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Panel Management: How to manage your market research survey panel

14 min read
“It’s better to own than to rent”. You’ve heard that about real estate, and it can also be true for your market research sample. Having your own panel allows you to have a conversation with your customers on a regular basis. By doing this, you can home in on who your customers are, what makes them tick, and how you can make changes and improvements they want. It gives you complete control over your research, which gives you faster data and insights.


Understanding panel management, the tools and systems you need to do it effectively, and the related benefits to running panel management in-house is a huge asset in market research.

In this guide we take a closer look at what panel management is and how you can use it.

What is panel management?

Panel management is how organizations carry out research to large groups of consumers, known as panels. A panel of respondents is used for a wide variety of projects including marketing research, competitor analysis, product tests, advertising testing, and many more.

Typically, panels are either managed in-house or sourced via a sampling company. Running panel management in-house is considered a more cost-effective way to reach out to consumers for feedback as they have already opted-in and have a vested interest in that organization’s research.

In-house panel management also allows you to control the panel size, and build rich profiles of those taking part in the research, enabling organizations to specifically target detailed customer profiles to get the data they need from the right audience.

Panel management involves recruiting participants, distributing surveys and also rewarding panelists. Panel management software allows organizations to do all of that on a single, intuitive platform, making it easier to manage every aspect of this research type.

Why Have Your Own Research Panel?

If you’re carrying out research, you have two options when it comes to gathering responses – outsource to a research agency or recruit and manage your own research panel.

Conducting this type of research yourself has many advantages and can help you get a better insight into your customers and find answers to the questions you need to improve products and services quickly, and cost effectively.

Taking panel management in-house, you can:

  • Do more research, faster – You have a group of respondents ready and willing to participate that you can tap into whenever you need to. Outsourcing your panel management could require new respondents to be sourced each time.
  • Increase response rates – Your respondents have opted in so they’re more invested in your research and your organization. They already know your brand and are less likely to see requests as spam (which is a risk if it comes from an out-sourced provider that they don’t know)
  • Build deeper insights – By going back to the same group again and again, you can build rich respondent profiles to help target the right people with the right study. You can also use historical data to better identify and understand trends within the group.
  • Reduce the cost of research – Taking panel management in-house means you run everything yourself. You already have the panel of respondents available so you don’t need to source new people, and you won’t have to deal with potentially expensive agency fees to run your research and provide reports for you.

With an outsourced research agency on the other hand, you can bring in expertise to make sure all the fundamentals are in place, from having the right sample size to setting up your questions to get the data you need.

Ultimately whether you run panel management in-house or outsource it will depend largely on your internal resources. If you have the team and expertise in-house to run this research effectively, you could be better keeping it within your team.

If you don’t have the expertise and resources in-house, then outsourcing your management could be the best option.

Free eBook: The expert’s guide to panel management

If you’re thinking about managing a panel yourself, here are a few best practices that will help you succeed:

1. Determine your panel size

The first thing to think about is how many people you need to recruit to your panel. To do that, you need to factor in your ideal sample size, your typical response rate, and how many studies you intend to carry out. When panelists receive invitations twice a month, response rates typically range from 10% to 30%. Keep in mind that the main things that influence response rates are topic saliency, survey length, and incentives/rewards.

Say you need 500 responses per survey, have a response rate of 30%, and you’re planning to run 2 studies a month.

Your panel size would then be:

500 (sample size per survey) / 30% (response rate) / 2 (studies per month) =1,667 participants

 

That’s a simple example. You may also need to factor in geographic quotas to ensure you have a good sample from different regions and demographic profiles to get a solid split of age and gender. Make sure you have all the requirements in hand before you start recruiting and aim to go 10-20% above your minimum number to cover you in case people opt out of your panel or you don’t hit your target response rate.

2. Recruit your panel

You can draw participants from a whole range of channels you’re already using, including:

  • Customer email database
  • Website recruitment
  • Social media
  • Point of sale

But you may want to look externally too, especially if you’re planning to increase your panel size, or gather responses from prospects or customers of competitors. This is particularly useful if you’re running a comparative study on your product or are doing competitor research. In this case, you may want to look at advertising, lead generation networks (i.e., buying contact lists) and affiliate networks to draw in a wider range of participants.

3. Connect with panel members as friends

It’s important to remember that they’re people and not email addresses. Yes, you might have a large panel size, and they may be doing this for an incentive (if you decide to offer one), but they will give you great insight into your company and product decisions. Think of it this way: You’re exchanging information and having a conversation. It’s all about making connections with people. Having that mindset will ensure your research participants feel important.

4. Be authentic in your communication

Panel management is as much about people management as it is simply research and data analysis. Before you send an email ask yourself, would I respond to this? Be interested in them and their opinion and make sure it doesn’t sound automated.

