The Case for the User Research CRM

Good research is rooted in good participants.

Bad participants = bad research = bad decisions.

Research — both good and bad — starts with your participants. So, what is a good participant?

A good participant has the unique perspective to answer your specific business question. More often than not, this participant is a needle in a haystack — with this haystack potentially being a third-party panel you’ve been scouring through for multiple hours. 😮‍💨

The good news is that good participants can be found in your own company’s internal database.

At Algolia, 75% of the users the user research team talks to are external, with only 25% internal. “I wish it was the other way around,” said user research manager Marlin De May. “We’d love to use more internal folks and true customers.” So, why doesn’t she? “It’s just so much more work.”

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That’s what Lauren McKenzie, Head of Design & Research at Drift told us. “The big problem is when we’re looking for our own customers. We spend a lot of time on this, it’s our number one biggest pain point.” How much is “a lot of time,” you may ask?

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This is how ex-Hubspot UXR Darrell Penta described the 20-25% of their weekly work at HubSpot dedicated to internal recruitment. Another UXR who works in fintech said recruitment takes 30-35% of their time (and produces “90-95% of the pain”) per study. ReOps coordinator at Twilio, Danielle Green summed it up perfectly when she said, “It is a full-time job just trying to make research happen.”

What is making internal recruitment so difficult?

We spoke to over 300 UXRs and compiled some common pain points that are making internal recruitment a nightmare. A few big ones we kept hearing were internal comms, jumping across tools, and limited number of users. Now let’s dive in and dig a little deeper.

📞 Internal Comms

The research process is incredibly collaborative. Research and its insights are used by multiple teams across a company and UXRs are rarely the only people talking to users.“I am for sure not the only one doing this,” said Akshay Verma, UXR lead at Gong.“There is a lot of duplicative reaching out happening right now.” Members of marketing, data science, CS, sales, product, and design are all collaborating on and invested in research.

What does this collaboration look like?

  • Balancing research outreach with marketing communication
  • 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

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🛠 Jumping across tools

To get a better idea of what tool jumping may look like, we asked Krista Lipps, the UX research lead at Doximity to walk us through her entire research process — one that uses multiple tools.

As you can see, this entire process is extremely time-consuming and very manual, with many steps being completed using different tools, causing Krista to hop around from system to system. Want to hear something else crazy? This entire process was all done by ONLY Krista.

We admire Krista (hats off to her for her dedication for user research — she deserves a round of applause + a vacation), but she’ll be the first to admit that this process was costing precious time and effort that could be spent on actual research, and was neither healthy nor sustainable.

And though this specific experience was unique to Krista, we believe many researchers can commiserate.

What tools are UXRs currently using for participant management & recruitment?

  • Spreadsheets (typically Google Sheets or Airtable)
  • Survey tools (like Qualtrics)
  • Traditional CRMs (like HubSpot and Salesforce)
  • Mail merge tools (like MailChimp and Salesloft)

Unfortunately, these just aren’t cutting it. They may be getting the job done, but not effectively or efficiently.

Speaking of getting the job done, you may be wondering what our UXR hero Krista decided to do to improve her process. One thing she considered was hiring a junior research coordinator. Not a bad solution, but still one that could prove both costly and time-consuming.

Instead, Krista found a “complete and total game changer.” Krista added Rally to her tool kit and used it to send screener emails, create and manage studies, track participants, and send incentives. “I’ve saved SO much time. I can’t even convey how much time I have saved. It really has relieved a lot of the pressure.”

Now Krista has more time to do what she loves — research — and can save headcount for a new researcher that can continue delivering valuable insights for the organization.Talk about a happy ending. 😉

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🙅‍ Limited number of users

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?).

The list of challenges keeps going — and we’re sure you can add your own. Here are a few others we’ve encountered:

  • Deciding who does recruitment (just ReOps? Or also UXRs, PMs, designers, and marketers?)
  • Building a positive customer 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

We realize we may be painting a pretty bleak picture, but fear not, we have a solution.

Enter: The User Research CRM

We are all familiar with CRMs — we’re looking at you Salesforce and HubSpot.🫡 They are great tools for tracking and managing customer interactions and creating customer databases.

We’re happy to sing CRMs praises, but we want to point out a gaping CRM hole: There is no CRM for user researchers. Though there are dozens of tools for research, as Marlin at Algolia adequately put it, “what all these tools are missing is a CRM.”

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You may be wondering, why can’t current CRMs get the job done? We’re not saying they can’t. They do get the job done and have been used for years by UX teams, they are just not built to be efficient and easy for user research.

Max Vasyliev, a UXR at PandaDoc imports his team’s data into a sales automation tool that he and his team shares with SDRs and CSMs. “It’s not really cool because we have to share one account and we need to run things by the sales team to get accounts. I’m looking into tools that we can use specifically for us.”

A User Research CRM should:

  • Help UXRs and ReOps leads manage the operations around the entire research process (i.e. recruitment, participants management, and incentives).
  • Integrate with systems like Salesforce and Snowflake to reduce data silos and give teams accurate customer information.
  • Facilitate a system of rules on customer outreach to promote research democratization.
  • Eliminate the hours of manual work and let researchers do what they do best:research!
  • Remove the need for many of the tools teams are currently using (and not always liking).

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What makes a good User Research CRM?

When looking to add a User Research CRM to your toolkit, make sure it checks these boxes:

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Anything we missed? We’d love to hear from you on what matters most with a User Research CRM and how you’ve built yours.

Want to follow along and keep up with the exciting developments in the world of user research and ReOps? Stick around for more insights, research (we know our audience😉), and maybe even a few tips and tricks.

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