Panels & Samples

How to Manage Your Market Research Survey Panel


“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.

Why Have Your Own Research Panel?

If you’re carrying out research, you’ve got two options when it comes to gathering responses – outsource to a research agency or recruit and manage your own research panel.
When you manage the panel yourself, you can:

  • Do more research, faster – You have a group of respondents ready and willing to participate
  • Increase response rates – Your panel members have opted in so they’re more invested in your research and your organization
  • 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
  • Reduce the cost of research – You manage it yourself, so there’s no expensive agency fees to worry about

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.

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

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 response rate, and how many studies you intend to carry out.
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) x 2 (studies per month) =3,333 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.

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 gather responses from prospects or customers of competitors. This is particularly useful if you’re running product or 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.

Connect with panel members as friends

It’s important to remember that they’re people and not email addresses. Yes, 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 panel members feel important.

Be authentic in your communication

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.

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.



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.

Name an internal point person for the panel

Someone internally will need to manage the panel and the real work is on the front end. 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 members know that you care about them.

Keep your surveys short

Your panel members 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.

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 panel 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.

Address customer service complaints quickly

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.

Reward your panelists

Incentives are key not only to attracting panelists, but also keeping response rates up when you launch your research. 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. So to keep panelists engaged, keep 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.

Build and Manage Your Panels With Qualtrics

Ready to start managing your own panel? With Qualtrics, you can recruit, manage, and reward your panelists in Research Core. With 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.