And how to build intelligent emails for all your panel management needs


In my role at Qualtrics, I talk with a lot of customers who run their own research panels. But just last week I heard a frustrated client say something I’d never heard before. She told me that she wished she’d known that “login portals are actually worthless.”


If you’re not familiar with panel management or login portals, let me give you a quick rundown.  When researchers set up their own panels, they invite individuals to opt in to providing regular feedback via surveys. For smaller brands, recruiting a panel requires more outreach than it does for companies like Apple or Google who have a far-reaching base of people looking to provide feedback on products. But no matter how large or small your brand, once panel members have opted in to taking surveys, you’ll need a way to provide updates and survey invites to your panel members.


That’s where login portals come in. Lots of panel management providers offer login portals as a centralized location that panel members can log in to access survey links, update their profile information, track reward progress, view updates and survey results, and answer poll questions.


Sounds like a great idea in theory, right? Well take it from my customer who realized that her previous panel management provider had sold her on something that required a lot of time, energy and money but provided her very little benefit—login portals are actually pretty worthless.


Why login portals don’t work


To understand why login portals don’t work, let’s think about how panel members might see things. Whether it’s customers, employees or consumers who make up your panel, they’ve opted in to take occasional surveys and provide feedback to your organization—but there’s a threshold for how much you can actually ask of your panel members. Even if you’re Apple or Google and you have those loyal, engaged panel members, if providing feedback becomes too time-consuming or difficult, your panel members will stop giving you the information you need. In the fast-paced, technology era we live in, people want to do things simply and fast.


If you’re asking panel members to remember their login portal URL and login information, that’s one thing. But login portals also place the responsibility on the panel member to login and actively track rewards progress, available survey links and any other panel updates they might want to know about. In most cases, panel members aren’t going to do this for you. In fact, our stats show that when panel members are given access to a login portal, login rates average 5 percent.


I’ll even play devil’s advocate for you here. Maybe a brand or company is so big that you’ll always have a steady stream of enthusiastic panel members dying to provide you with feedback. Well if that’s the case, keep in mind that setting up and managing a login portal requires a lot of effort on your end. You’ll have to regularly update the available survey links, export data to give panel members visibility into how you’re implementing their feedback, and change the design of your portal anytime your branding changes or you want to add visual elements to the dashboard. This is no small task.


In short, there’s a better approach to keeping panel members happy, engaged and up-to-date. It requires some effort in terms of setup but once you’ve completed the setup, you can sit back and let the good times roll.


Intelligent emails for your panel members


By swapping out login portals for intelligent emails, you can send survey invitations, relevant information about rewards, and links to update profile information all within one simple email.


Here’s an example of an intelligent email:


Sample Survey Invitation Email


You’ll notice that with the email pictured above, we still give panel members the chance to update their panel info and download reports, but they can do it by clicking within the body of the email.


So how does this magical setup work? If you’ve used a panel management tool before, you know that you need to somehow connect this email to your database of panel members.

To help you get started, we’ve broken out three of the most popular elements of login portals. We’ll walk you through the setup of each element in Qualtrics, but if you’re using a panel management software with the same functionality, a similar setup should still be possible.


Elements of an Intelligent Email




Panel members like to see how their feedback is implemented, so giving them a downloadable PDF report, or access to an online report, helps them stay engaged and interested in providing regular feedback. Online reports are often referred to as public reports. These reports automatically update as additional responses come in and unlike PDF reports, public reports are hosted online and visible to anyone who has access to the report’s URL. Qualtrics allows you to password protect these reports, if necessary.


Here’s how to set up a report using Qualtrics:


Screenshot 2015-09-24 16.20.55


  1. Log in to Qualtrics.
  2. Navigate to the Reporting tab.
  3. Create your report.
  4. Click on the Share button and select the format that you’d like to share.
  5. Navigate to the distribution tab in Research Suite or Target Audience.
  6. Select the text you’d like to hyperlink and click the Link icon (shown in the image below).
  7. A pop up window will appear. Paste the link into the URL section


Pro tip: If you want your report to open in a new window when panel members click on it, navigate to the Target tab in the pop up window and select New Window (_blank) from the dropdown list.


