Sean McDade on custom panels - the secret weapon of researchers

We were joined on our podcast by Sean McDade, Ph.D., CEO, and founder of PeopleMetrics, a full-service market research firm focused on customer experience and custom research panels. Sean is a best-selling author and entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience in the market research industry. Sean's first book, "Listen or Die," shares 40 lessons to get the very most out of customer feedback. His second book, "Pharma Customer Experience," dives into the experiences patients have with pharma and what those in the pharma space can do to improve those experiences. He has a third book coming out later this year that looks at the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies in this post-COVID world. Below are some excerpts from our conversation with him. 


What's the most significant thing that you're going to share with us today?

“I think there's a lot we could talk about. But what I'm most passionate about these days is getting clients data that they can trust so they can make the best decisions possible based on the research findings. And what we're finding, Michael, is that with certain audiences, especially hard-to-reach audiences such as B2B decision-makers, IT decision-makers, certain physician specialties, it's really hard to find them in the traditional mode that you might look via research panel suppliers/sample suppliers. We’ve been working with clients on an alternative way that I'm really excited to talk about. We call it custom research panels.”

Sean goes on to speak with us more about his company’s approach to custom research panels and how this helps to target a representative group of people, even in a highly defined, narrow category. He talks about some of the pitfalls of traditional sample: “up to half of what you get from an online panel provider is not accurate or is not useful data. There have been legitimate studies where five surveys have been sent out to five different panel providers and the results are disturbing for certain audiences. For example, a concept that should take a minute to read was read in three seconds; fictitious brands are recognized and are familiar at 39%. Almost four out of 10 people recognizing brands that don't exist. What's going on? How can you trust that data?” He says that it is especially critical to verify an audience that's hard to reach. 

“A custom panel for a client is a valuable tool, offering insights consistently.” Sean talks a little bit more about the value proposition behind custom panels and some of the key factors in forming one, some of the considerations companies should take into account, and how they can best be utilized - and nurtured over time. He shares a few specific examples of how the insights gleaned from these types of panels have helped advise business decisions. “One of our clients calls their custom research panel their secret weapon. They feel like it is a competitive advantage.” We also explore data quality, speed to insights and measuring ROI. 

Next, our conversation turns to Sean’s newest book he is co-authoring with Richard Vandeveer, being published in April of this year. “It looks at how doctors, post-COVID, have changed their interactions with pharmaceutical companies and these are primarily specialty physicians…The specialty drugs are the ones that are really hard to discover - they have small patient populations that they treat, but they tend to generate quite a bit of revenue. And unfortunately, the pharmaceutical companies for the most part have continued to market to physicians like they were 20 years ago when they were pushing cholesterol medication and hypertension medication…versus really helping the doctor understand the disease state, understand the different options and help them, help their patients with new medication.”

“So we wrote this book to understand how that specialty physician is operating in today's world. And it relates to what we're talking about because they are a great example of an audience that, if you want to understand something consistently from them, say oncologists, you could create a custom panel and…understand kind of what their experience is like or what their opinions are on what you're offering.” We also discuss Sean’s other books, and the topics that he covers. 

As we start the wrap up of our discussion, he reiterates: “Market researchers are doing really important work. I'm a really big believer in what we do as an industry. We're answering the tough questions that allow decisions to be made on behalf of our customers…it's our job as researchers first and foremost, to get data that we know is correct and that we can believe in. Custom panels are one way to do that.”


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