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Qualitative interviews: 7 approaches to recruiting respondents

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How do you select your respondents for qualitative interviews or focus groups? Beyond the number of respondents, there is also the question of the type of respondents needed for your market research. Do you want to have a homogeneous experience, or do you want to have a maximum variation? In this article, you will find the different strategies for composing qualitative samples.


Strategy 1: Maximum variation

What for?

This type of sample highlights the variations in perceptions between respondents and looks for the common denominator(s).

Dans quel type d’étude de marché l’utiliser ?

This type of approach is advantageous for bringing a new product/service to the market. The MVP (Most Valuable Product) is often a concentration of compromises needed to get to market quickly while keeping costs down. The maximum variation sample will allow you to highlight, for example, the recurring “pain points” among all the profiles and focus on this value proposition. This can be important in rebuilding the customer experience.


Strategy 2: Homogeneity

What for?

As the name suggests, this strategy aims to recruit respondents with homogeneous profiles or experience. This strategy simplifies group interviews by bringing together people with similar backgrounds.

In what type of market research should it be used?

This type of sampling is mainly used to form consensus during focus groups and should be used in confirmatory market research. In other words, when your product/service is already developed, and you want to confirm certain aspects before launching.



Strategy 3: Critical cases

What for?

The idea of this type of sampling in qualitative research can be summarized as follows: “if the results apply to this person, they will apply to everyone.”

In what type of market research should it be used?

By selecting respondents in particular situations, one seeks to identify that 1) the product/service meets the needs of “critical cases” and 2) that it will also cover the needs of non-critical cases. This type of approach can be helpful in a “disruptive” approach that involves recruiting “early adopters.” These early adopters could be critical cases that are not happy with the solutions on the market. However, for the adoption curve in the rest of the population to continue, it must also cover the needs of “average” customers.


Strategy 4: Deviant cases

What for?

To identify and study a rare phenomenon or an unusual manifestation of a more common phenomenon.

In what type of market research should it be used?

This type of sampling is best used when you are at the beginning of your market research, in the exploration phase (see here a 7-step methodology). Studying rare events can indeed be a source of interesting insights. They can lead to business ideas that in a typical framework could not have been identified.



Strategy 5: The convenience sample

What for?

This makes your life easier and allows you to get quick feedback (not necessarily objective). The convenience sample consists of recruiting respondents from your networks, especially your first circle (friends, family).

In what type of market research should it be used?

It is not clear that convenience samples are suitable for market research. The biases they bring are a little the antithesis of market research. But should they be banned? No. You can use them to get quick feedback at a very advanced stage (see step 1 of our market research method). Take every precaution when analyzing the data and never generalize.



Strategy 6: The “snowball” effect

What for?

To find people who present exciting potential for your qualitative research. Also known as the “chain” effect, the “snowball” effect consists of relying on well-connected people to identify, among their acquaintances, interesting cases for the research.

In what type of market research should it be used?

Some market research is challenging to realize using the recruitment process. By working on the “snowball effect,” you have more chance of finding respondents. A third person will recommend you. This is the best method for B2B market research.



Strategy 7: typical cases

What for?

To understand what the norm is in the market. This sampling strategy will lead you to focus on those respondents who are most representative of the norm, those who are “average.”

In what type of market research should it be used?

This type of recruitment is widespread in market research for everyday consumer products. The aim is to confirm hypotheses with people defined by their socio-demographic profile (housewife over 35 years old, urban retiree over 65 years old, permanent employee between 25 and 45 years old).

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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