By: Melanie Brewer
Working with enterprise software clients in situations where a recruiter is not involved can be tricky. In those situations, recruitment of users is often the biggest (and hardest) part of my job. At times, I’ve needed to engage notoriously difficult-to-recruit users like pharmaceutical sales representatives or physicians. Just try to get a doctor to sit down and talk to you for 45 minutes. And I’m not even talking about my husband.
When I’m challenged by recruitment, I sometimes mentally contrast the effort with past studies, where doing user research was as easy as setting up a usertesting.com study and waiting for the results to roll in. How delightfully easy to hear from hordes of users who could provide insight into the process of finding a bath mat on PotteryBarn.com…or using a SaaS platform aimed at a general audience. (disclaimer: artistic license is being taken; all studies are harder than they appear in the rearview mirror).
But, you get what I mean. Consumer products that practically anyone can evaluate have a certain appeal from a user research standpoint. Finding users is not the hardest part. The hardest part is making sure the questions are right, the setup good, and capturing and analyzing the data.
In contrast, here’s an example of what a recent recruitment for enterprise software looked like for me, by the numbers:
The good news is that I’ve learned a lot in the school of hard knocks through my recruitment efforts on enterprise software. Here are some things I can share:
Do use personalized emails. Nothing says I love you like a personalized email message (as opposed to a mass email). I learned this lesson when I was (briefly) in the content marketing/email campaign business. Yes, it’s time consuming and effortful, but it does increase response rates and deservedly so. You are making an investment in your users and they will feel it. To balance the personal touch with practicality, you can certainly use cut and paste to make the process easier.
Do use referral programs. One of the hardest recruits I ever did was the first one I did for physicians. There is a reason that some recruitment agencies will charge you $1000 just to recruit the first physician (yes, I checked). What unlocked this difficult recruit for me was when I connected with a physician named Jennifer (not her real name). Jennifer just “got” user research and how it could help make physicians’ lives better by improving this product we were working on. Jennifer became really passionate about recruiting her fellow physicians and sent me at least a dozen high quality referrals (I also compensated her for each referral who participated in a study). It made a huge difference. Since then, I’ve made it routine to use a referral program when possible. And I always ask at the end of a session, “Can you refer me to anyone else who might be able to help?” (close the deal by actually collecting the contact information right then and there if possible).
Do use platforms like UserInterviews and Respondent. They tap into a large group of diverse people who are essentially prescreened for being receptive to user research (because they’re participating in the platform). This makes them much more receptive and motivated to respond to your call for participants. Corollary: You might get more “professional user testers” whose feedback can be skewed, although so far I’ve found this to be less of a problem with highly specialized users of enterprise software as compared to general users of consumer websites or products.
Don’t use an external email account, if you can avoid it. People who work at big companies are really, really, really, trained to NOT respond to cold emails. Think about it: they have multiple training courses each year just dedicated to making sure they never, ever click on links from unknown email addresses (AKA screener surveys from usability consultants). People working in certain job roles are also going to be particularly suspicious — like legal, regulatory or compliance. It’s their job to think about worst case scenarios all day long. This has put a damper on some of my recruiting efforts at times. If at all possible, make sure your email address reflects the product or organization you are working with. If necessary, get a temporary email address from your client—or have your internal project sponsor or champion send out your messages.
Another great option is to have your internal sponsor send out a “pre-message” letting customers know they’ll be hearing from you (and what your email address is). In the recruiting business this is sometimes called a “warming message” because it warms up the users to the idea of hearing from a recruiter. This message can include an opt-in link or even send users to your screener survey.
Do recruit NON users of the product. This is incredibly valuable just from a user research standpoint: you can learn a lot from people that aren’t using the product or are using competitor products (although you must of course remain ethical in your pursuit of competitor information — that’s a different blog post, however). Also, non users (especially those with specialized roles or skillsets) can be easier to recruit than users at times, because the pool of them (compared to current customers) is larger.
Do leverage social media. This can include anything from Reddit to LinkedIn. For some studies, I’ve had success with advertising on Facebook. Those ads allow me to connect with specific types of users and particularly in specific locations (e.g., if you are working on an international product this can be extremely helpful.) Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to figure out how to place the ads, but once you add this to your toolbelt, you’ll find ways to use it again and again. Joining special interest user groups on Facebook can also be helpful, if your specialized users congregate there.
LinkedIn is another valuable resource — because it includes company names and job titles. Get a paid plan and use the included InMails to contact people in the roles or companies you seek.
As part of a digital/social approach, it’s important to have what ethnographer Sam Ladner calls a “digital home” — a landing page or other place you can send people if they click your ad or are interested in learning more. This can be your web page, or a screener survey, for example. A good digital home will include things like information or FAQs about research so potential users can learn about what they’re getting involved in.
Do ask friends and acquaintances for referrals. If you know someone…anyone…in the job role that you are recruiting for (or who works with someone in that job role or at a company that includes that job role) there is a chance that they can connect you to more people like them at their company or others. It’s a big ask, and it can feel awkward, but most people like to help. Let them.
Don’t get discouraged (and stay empathetic). There’s always something new to try. Put yourself in your users’ shoes and ask yourself “Where would I hang out?” and then go there, whether it’s in the real world or online. The good news is that you develop crazy empathy by struggling to recruit users, because it really forces you to think about them, who they are, and how to reach them (literally and in terms of communicating with them.) And if that’s not enough, you can always get a blog post out of it.