Identifying the right consumer for a research project can be as important as finding the right actor for a leading role on the big screen. An actor can make or break a movie. Think about times an actor just wasn’t the right fit for a role.

The same is true in a research project. A consumer could be a great “actor” but they just aren’t the right fit for the “part.” Scouting talent in Hollywood is a lot like scouting talent in suburban, urban, rural America for a research project. If you ‘miscast’ and select the wrong respondent, you’ll likely not have the best research session. And if you think sitting through a bad movie is painful, try slogging your way through 2 hours of superficial one-word responses.

At times, I feel like a casting agent, working with recruiters to find the best respondents that fit the needs of our projects.

Here are my top 5 questions that I use to evaluate potential, “award-worthy” respondents:


1.  Is this person articulate?


Was this person able to talk about the subject matter with some passion? Were they able to express themselves and their ideas? Did you find yourself having to work too hard to try to get them to share and tell you how they feel about something? I’ve had times where I just can’t get much from someone past the “um, it’s good” or “yeah, I like it.” Don’t stick your colleagues with someone that will make an in-home interview unbearable. Making sure you find an articulate respondent almost trumps all other requirements.


2.  Is this someone I enjoy talking to on the phone?


Did you enjoy speaking with them for the limited time you had? Will your teammate enjoy talking to them for three and half hours? Will the clients find the experience enlightening? What kind of vibe did you get from them? Sometimes it comes down to gut feeling and listening to your instincts. Practice honing your intuition skills!


3.  Do they check off the project requirements? Check and check again!


Here is where you could have a great candidate, someone you really enjoyed talking to but they might not meet all the criteria that your study requires. I’ve talked to people that I would have liked to have met for coffee and chatted with more but they came up short on what the respondent profile was. Check against the screener requirements and make sure you know exactly what type of respondent for which your client is looking. If it’s not a good match, move on and find a replacement.


4.  Are they a serial survey taker?


This can be a tricky one to spot. There are some serious professionals out there! Typically, if their résumé consists of a string of odd jobs then chances are “professional survey taker” is one of them. I have had people come right out and tell me that they do market research for extra cash. My response? “Um, no thanks!” Make sure you find out some information about what their career is and don’t forget to ask when was the last time they did a research study and what the research involved.   


5.  What’s their living situation?


Here you really want to make sure you are aware of what your teammates will be walking into. There are plenty of questions to dig into here. Do they live with parents, roommates, family? Who will be home? Do others in the household mind having the study done in their home with videotaping? If the study does not include kids, yet there are kids around will they be entertained or will there be childcare? Do they have pets? Do they have room and seating for 3-5 extra people in their home?

I’ve had situations come up where people cancelled because their spouse wasn’t comfortable with having the study in their home, other situations where kids totally distracted from the session, and still others where people just didn’t have the room for extra seating. The seating issue came up a lot in a particular market where we had people living with multiple family members in a studio apartment or happened to have a lot of broken furniture and nowhere to seat people. The last thing you want to do is send your clients into a home with no place to sit.

You can come across some pretty bizarre situations at times! Make sure you can detect an uncomfortable situation before it happens.


Could you use a few more tips on the nuts and bolts of market research?  

Read all about strategies for successful shop-alongs.

Learn how to conduct a Hollywood-style focus group