Online survey panels are a researcher’s dream – instant, low-cost access to a pre-qualified pool of people willing to take surveys. But perhaps it’s too good to be true? That suspicion intensifies when it comes to B2B audiences – are time poor, well-paid executives really going to spend their spare time filling out surveys for random companies in exchange for usually no more than one pound or dollar?

To explore this, here at Circle Research we ran an experiment. We created a survey and sent this out to panel respondents who claimed to be IT decision makers. As the responses came in, we were interested in the answers given to one question designed to determine if these panelists really were, who they say they were. This question gave a list of IT brands and asked respondents to indicate which were suppliers to their organization. Only one of these brands was real, with the rest comprising made-up brand names which bore no resemblance to real brands.

The answer was shocking. The vast majority of respondents selected brands that didn’t exist suggesting that they weren’t IT decision makers at all. Rather, it’s likely that they were consumer respondents or automated bots trying to ‘game the system’ just to get their hands on the incentive payment.

However, all is not lost as this experiment also revealed that some panels do provide reliable access to genuine B2B respondents. These panels had three things in common:

  • They specialized in B2B audiences and recruited them in highly targeted ways, e.g. through deals with specialist trade media
  • They incentivized respondents in multiple ways, typically coupling a large cash payment with information incentives (e.g. access to exclusive content) and charity donations
  • They had stringent quality control processes, most notably checking through sources such as LinkedIn that people had the job and seniority they claimed

So, yes, online survey panels can be used to access B2B audiences, but choose your panel partner with care and as a safeguard include a few trick questions that will let you spot questionable respondents.