Expert Networks vs. Panel Providers for B2B Research Studies
B2B companies that utilize expert networks, rather than panel providers, to recruit participants for research studies see substantial benefits in the quality of market research respondents. However, expert networks are a fast-moving new industry that comes with both risks and rewards. To help weigh the pros and cons, we created this video to highlight some of the potential benefits B2B companies could gain – or what risks they might face – by working with expert networks.
What are some of the risks and rewards a market research team faces when they elect to go with an expert network provider to source sample first study versus a traditional panel provider?
Reward #1: Niche Respondents
Well, on the reward side, the first one is access to the niche. And why this is so, why expert networks do this so much better than panel providers I can illustrate with a really simple example.
Let’s take a research participant who is 52. At 51, let’s say they liked pasta and baseball, and at 52 they liked pasta a little less, and they liked baseball a lot more. Now, clearly for a B2C study, these shifts and preferences don’t happen that rapidly.
So a panel provider who’s sourcing participants for a B2C study focused on baseball or pasta, they don’t have to talk to this participant every day or every month to understand how their preferences might change. And that’s why a panel provider can use a much more static database to source participants for B2C studies, and you can still have a reasonable sample quality in that kind of scenario.
But the reason why this is so much more challenging for panel providers when we switch the context to B2B studies, is if we look at that same 52-year-old market research participant and we say, Hey, at 51 they were working for a large enterprise software company. And at 52, they’re working for a startup focused on AI initiatives.
Now, clearly the minute they make that job shift, they’re a really good fit for one study, but they’re no longer a good fit for a different type of study. And how do you know that that job change has happened? Well, expert networks pick up on those kinds of changes so much more effectively because they leveraged live databases like LinkedIn where the individuals themselves are updating that data on LinkedIn and other platforms and other tools, pretty much within hours or days after making a job change. And this makes it so much easier for an expert network to provide you a niche respondent.
Reward #2: Trust Then Verify
And this leads to the next reward. When you work with an expert network provider, as the old proverb goes, it’s much easier to trust and then verify. Folks have known for years in the market research industry that you have to do a lot of quality checks and you have to put together a lot of screeners to ensure you’re getting the right respondents from a panel provider. And there’s a number of reasons for that. What I really want to highlight though, is that expert network providers give you an additional level of validation, sometimes several. For example, one of the most common is you can ask a respondent to reach back out to you using their work email. And this gives you a lot of confidence that you’re actually talking to the individual that you thought you were. And just that little bit alone is an easy way to trust and then verify.
Reward #3: Speed
Another big reward though, working with expert network providers, is speed. And this again relates to the last point I just mentioned. If you don’t have to bounce a ton of participants that aren’t a right fit, if you don’t have to marshal an army of potential respondents through a screener just to get to a few of the right people, well clearly you’re gonna be able to execute studies that much faster because you just don’t have to go through all of that time it takes to bounce all those wrong people.
Risk #1: Cost
And so that’s another benefit. But what are some of the risks? Well, one is cost. Frankly, an expert network provider is gonna charge two or three times the amount you’re gonna pay traditionally to source participants from a panel provider for a B2B study. So you have to know that upfront. But at the end of the day, if you’re building a study focused on the wrong participants, that’s never a good use of funds anyway. So I think it’s just something that just comes with the choice to get a better quality participant for a B2B study.
Risk #2: Decreased Quant Samples
Another consequence of that cost though typically hits quant studies. So your average quant study, let’s say it’s a tracker, that’s focused on maybe tracking, you know, kind of brand awareness and things like that.
Let’s say that an NA 1000 study is run once a year, and now if you switch from a panel provider to an expert network provider, well now that is a lot more expensive. You know, it’s two to three times more expensive to get that sample, and that really adds up when you’ve got an NA of 1000. So now your choices are, let’s just say, interesting.
You can go to other senior stakeholders and say, well, we’re going to continue to use panel providers, but we’re not sure about the sample quality. That’s probably not the best idea. Or, you could say that we need two to three times the budget to run the tracker at the exact same size, the NA of 1000.
That can be challenging. Or, you may just have to run a smaller tracker and take the consequences that come with that. Maybe you can’t survey certain geographies through the same depth you used to in previous versions of the tracker, or a whole host of other decisions you might have to make if you turn that tracker into, let’s say, an NA of 500, instead of an NA of a thousand.
Risk #3: Contract Issues
And then there is one last risk, and this is really more contractual. A number of expert network providers will have a clause in their contracts that says something like, “You can’t reach out to this participant again unless you do so through our network and our company.” And clearly this doesn’t really scale, particularly if you’re doing a lot of projects in a lot of spaces.
You don’t want to be just beholden to one expert network provider. So, it just is important to take a look at those contracts you’re signing with expert network providers, potentially modify that clause or maybe have it exercised. So you have the ability to work with a variety of different expert network providers over time.
But in the end, we are wholehearted proponents of using expert networks to source sample for B2B market research studies. We think the rewards far outweigh the risks and generally speaking, we think it’s a very strong choice that any market research organization should consider when they’re trying to determine how to get sample for a market research study.