Screenshot 2015-09-23 10.06.10


Rewards Progress


The next element you’ll want to include in your intelligent email is rewards progress. Most research panel softwares provide panel members with incentives like gift cards in exchange for survey feedback. If you’re offering rewards to your panel members, you’ll also want to give them a place to track their progress and view rewards progress.


If your research software has built-in emailing capabilities and incentive tracking, you can pipe variable data into your email text so each panel member receives an email with their personalized reward codes or reward information. This means, instead of managing rewards manually, you simply pipe in variable data to get the job done quickly and easily.

Here’s how it works in Qualtrics:


  1. To include the number of points that a panel member has earned, simply use Piped Text.
  2. To find the “Points” piped text, you’ll need to login to Target Audience.
  3. Once you’re logged in select the Distribution tab.
  4. Select the Piped Text icon, {a}.
  5. Click Recipient Fields.
  6. Select Total Points.
  7. Place this piped text code in the points section of your email.


Screenshot 2015-09-24 16.25.21


For an easy shortcut, log in to Target Audience and simply paste ${m://Points} into the appropriate place in your email. Be aware that you’ll need to use Target Audience in order to pull the right piped text from your database.


Update Profile
Giving panel members the ability to update their profile information is the third critical element of intelligent emails. Keeping panel profiles updated is mostly helpful for the panel manager, so the panel database is accurate and up-to-date.

With Qualtrics, you can use a simple survey with an authenticator that asks the panel member to verify who they are before they update their profile information. Once the panel member has successfully passed the authenticator (you can authenticate using email, password or another field of your choice), you can redirect panel members to a survey with pre-populated information fields that feature their own personal information.


Before we show you how to build your survey, we want to give you a shortcut. You can import this survey into your Qualtrics account to use as a template instead. Just know that you’ll still need to update the survey to reflect your info. To do that, you’ll use the steps outlined below.


Screenshot 2015-09-23 11.33.10


Using a survey, panel members can input updated information into the form and resubmit it (see graphic above). Doing this sends the survey data back to your database, updating the panel member’s profile information.


Once again, we’ll walk you through the magical setup in Qualtrics:


  1. Log in to Qualtrics.
  2. Navigate to the Create Survey tab and select Quick Survey Builder.
  3. Name your survey.
  4. Select Create a New Question and navigate to the green question type button in the right tool bar.
  5. From the drop down select Text Entry and follow the dropdown to choose the Form option.
  6. In the Edit Survey tab, click on the gearbox on the left hand side.
  7. Select Add Default Choices.Screenshot 2015-09-23 10.00.37 


  8. In the window that appears, select the blue dropdown for each field.
  9. You’ll use Panel Field for fields like First Name, Last Name, and Email.
  10. You’ll use Embedded Data Field for the custom fields you’ve created (Phone Number, City, etc.)

Screenshot 2015-09-23 10.02.10

Next, you’ll need to set up panel triggers up panel triggers. Panel triggers allow you to pull answer to questions from a survey and use that info to autopopulate a profile (within Target Audience or whatever database or panel management platform that you’re using).


  1. In Qualtrics, select Advanced Options in the top right corner.
  2. Navigate to Triggers and then select Panel Triggers.
  3. Choose the Panel that it needs to update.
  4. Map the fields from the questions in the survey to the fields on their profile.

Screenshot 2015-09-23 09.59.28


The last step you need to complete is setting up your authenticator. If you’ve never set up an authenticator, visit this page for step-by-step instructions.


An authenticator will associate panel information with each panel member by essentially logging them into your survey. This authenticator just needs to be unique to them. Now, you might be thinking that an authenticator is just as complicated as a login portal password, but keep in mind that an authenticator keeps the panel members in one spot, so they don’t have to visit a URL or be proactive about logging in to update their profile. Capturing respondents when they’re already in their email is not only more convenient for you and the panel member—it also keeps people more engaged and gives you up-to-date panel member info.


Interested in learning more about Qualtrics’ panel management tool, Target Audience? Sign up for a free demo today.