Blog Posts
May 22, 2023

Why User Research CRMs are the Foundation of Good Research

Dive into how a User Research CRM solves the many challenges of User Research recruitment and Participant Management plus what makes a good User Research CRM.

There’s a lot more to User Research than just conducting research. Tasks like recruiting users, creating and managing studies, and paying out incentives are vital to enabling quality research with quality users. Historically, these tasks have also required multiple tools and a lot of time (we’ll dig into that more below).

The solution for optimizing and streamlining Research Operations is a purpose-built CRM designed specifically for User Research.

In this blog, we’ll explore:

  • the evolution of CRMs
  • the growing need for User Research
  • defining the User Research CRM
  • the challenges of Participant Management and research recruitment
  • what are the core pillars of a good User Research CRM

The growing category of CRMs and where User Research fits in

Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) have been around since 1997. Since then, they’ve played a critical role in helping businesses manage relationships with new and potential customers, improving customer service and retention. If you look around, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a company that doesn’t use CRM giants like Salesforce or HubSpot.

These CRMs were originally built for sales, marketing, and customer support teams. But as the world has evolved, software companies have begun verticalizing by tailoring their solutions to specific industries and customers.

Vlad Oleksiienko posted on LinkedIn about the many types of CRMs, including Rally's User Research CRM, that are shaping the tech industry.

This increased focus on specific customer personas has resulted in the explosion of a sub-market of purpose-built CRMs, which are tailored to serve these specific industries and functions. Today, we’re going to zoom in and talk about people who do user research and why they need their own CRM.

Over the past 10 years, User Research has evolved into a complex and growing field. Companies are discovering that the key to creating winning products and sustainable enterprises hinges on a deep understanding and organization-wide empathy for the user. As a result, the Research Function—those who interact with research—within organizations is expanding rapidly.

The primary goal of the Research Function — Design, Product, and User Research — is to get quality insights from real users. Recruiting and managing users is essential to finding (and keeping) good participants, who lead to high-quality research and insights. After all, these people are your own real users, and they must be treated with care. Recruiting and managing them is no small feat. Luckily there is a tool that can help.

What is a User Research CRM?

The User Research CRM is a powerful tool that can be customized to meet specific organizational needs, resulting in unique value and impact. It is not one-size-fits-all, making every team’s experience distinct yet transformative. We asked Research Ops and User Research leaders what a User Research CRM means to them:







What makes Participant Management and Recruitment so challenging?

After years of hacking together CRMs, spreadsheets, and other non-purpose-built tools, people who do research are in desperate need of something new. Let’s explore why:

The tough task of coordinating internal communications in User Research

The research process is incredibly collaborative. Members of marketing, data science, CS, sales, product, and design are all collaborating on and invested in research alongside User Researchers.

What does this collaboration look like?

  • Balancing research outreach with marketing communications
  • Getting outreach approval from CS and sales team (in B2B environments)
  • Enlisting data science and engineering to pull lists of users from a data warehouse
  • Centralizing the outreach that product and design teams are doing with users

The hurdles of juggling multiple tools for User Research

The research recruitment process is extremely time-consuming, manual, and requires multiple different tools and systems that often don’t play nicely.

“The more outreach tools you have, the less accurate your mailing list information is,” said Caitlin Faughnan, UX Research Operations Coordinator at GitLab, Inc. “It's more likely folks will be double-emailed on the same request which might make them want to unsubscribe even more.”

What tools are UXRs currently using for Participant Management and Recruitment?

  • Spreadsheets (typically Google Sheets or Airtable)
  • Survey tools (like Qualtrics and Typeform)
  • Traditional CRMs (like HubSpot and Salesforce)
  • Mail-merge tools (like MailChimp and Salesloft)
  • Digital signature tools (like Docusign)
  • Incentive options (like Amazon gift cards)

Take for example, PandaDoc’s time-consuming workflow before they implemented a User Research CRM, which was riddled with time-consuming manual tasks and too many tools.

From start to finish, PandaDoc's workflow was inefficient and costing the team precious time they could be spending conducting meaningful research.

The difficulty of recruiting from a limited user base

Recruiting your users for research is a funnel after all, and without an unlimited pool to tap into, optimizing that funnel is critical. Unfortunately, sending out mass emails on bcc in Gmail is not giving you the best shot.

In an ideal world, you would have millions of users to reach out to. But you don’t. And that means every single interaction counts. Targeting the right users, with the right message, at the right time can yield a higher response rate and in turn burn fewer users along the way. And doing all this, isn’t easy and takes time (seeing a theme?).

While those are the major problems Research teams are facing, there are many more such as:

  • Deciding who does recruitment (just ReOps? Or also UXRs, PMs, designers, and marketers?)
  • Building a positive Participant Experience around research and setting ground rules for outreach
  • Balancing opt-in panels of users alongside an ad hoc recruitment process
  • Navigating channels for recruitment (e.g. email, SMS, in-app notifications, etc.)
  • Recruiting for all types of methodologies the team needs

The far-reaching impact of these challenges

Each problem we’ve described has an impact that reverberates throughout an entire organization. Research using real users leads to better products. So when research efforts are slow or nonexistent, products are released that nobody wants to use and engineering resources, time, and money are wasted.

A User Research CRM will solve these problems and enable fast, continuous research, which ensures teams are spending engineering resources wisely and delivering quality products that people really need.

