Choosing a Qualitative Recruitment Firm: 8 Factors to Consider

blue chairs and one yellow chair

One critical step when conducting qualitative research is determining how you will find the participant. 

For many brands, this may mean hiring a qualitative recruitment firm to source, vet, and schedule qualified people to join the study.

But, not all market research firms are created equal.

In this blog, we share 8 critical factors to consider when choosing a qualitative research recruiter.

For a super in-depth rundown of the process, read our Ultimate Guide to Recruiting Participants for Market Research.

1. Do they have a plan to reach participants? 

There’s an old saying in sales that many market research recruiters use: we’re hunters, not farmers!

Put simply, you can’t wait for the participants to come to you. 

There should be an action plan in place to locate the ideal audience. The best qualitative recruitment firms think two or three steps ahead.

Before signing on the dotted line, ask potential qualitative recruiting vendors questions such as:

  • From your experience, what sampling sources are best to target my ideal participants?
  • What options do you have for targeting? 
  • If one panel or platform doesn’t work, what backup options do you have? 

It may seem self-explanatory that firms would consider this before bidding on a project.

Unfortunately for many, that’s not always the case. It is one of the common mistakes market research recruiters make.

I can’t count how many last-minute recruitment requests we receive from clients in the opposite situation. 

They went with a vendor who bid on their project with no real plan to reach their audience, and are now at the tail-end of their deadline with recruits remaining. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: A qualitative recruitment firm specializes in attracting the right participants to a project. Choosing the correct vendor needs to be well-thought-out to get the best results.

2. Do they have experience recruiting your target audience?

"Experience recruiting a similar audience" means they have at least an idea of how to best reach your demographic. 

A big factor to consider when choosing a qualitative recruitment firm is finding a company that can effectively reach that target audience.

This is a great starting point when deciding how to locate your target audience.  

If you have any doubts about your potential recruitment service, look at their portfolio of work such as:

  • A client list
  • Case studies
  • Client testimonials
  • Google reviews

Take for example this client review of our qualitative recruiting company.

AWS Client Testimonial Final

These resources will give you a thorough understanding of their background to determine if they are a good fit for your project goals. 

While experience isn't everything, is a big reason and benefit for hiring market research recruitment agencies, rather than doing it in-house.

💡 The Key Takeaway: It’s important to partner with a recruitment team that has experience in finding participants. This will ensure the process is followed correctly.

3. Does the qualitative recruitment firm have access to panels?

Of course, any legitimate qualitative recruitment firm is willing to work with you to meet your goals. That means even if the goals are slightly out of a normal scope.

But it’s important to have a solid understanding of where the firm’s focus lies before working with them. 

This is especially important when the project calls for recruiting from sources other than your own base, such as customer lists. 

If the recruitment team had to do hours of cold calling, that’s a bad sign. Take it from us, there are many challenges of cold-calling recruitment.

If the company already has access to a panel of past respondents that fit the desired demographics, the project will be far more efficient. 

It’s important to make sure their only plan to reach potential participants is going off of what has worked previously.

Remember the #1 factor! They should have a plan A, B, C, D, etc.

💡 The Key Takeaway: In market research, we recruit many different participants from all walks of life. It’s understandable that a recruiter may not have experience with your target audience, as long as they have an action plan in place! 

4. What does their recruitment process look like? 

There are many formats of market research recruitment, and some audiences require a unique recruitment strategy. 

However, firms that only utilize list-purchasing followed by cold-calling, or an entirely automated recruitment process will likely have a lower participant quality than a firm with a more “hands-on” approach. 

For example, at Drive Research we have a very thorough and systematic approach to qualitative recruitment. 

This includes: 

  • Interested respondents complete an online pre-screening questionnaire 
  • Our team picks the “best of the best” from a large pool of pre-qualified participants
  • We conduct re-screening phone calls where we confirm core qualification criteria and ensure the participant is engaged and thoughtful in their responses
  • And lastly, a multi-step confirmation process all before a moderator ever meets the participant 

qualitative recruiting process by drive research

This high-touch recruitment process keeps the participant engaged, and allows vetting through multiple checkpoints. 

Understanding how the recruitment process vets your potential research participant before they are in front of you during an interview, focus group, etc is important. 

If it is an automated, self-schedule process, how did they confirm that the participant fully qualifies, and is engaged and able to provide thoughtful responses? 

Cold-calling is a tricky and often unpredictable process.

This may require a more hands-on approach than an automated platform, but cold-calling often results in a first come, first fill approach. 

