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(Sample) Size Matters. But, Maybe Not as Much as You Think (Part 3)

Part 3: Three times when a bigger sample size is a better option

In Part 2 of this series, I explained three specific examples of when having a smaller sample size would still give you great results. While having a big sample size is not always as necessary as you may have initially thought, there are definitely advantages if and when you have the ability to leverage a larger pool of respondents.

A larger sample size often times provides a more accurate depiction of your audience, particularly when you need to generalize to a much larger universe (think tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of customers). Having a larger sample size will help identify outliers that may skew the data you receive in research where you have a smaller sample size by necessity.

Along with these advantages, there are times when using a big sample size is a necessary part of conducting a meaningful study. If you’ve read the first two parts of the series, you know it’s not always vital, however, here are three examples showing the benefits of a larger sample size on your research.

When your focus is on quantitative research

One area where sample size truly matters is when it comes to quantitative research. When conducting quantitative research, the goal is usually to generalize the findings from a representative sample to a larger population or audience. The accuracy and validity of the study is directly tied to not only how large your sample is, but also how representative it is of your entire audience, without excluding any particular respondent.

Both of these areas deserve equal consideration:

  • If your sample size is too small, you may end up not gathering enough data to either support or rebuke your hypotheses. Your results could appear to indicate a relationship between two variables doesn’t actually exist.

  • Even if your sample size is large enough, if it draws disproportionately from one demographic (young people, white people, college-educated people, city-dwellers, etc.) you won’t be able to generalize the results to a larger and more diverse set of customers.

While these issues are less of a problem in qualitative research, quantitative research is conducted precisely so you can make larger generalizations and too small of a sample size can have a significant impact on your findings.

Of course, in the end, everything is relative. If your entire customer base is 100 people, a sample size of 25 may be just fine for you. While a research sample of 25 would never be sufficient for quantitative research at a company with 10 million customers.

When time is on your side

If you aren't feeling pressed for time and in desperate need for audience insights, why not use it to your advantage and gather a larger pool of respondents? Bigger sample sizes reduce margins of error and make your research more accurate and representative of your audience.

It’s important to note, however, that a large sample size doesn’t mean you can get sloppy about your participants. It’s still important to ensure each participant is representative of your broader customer or buyer population. For this reason, when you have the luxury of time, you can get the dual benefit of focusing on quality and quantity.

When your customers are relatively unknown

Having a close relationship with your customers may allow you to use your existing knowledge to supplement research findings and cut down on your sample size. On the flip-side, having a limited idea of who your audience is and how they behave is one instance when you can benefit from a larger sample size.

Your desire to learn more about your audience is exactly why you’re conducting a study in the first place. If you choose too small of a sample, it might not be representative of the larger group. In the absence of deep prior knowledge of your audience, too small a sample could lead you to generalize findings that a larger study would show are merely outliers. For example, a "trend" that appears in a small sample size could look important, but without an existing deep understanding of your study population, you would never know that this "trend" is actually an anomaly across the wider audience

With this in mind, it can often be important to make your first studies larger and then, once you’ve got a better understanding of your audience, follow up with smaller studies that cover more specific topics.

There are no hard and fast rules but working with a Market Research expert can help you determine which types of research are going to benefit your business the most and how to design each study for the maximum benefit.

Ready to learn more about how Voice of the Customer research can benefit your business? Contact us today for a free consultation and to discuss how listening to your customers can change the game for you.

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