5. Make it easy for your respondent

The easier the survey is to get to, the more likely the respondent will take the survey. Don’t hide your panel behind login portals, which have login rates of less than five percent, but send the survey through an intelligent email.

6. Create a separate brand for your panel

It’s important to create a separate brand that stands out because you want your customers to feel exclusive when they open the emails. You also want them to actually open the survey emails so it needs to stand out from company promotional emails. The brand should have its own name and look but still be congruent with the company brand. For example, if your company was called ABC, you might brand your panel as ABC Advisors.

7. Name an internal point person(s) for the panel

As with most large scale project management, it’s important you have a key person in charge of your panel management to ensure things run smoothly.

Ideally, someone internally will need to manage the panel and the real work is on the front end (depending on the size and capacity it may be multiple individuals).

You’ll need to gather the initial list of emails and send the profiling survey. Once your panel is assembled, the consistent work is making sure the surveys are set up correctly, and the logic and question workflow works well. The workload is making sure you’re doing smart surveys, not managing the people.

This person will also serve as the name and face of the panel. This person’s picture and email should be in all communication, even if it’s a general email like panel@brandX.com. By giving a name and face to the panel it makes it more authentic and lets your panel know that you care about them.

8. Keep your surveys short

Your panel will be doing surveys for you on a consistent basis and will know if you’re asking redundant questions. Also, don’t ask information that you already know the answers for. For example, you know their name and email address so don’t ask them to fill that in.

9. Communicate consistently

It’s important to set a regular cadence and stick to it. If you say you’re going to send surveys twice a month and do it six times, you’re asking too much from them. On the other hand, if you say twice a month and send one every other month, they won’t take the responsibility seriously. Send a survey at least once a month, but best practice is twice a month.

Your cadence depends on your business and the frequency your panel members do business with you. It also depends on what you’re measuring and how big your panel is. Remember you’re only one touchpoint of the brand and they’re getting emails from other departments of the brand multiple times a week. You’re more aware of them than they are of you.

10. Address customer service complaints quickly

Part of your panel management will be dealing with complaints or issues raised by respondents.

If a panel member gives you negative feedback on a survey or wants an issue addressed, make sure someone follows up with him. The panel members need to feel like their voices are heard. You can tag these surveys and have a specific person in the customer service department who takes care of them.

11. Reward your panelists

Incentives are a key part of panel management and shouldn’t be overlooked. They not only help with attracting panelists, but also keep response rates up when you launch your research. But, be sure to keep your incentives relevant. Typically monetary incentives perform better than gifts and could be aggregated through a points system where panelists build up points based on the number of studies they participate in.

It’s not just about money or gifts though – panelists also want to know their time and effort was well spent. Keeping panelists engaged is a critical part of panel management. It can be something as simple as keeping them up-to-date with the results and how you used their responses. It will make them feel much more invested in being part of your panel.

Be careful to avoid incentives that may be more attractive to some panelists compared with others. For example coupons or early access to new products are going to be more appealing to current customers than non-customers and could bias your results.

Sector spotlight: Using panel management to improve healthcare patient and business outcomes

Panel management is common in the healthcare sector. It can not only help to improve patient care and clinical outcomes, but can also improve business processes and efficiency.

Using a patient panel, for example, health workers can get a better understanding of how patients are managed, identify unmet needs of patients, identify where better management could improve services like basic preventive care within hospitals, or where proactive care could be more beneficial.

Understanding gaps in health service is particularly important in population based care.

This population care is critical when looking at the clinical outcomes of a particular group.

For example, improving health outcomes for older populations, or those with a particular type of illness (like cardiovascular disease, for example).

Panel management can not only identify care gaps, but also help clinical staff make better use of staff time to improve health outcomes.

For example, identifying processes to better deal with disease management in a certain population, helping identify how to manage chronic conditions more effectively, or identifying where patient self-management could improve results.

As well as helping to improve patient care, this type of research can uncover inefficiencies in care systems that could be costing clinicians time and money that could be better allocated.

The same principles for using panel management for patient care apply when it comes to using panel management in business.

It’s about understanding the thoughts, characteristics and behaviors of a particular population and using the results to improve outcomes.

Build and Manage Your Panels With Qualtrics

Ready to get started with in-house panel management? With Qualtrics, you can recruit, manage, and reward your panelists in Research Core™. Our panel management tools give you the ability to control contact frequency and global opt-outs, you can also build rich profiles of your respondents so you can target the right people at the right time and get the insights you need.

Find out more about how Qualtrics can take your panel management to the next level and get the most out of your next research project.

The expert’s guide to panel management