The recruitment approach that is the most hands-on will lead to improved show rates with the highest quality participants. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: A qualitative recruitment firm will spend time vetting the participants. This includes in-depth screening interviews.

5. How fast are they bidding? 

In the proposal stage, research projects require, well, research!

There are many estimates our research firm runs to ensure we have sufficient reach for the target participant. 

When choosing a qualitative recruitment firm, you’ll notice the best teams will also look into the criteria to ensure the incidence rate (IR) is reasonable. 

Each requirement or quota in a research project narrows down your feasibility.

Recruiters should take into account each and every factor in their pre-bidding research before submitting costs on a project. 

Research is full of surprises. But this doesn’t mean that issues won’t arise. Firms should at least understand the audience and what is expected of them before bidding. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: There are several factors that impact the feasibility of a market research study, so those that are responding immediately with costs are likely not looking into your audience as much as you would hope. 

Recommended Reading: How Much Does Recruitment for Qualitative Research Cost?

6. Are they flexible with your timeline?

Consider the prospective timeline of your project. 

Is it going to be long-term with hands-on, ongoing research? Or something more ad hoc like recruiting for focus groups one time?

Project management and communication are the backbones of any project.

That said, some companies have more experience than others when it comes to intensive communication involved in long-term projects. 

Flexibility matters, too.🤸🤸

When working with an experienced company, you benefit not only from our years of experience but our ability to learn from each project we’ve done. 

For example, what works well for a small focus group of professionals is not necessarily going to be the best approach for a large survey of the general population. 

A less-experienced team may suggest the same cookie-cutter approach without considering all the nuances of your project.

On the other hand, with as much scope and experience as our team has, we can guarantee that we will use our knowledge to adapt our methods to meet your project’s unique needs.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Communication and flexibility are the cornerstones of a successful project. Choose a qualitative recruitment firm that can act as an extension of your team.

7. Are they asking questions? 

To my point above, each aspect of a project impacts the overall feasibility. 

There are many factors we need to cover before understanding if and how we can reach a target audience.

Common recruitment questions we ask our potential clients before moving forward include:

  • Qualifications 
  • The topic of the research 
  • The type of qualitative research that needs participant recruitment
  • Is it in-person, or can it be completed virtually? If virtual, what is the platform and registration process?
  • Total time commitment
  • Participant requirements 
  • Timeline

If the research firm that you’ve sent a request to isn’t covering at least some of this information, that's a red flag. 

Once again, this can mean that the firm is bidding on every request they receive, with the plan to figure it out after winning the project. 

This is not only unrealistic in the grand scheme of recruitment–it sets your project up for failure. Yet another reason why you should consider a market research partner

💡 The Key Takeaway: A research team needs to value communication and time constraints. This not only includes communication with participants but also with all teams involved.

8. What additional services do they provide? 

We get it, research takes time. 

Developing a recruitment strategy for qualitative research requires hands-on attention.

The most valuable market research partner is one who can manage multiple aspects of the study, such as: 

  • Survey design and programming
  • Interview design guide
  • Moderating
  • Reporting

Furthermore, by having experience in multiple aspects of the project, the recruiter is more understanding of your goals.

Even if you don’t need additional services at the time, a market research firm will be more knowledgeable. 

For more qualitative recruiting tips, watch our brief video below.

💡 The Key Takeaway: A reliable recruitment company will treat both your project and participants with a high degree of professionalism.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, no matter what recruitment method you choose for your project, the professionalism of your qualitative recruitment firm has a big influence on how participants view your company. 

Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at reviews to get an idea of how respondents see the company.

If a company has a history of making the respondent experience anything less than pleasant, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere for your recruitment and project management needs. 

Contact Our Qualitative Recruiting Firm

Picking a partner for your market research project can be difficult, but everything following that decision could run much more smoothly if the right vendor is chosen. 

At Drive Research, we care about finding the right participants for our clients - not just filling a recruit. 

Between our systematic hands-on approach to recruitment and our team of experienced recruiters, we know exactly what steps to take to find high-quality, engaged participants. 

As a full-service market research firm, Drive Research is here to help with as much (or as little) as you need us to - use the information below to contact us!

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Ashley Reynolds

With nearly 10 years of experience in market research, Ashley has worked on countless quantitative and qualitative research studies. As a Fieldwork Manager at Drive Research, she’s involved in every stage of the project, especially recruitment.

Learn more about Ashley, here.

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Qualitative Recruiting