“You can learn valuable things by asking the right people the wrong questions. If you’re talking to the wrong people, it doesn’t matter what you ask.”Erika Hall

It’s generally easier to recruit from your user base than it is to recruit prospects. For one, your users and customers have had at least some exposure to your brand and product. They also stand to benefit from any improvements that you make on the basis of the insights they share.

To get started recruiting users or customers, first figure out which specific profiles or behaviors you’re looking for. Are you looking for people who have stopped using your product? People who use certain features each week?

  • What profiles are you looking for?
  • What goals, problems, opportunities, or behaviors should they share?
  • What level of familiarity with the product should they have?
  • What level of comfort with technology should they have?
  • How well should they know the industry that they’re in?
  • What profiles are you trying to exclude from your research?
  • Are the profiles and behaviors you’re recruiting for ‘observable’? Can you find the exact profiles you need using the data at your disposal?

The more context that you have around their use of the product or behaviors, the easier it will be to recruit them. If you can infer behaviors using data that you already have, you may not even need a screener, a survey designed to weed out wrong-fit interview participants.

How to Recruit Interview Participants

The most effective ways to recruit from your user base are through your website or product, or via email, targeting specific behaviors or profiles.

If you want to recruit a wide range of interview participants, consider using pop-ups on high-trafficked posts or sections of your site, or recruiting via your social media platforms. If that’s your intent, know that you will need to screen for the right behaviors.

It’s common to incentivize participants, by rewarding them with gift cards, product credits, or cash. As a rule of thumb, the incentive should be equal to the participant’s average wage for the duration of the research, including travel time.

The more niche your product is, the more expensive recruitment tends to be. I once had a client who was building software for lawyers. The cost per user testing participant was $300. The total cost quickly added up.

Note that even a $25 Amazon or OpenTable gift card might attract professional interview participants, who routinely seek out opportunities to get paid for taking part in research.

Be vague about the research topic, and weed out wrong fits with your screener. Participants should care about the study beyond the incentives that you are offering.

Creating a Screener Survey for Your Study

You can create your own screener. The general idea is to break down your ideal participant profile into different characteristics, and then coming up with questions that allow you to test for those characteristics. You have to be clear about who you want to speak to, and who you want to avoid.

Solving Product – Interview Participants Screener Survey
Example of a Screener Survey Question

You want to screen for behaviors, not demographics or preferences. Consider screening for:

  • Behavior frequency: Please tell us how often you [ Task / Behavior ]?
  • Goals: What is the main reason why you use [ Feature / Product ]?
  • Familiarity with technology: How often do you do these activities online?
  • Willingness to share personal information: This test will require you to share openly about [ Topic ], do you agree to share honestly about this topic?

Make sure it’s clear to your participants that filling out the screener doesn’t guarantee that they will be recruited for the study. Don’t waste their time. Start with your most important questions.

Provide clear and distinct choices that don’t overlap. Make sure you include a “None of the above,” “I don’t know,” or “Other” option. Disqualify wrong-fit participants as quickly as you can.

Contacting Interview Participants

If you can infer the behaviors that you’re recruiting for with your data, use a message like the following to recruit interview participants via email, In-App messages, or pop-up messages:

Subject Line: Help me make [ Product Name ] better

Hi [ Julie ],

We’re working on new functionalities to improve [ Functionality Group ]. I noticed that you seem to be getting value from [ Functionality Group ]. I’d love to get your input to make sure we don’t build the wrong thing.

Can I schedule a quick call with you next week? [ Monday or Tuesday ]?

Let me know, thank you.


Sample and recruit participants randomly. Make sure the messaging you use doesn’t feel creepy.

If you’re using a screener, change your call-to-action:

We’re looking for savvy [ Users / Customers ] to help us refine [ Functionality Group ]. Would you be interested in taking part in our research? Simply fill out this quick [ X ] question survey: [ surveylink.com ]

Only mention the incentives if you have difficulty recruiting at least 5-10 percent of the users that you contact.

For in-person studies, it’s a good idea to follow up by phone before confirming invitations This will help make sure that you get great interview participants.

“I have a few more questions. I just want to confirm that you’re a good match for our research. Could you walk me through how you typically decide what to work on?”

Eventually, you should turn user and customer recruitment into a continuous process.

Consider automating some of your recruitment messages once you know that they work. Create a database of potential participants and give someone on your team the responsibility for recruitment.

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This post in an excerpt from Solving Product. If you enjoyed the content, you'll love the new book. You can download the first 3 chapters here →.

Categories: Customer Research Technique