fate with an end-user/client or, if you represent a focus group facility, one bad recruit can result in the degradation of your reputation with the moderator and the end-user.

The stakes are higher than the early days of research when a bowl of M&M's sufficed as "fare" and focus groups were considered sexy and smart. We now need to justify our existence. Not only should the facilities have the amenities of a Ritz-Carlton but the recruiting criteria is changing as well. The human element has morphed into scientific algorithms and, as the recruits get more sophisticated, facilities and moderators need to adapt.

Most facility owners want to attract great recruiters but when threatened with $10-15 per hour serving as the minimum going rate and mandatory health care insurance, many are forced to choose between attracting the best talent or keeping group prices competitive. As a result, moderators are challenged with keeping their costs in line with an already-stretched budget and instead of hiring the best facilities, they are reducing the decision down to commodity pricing or forcing the facilities to take less and do more. The efficacy of the entire recruiting process may be compromised when price constraints can't be reconciled with the overall gross revenue of the project.

However, another challenge also arises when trying to cut costs: constantly building your database of virgin focus group participants. It is cheaper and easier to use the respondents that are currently in your database but is this the best solution?  

A virtual backup team can assist the focus facility's recruiting staff by utilizing fresh techniques (e.g., social media, etc.) to find organic respondents; can recruit the entire project in rural or tertiary settings; or can act as crisis recruiters who swoop in during the final moments to smooth out the rough edges. And with new means of recruiting, new methodologies need to be employed to remind the participants (e.g., Facebook reminders, tweets, text messages, calls, etc.) - essentially rendering the 49-cent snail mail reminder obsolete. 

Risks and limitations

However, when working with a virtual team, there are risks and limitations to keep in mind. For this service, the virtual backup team needs to be trusted to perform without direct supervision. Also, a 50 percent down payment toward the total recruit is usually required to invest in alternative lists and technology for reaching out to the target audience. 

The cost is typically the same as it would be for recruiting focus groups within the facility: based on the incidence of qualified respondents and the city in which the group is taking place. Panel companies are hesitant to assist with difficult recruits because their models are based on quantitative studies that are anonymous in nature so this service can help identify and recruit needle-in-a-haystack respondents.

Many benefits

However, there are also many benefits to using a virtual backup team for recruiting.  

  • Virgin, organic respondents are added to the facility's database.
  • Cost may be slightly lower than what you charge your client (read: profit).
  • Your reputation is maintained by achieving your recruiting targets.
  • Repeat business from the moderator and end-user is more likely after a successful project.
  • Show rates are usually slightly better, since the respondents are opt-in from the onset.

This service can also benefit moderators: 

  • Groups are recruited properly and the full show rate will be obtained.
  • It supplies a more organic group, comprised of random respondents.
  • It serves as a second means of gathering true population incidence measures.
  • You are not left at the mercy of a lone focus facility in a market.

Extend your reach 

We all need to adapt to the changes in the industry by employing the best most efficacious solutions, whether you are a moderator with a very valuable client or a focus group facility that simply wants to extend your reach.