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Recruiting for qualitative exploration

Recruiting for qualitative Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) exploration isn’t as easy as you might think. Based on the example to “find people for exploration about chocolate“ from a real case for a chocolate manufacturer we will show you how to best organize this process.

Before you start

Defining who to recruit for exploration can be a challenge. It is driven by your project objectives and by your stakeholders, who will work with the project results.

It helps to go systematically through the following questions and come up with a recommendation for each question to be discussed with your stakeholders. Keep in mind that stakeholders have their own experience with user exploration and might already have worked with other methodologies on similar questions.

At a glance

The recruitment of qualified respondents according to your specifications will only work, if you do your homework and know who you want to include in qualitative exploration. Always keep your project objectives in mind when determining screening criteria and always align with your stakeholders. Only then the most precise respondents can be targeted.

STEP 1: Plan the set-up

When looking at the example “find people for exploration about chocolate“ our starting point is the Jobs-to-be-done perspective: What are the jobs consumers try to get done with a solution like chocolate? What other solutions do they use or consider to get the same jobs done? Depending on the objectives of the project it is crucial to answering the following 4 questions:

Who do you want to include? Which segments do you want to cover? Which type of exploration do you want to conduct? How many exploration sessions do you need?

Who do you want to include?

The project objectives guide your decisions. Imagine the project is about developing break-through innovation. Then you want to include a broad range of people with different consumption habits. Or think about a project with a more narrow scope like improving an existing chocolate product. Here you want to include only frequent chocolate consumers. So, think about the following options:

People consuming your brand People consuming a competitive brand People consuming other things than chocolate to get the job done People buying chocolate only as a gift, and not consuming themselves

Which segments do you want to cover?

Depending on the goal of the project, it makes a difference which segment consumers belong to. If a mass chocolate manufacturer wants to enter the premium segment, he definitely needs to include consumers from the premium segment.

Which type of exploration?

Also for this question, it is important to align the approach with the objectives of the project.
Most common types of exploration are: Face-to-face such as focus groups (FGs) or personal in-depth interviews (IDIs) Ethnographic, contextual and observational (e.g., home visit, shopping behavior) Online (e.g., diary, interview, group discussion, forum)

In our experience, IDIs provide the best opportunity to get a deep understanding of jobs and to reveal profound insights, like metrics, consumers apply to assess if a job has been accomplished or not. Additionally, highly sensitive or personal topics are best probed with IDIs. Focus groups have the advantage to engage customers in the process and to benefit from the participants’ discussion and arguments. Since IDIs provide a depth of questioning and personal information and FGs help to understand and compare differences and similarities among participants, the methods are complementary. We often recommend both. Observational methods can be interesting to draw out unconscious habits and beliefs. However, the added value is often not justifying the additional costs. And for some product categories, they are impossible to conduct or will lead to artificial situations. Think about observing people at home waiting for the moment that they eat chocolate, (which is often an impulse behavior).

For JTBD interviews, we prefer to conduct face-to-face interviews. Otherwise, you will miss important nuances from voice, facial expressions and gestures. We also prefer live interviews since we like to use different interactive, generative interview techniques, e.g., card games with job steps.

How many exploration sessions?

Depending on the type of interviews, the number of interviews needs to be determined plus the size of focus groups. For a typical job, around 12 IDIs and 3-4 focus groups with 4-6 participants have proved to be very effective. We experienced that after 25-30 interviews we don’t gain any new insights. Predictions from Griffin and Hauser based on a beta-binomial model* confirm that 30 customer interviews give you 89.8% of all customer needs.

Abbie Griffin and John Hauser, “Voice of the Customer”, Marketing Science 12, no. 1 (Winter 1993), 4.

STEP 2: Select the recruitment channel

Once you have planned the set-up, you are ready to start recruiting. Depending on your requirements for interview candidates, you might assign recruiting to a professional field agency. There are multiple factors to consider when selecting a recruiting company, like their ability to recruit qualified respondents to your specifications within the requested markets and countries and that they support the type of interview you plan to conduct. Underlying everything, though, are the company’s databases, panels, and communities. Without a range of sources from which to recruit, the agency won’t be able to fill the quotas for those niche and hard-to-find respondent groups. Take a closer look at those sources and discuss with the agency whether they can provide the most appropriate way of recruiting.

STEP 3: Develop the screener

Without going through steps 1 and 2 an elaborated screener would be a waste of time. For step 3 cooperate closely with your stakeholders in order to meet compliance requirements and other standards, and to cover all screening criteria important for them.

Make sure that you are always clear in what you are asking and brief the recruiter thoroughly. In the chocolate case, define exactly what you mean by chocolate and discuss what you want to include: chocolate bars, tablets, small bites, chocolate cereals, chips, toppings, chocolate drinks etc.?

Thinking about the job customers try to accomplish with chocolate, e.g., to indulge oneself or to make a gift, you might even consider a much wider approach than focusing just on chocolate as the same job can be done with other solutions than chocolate. Keeping the Jobs-to-be-done perspective in mind also helps to communicate solution-free with interview candidates, i.e., there is no need to mention products or brand names in the beginning, and possible biases will be avoided.

1. Screener structure

A screener for recruiting candidates for face-to-face interviews should cover the following topics:

Introduction and background of the project

Location of interviews

Studio requirements (one-way mirror, room for observers, recording, samples/visual material, catering etc.)

Scope (countries, markets, B2C, B2B)

Timing (when, duration of interviews)

Number of interviews and focus groups


Pre-tasks for candidates

Screening criteria and questions

2. Screening criteria

Screening criteria should follow a certain flow and be discussed with your stakeholders and the recruiting agency. Try to ask screen-out criteria in the beginning, continue with general questions and end with specific questions and tasks, e.g.:

1. Standard entry criteria

  • Make sure respondents are > 18 years (if applicable)

  • Don’t work for market research companies, media or for the industry you are interested in, e.g., chocolate producer or retailer

  • Have not participated in market research interviews for the last six months

  • Don’t have any food intolerances/restrictions

2. Behavior and attitudes – relevant for screen-out

  • Main recruiting criteria, e.g., eats chocolate at least 3 times per week

  • Consumes/knows certain brands

  • Spendings on chocolate

3. Socio-demographic criteria

  • Age, Gender

  • Education, occupation, degree of employment

  • Family status, household situation

  • Household income

4. Additional questions and pre-tasks, e.g.,

  • Bring favorite chocolate

  • Write a diary

Many people think that screening criteria are the most important aspect of recruiting. While they are important and need to be discussed many times back and forth, all preliminary considerations like the project objectives (“objectives drive design”) and the set-up are just as important. Evaluate critically your objectives and apply the approach most likely to provide insights. Then you are best equipped to recruit who you want to interview and to find out what you are looking for: Unique insights about chocolate consumers.

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Recruiting for qualitative exploration
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