Now we’re going to explore what exactly makes a good User Research CRM, but before we do, it’s important to address what a CRM allows you to optimize and automate — Participant Management AND Recruitment. You can’t have one without the other, and when they are housed in the same tool, you’re able to follow the entire lifecycle of the Participant Experience within one powerful tool. This leads to a more robust, consistent, and efficient process.

What makes a good User Research CRM?

First, “it shouldn't be another tool that becomes cumbersome and hard to use,” said Caitlin. If a User Research CRM is difficult to navigate, it can hinder rather than help the research process. As Caitlin points out, simplicity and efficiency should be key elements.

An effective User Research CRM should allow you to efficiently manage studies and participants, ensure safe and compliant research, and integrate with other research tools.

Now let’s dive into these four main pillars that make a good User Research CRM:

Every User Research CRM should enable efficient Study Management and Participant Management, ensure compliant research, provide a secure place for sensitive user data, and allow strong integrations with other relevant tools.

Study Management: The foundation of effective User Research

A CRM should enable you to set up and run recruitment for a variety of study types. It should be flexible and integrated with popular research tools so you can streamline your workflow. Along with building and launching studies, a CRM should be a source of truth and help you manage all the details of every study your team is running.

For example, within Rally, you can:

  • Track and manage all research studies from one central place
  • Manage the end-to-end recruitment workflow, including:
    - Targeting the right users with powerful filters and saved segments
    - Email automation for initial invitation emails, reminders, thank yous, and everything in between
    - Advanced screening with skip logic and auto-qualification
    - Team scheduling for 1:1 interviews, groups, and round robins
    - Custom consent forms and NDA signatures
    - Global incentives
    - Custom-branded sign-up pages for studies
  • Recruit for multiple types of studies including interviews, unmoderated tests, and surveys
  • Integrate with popular research tools like Qualtrics, Typeform, and SurveyMonkey to track and manage participation from one location
  • View study status, team members involved, number of participants, and scheduled and completed interviews
  • Ensure a beautiful, consistent Participant Experience by making every study feel crafted and intentional

Participant Management: The heart of user-centric research

The core of a User Research CRM is a flexible and scalable participant database that helps teams manage all their research participants in one place. It’s vital that your participant management systems connect to your study management and recruitment process so that you can connect the dots between your participants and track how you’re engaging with them for research.

Here’s what your participant management system needs:

  • A scalable and flexible database infrastructure — that goes beyond spreadsheets
  • Ability to store participant data across multiple data types (text, numbers, dates, single-select, multi-select, checkboxes, and more)
  • Dynamic segments of participants using pre-defined filters
  • Option to build and manage multiple panels of participants with unique attributes
  • Rich participant profiles that combine all past customer interactions, screener submissions, product usage data, and researcher notes
  • Bi-directional Salesforce and data warehouse integrations that keep participant data fresh
  • Automated contact status to ensure you’re not contacting anyone opted-out, on a blocklist, or in a cooldown period
Build an A+ Participant Management Process. Get expert tips and insights from ReOps leaders at companies like MongoDB, Dropbox, GitLab, Sonos, & More in our free ebook, The Definitive Guide to Participant Management and Recruitment. _
Download our latest ebook, The Definitive Guide to Participant Management & Recruitment.

Security, Privacy, & Compliance: Keeping your users’ data safe

In an era where data breaches and compliance missteps can have serious consequences, a User Research CRM should ensure customer trust is maintained, regulatory requirements are met, and the integrity of your brand and organization is upheld. A User Research CRM serves as the backbone of a strong data governance strategy and creates a secure, safe, and compliant space for your sensitive customer data.

Here’s what this looks like within Rally:

  • Governance rules around contact frequency, research participation, total incentives paid out, and more
  • PII masking to keep sensitive user data private, while still allowing research to happen
  • SSO and user permissions that give each user the right level of access
  • Automatic consent capture and a central place to manage consent forms, opt-out, and research agreements
  • Best-in-class security infrastructure (SOC 2, GDPR, etc.)

Integrations: Building cohesive & streamlined workflows

A common challenge for UXRs and ReOps is having to use multiple tools that don't play nice. A User Research CRM should allow for powerful integrations with your Research tool stack. For example, Rally's User Research CRM allows powerful integrations for tools like SurveyMonkey, Tremendous, Salesforce, Calendly, and more.

Disjointed and siloed User Research processes are inefficient. Research teams need open and connected platforms. A User Research CRM should securely connect customer insights between data sources and eliminate data siloes.

Here’s what you can do with Rally’s powerful integrations:

  • Keep data fresh and sync opt-outs across your customer data sources using our API or bi-directional Salesforce integration
  • Send emails from your own work address by integrating with your email system
  • Book interviews seamlessly using scheduling apps like Google, Office 365, and Calendly
  • Manage your budget in one central place and send global incentives through our partnership with Tremendous
  • Utilize other research tools within your stack through integrations with Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, and more

Choosing the right tool can make all the difference for your Research function. While there are many valuable tools out there, a User Research CRM is an essential foundation to any Research team. Explore Rally’s User Research CRM and discover how it can supercharge your Research Ops and enable quality and compliant research at scale by booking a demo.

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Spend more time researching with Rally

Rally’s User Research CRM enables you to do better research in less time. Find out how you can use Rally to allow non-researchers and important cross-functional partners to responsibly take part in User Research. Explore Rally now by setting up a demo.