“I Know You’re Out There”
Engaging Hard-To-Reach Tradespeople And Heavy Industry Pros

by Patrick McGill (Managing Director, Strategy at Two Rivers Marketing) and Mike Humphrey (Senior Vice President, Decision Analyst)

  • B2B Marketing Research

    In our research and advertising world, we’re fortunate to work across a wide swath of the U.S. and international economy, researching industries across a vast spectrum.

    From consumer goods and services providers to business products and services, the audience for a primary research study is more often unique than not.

    On the professional side, some groups are relatively easy to find and invite to take a survey or sit for a 2-hour focus group. Service-industry employees are often plentiful enough to give us confidence in sample availability in large enough numbers on trusted panels. Additionally, specialty research panels have grown to be very useful in targeting specific professions, from IT professionals to doctors.


But other industries can be daunting, with fewer numbers, jobs that are offsite and don’t require constant email monitoring, and where English may be a second language for many. Examples include tradespeople, heavy industry, and construction professionals. Sometimes there is little or no incidence information, and little else to work with due to the unknowns of these potential targets. We know they’re out there, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands… and we know they’re not sitting on research panels awaiting a survey invite.

Of course, these industries need research as much as others, and their customers need their voices heard. So, what can we do to best reach these hard-to-find but vital segments? While there’s sometimes a magic panel (where caution is advised) or other freely available list to turn to, there are some best practices and techniques available to increase our odds in the event that’s not the case.

Good Questions To Ask

Before setting off down a sampling-and-screening rabbit hole, a quick discussion between research stakeholders can help save time and money. In the spirit of “no question is a bad one,” here are few suggestions and examples:

  • What is the incidence for the target group? If not directly known, a conversation about market size, industry sales, and other known factors can help you get there. A quick Google search or freely available government data can yield the number of boilermakers, for example, if you’re lucky enough to do a study among them. Free government data is often a good starting point, with the bonus of being very recent and accurate.
  • Is there incidence data from another study that could lend direction? With so much screening and surveying these days, perhaps there is an example that can be found from an analogous group.
  • What industry publications or lists are available? Subscriptions to industry-specific lists can be worth the expense for better feasibility.
  • Are there client-prospect or customer lists that may be used? Importantly, have these professionals opted in to be contacted?
  • Can participants be recruited through client channels, and is there a sound reason for blinding the survey? While blinding the survey’s sponsor is often needed, in almost every case an invite directly to the customer or prospect – from their sales rep or other familiar entity – results in higher response rates and less chance the invite ends up in a virtual trash can.
  • Is there a down season for the audience (or down time of day) where they may be more responsive to taking a survey? The timing of survey invites can make a difference in response rates.
  • Are there vetted specialty panels for the audience?

This conversation is important to saving time and money. It may also play a role in a decision about methodology. For example, if you are planning to do a large survey but reaching the audience isn’t feasible at that scale, qualitative research may be the right solution. And, qualitative is a great solution to get necessary in-depth learning. Regardless of the type of research you’re doing, it’s always better to explore these details first, to make informed decisions on feasibility and approach, and determine if another research option is necessary.

Additionally, it’s better to go into a research project knowing how you want to use the findings. This will help determine whether you should consider or start with qualitative research instead.

Best Screening Practices

Once feasibility is determined, it’s important to ensure you’re capturing the correct audience. While the topic of sampling and respondent fraud is a subject on its own, a solid screening instrument is vital when researching these hard-to-find professions. Suggestions include:

  • Never assume someone qualifies for the research simply because they’re on a company’s prospect or customer list.
  • Include industry-specific questions that only a true professional in the industry would know. The less “Google-able” the question the better.
  • Offer the screening and survey in English and Spanish. For the past few decades, the Latinx and Spanish-language dominant population has been growing in the U.S., and this segment has made up a large portion of the trades and construction professions for many years.
  • Keep the screening instrument concise and direct. As this audience tends to have fewer windows in the day to take a survey, this rule generally applies to the survey or interview itself.

With a good sense for the quantity and quality of your list or panel, and a solid screener, you’ll be on your way to finding those hard-to-find respondents and getting the answers you need.


Contact Decision Analyst

If you would like more information, please contact Felicia Rogers, Executive Vice President, by emailing her at frogers@decisionanalyst.com, or by calling 1-800-ANALYSIS (262-5974) or 1-817-640-6166

Contact Two Rivers Marketing

Patrick McGill (patrickm@2rm.com) is Managing Director of Strategy at Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa. You can view Patrick’s LinkedIn profile or he can be reached at 1-515-557-2217.


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