Understanding respondents motivations for participating (or not) in market research surveys


When I started out in market research many years ago, getting respondents to participate in a survey was a lot easier.   We used to accost people on the street and drag them into a hall to try chocolate biscuits or watch an ad, or we used to knock on their doors and ask them about their viewing habits or ring them up and ask them why they buy certain products.

Nowadays though it is getting more and more difficult and expensive to recruit people to participate in a survey, there are several reasons for this:

People are getting busier - often both parents are working so your target market may not be at the mall during the week with 20 minutes to spare to talk to you, and the weekends are often spent battling the crowds and getting home as quickly as possible.

Trying to convince someone in the evening to participate in a telephone survey when they are trying to get dinner ready, kids bathed and homework done is near on impossible.

Sales people and scammers – There are so many nuisance callers nowadays claiming to be market researchers but really they are trying to sell something or get information to rip people off.

Burnout – Some people agree to help with a short survey and then find that they are still on the phone 30 minutes later still answering questions.  Usually once this happens an individual is lost for any future surveys.


However, there are still people who like to help out with surveys.

To be supportive – I participate in forums with my fellow small business owners and whenever somebody puts a survey in there I participate as do many others because we like supporting our peers.

To try a new product – this is one of the easiest projects to recruit people for.  I remember running a trial for a new women’s sanitary product.  Once recruitment started word spread and the friends of women who were part of the trial were calling us, and asking if they can participate.  A similar thing happened when we were trialling new nappy brands.

Because they really like or dislike your company – Customers will often participate in a survey after they have received very good or very poor service from your company, just because they need to get something off their chest.

For payment – There are professional survey takers out there, and chances are if you ever buy a sample of your target market you can guarantee they have been recruited to participate in online surveys and are being paid to for their participation. If you want to interview non customers then consider offering a discount voucher  or something for their time.

When recruiting respondents for a survey it is important to be respectful of their time.   If you doing market research make sure you do just that, don’t let it become a sales call.     You do not need to pay them a lot but a discount off one of your own products can increase the response rate significantly.

If they are customers that have had a recent interaction with your business you may not need to incentivise them, but you still need to be respectful of their time. Don’t add in extra nice to know questions.   Surveys with no incentives should only take 5 minutes.  Those with a small incentive could be stretched to 10 minutes.


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