When I first started out in research, we would conduct executive interviews face-to-face. I would often both cold-call the executives in advance and then travel and do the interviews. Two of my favorite CTO interviews occurred when I was transferred to England for a year. The first CTO said he could not accept the honorarium but there was a particular 21-year old Scotch he enjoyed. I got to expense a nice bottle of Scotch and take it to the interview. The second CTO agreed right away, before the honorarium was mentioned, provided I would be the one doing the interview: turned out he had heard my American accent and interviewed me after the survey to ask about American football and to plan his upcoming three-week driving tour of the Southwest!

Sadly, face-to-face executive interviews are too cost prohibitive today. While we conduct almost all of our surveys today online, we use telephone interviews for certain studies, especially for surveys focused on the C-suite. In 2020, our executive-interviewing partner closed down that department, and the vendor they transferred our business to subsequently discontinued that work as well. As we have sought a new partner, we’ve found very low feasibility for completing interviews with the C-suite in organizations of $20+ million and up. We’ve also found potential partners who claim to provide such interviews but have not done any verification of those titles: if someone promises you 30 or more interviews with C-suite in $20M+ firms for under $350 a complete, they are taking respondents at their word.

When we cast a wider net, to managers and above, we are able to survey some C-suite staff online, but unfortunately targeting the C-suite can no longer be the primary focus of the survey or the main source of respondents.

This contrasts with our SMB work, where last year we were able to survey 500 owners in two days for a number of studies (skewing towards smaller businesses). A recent nationally representative survey that we did of 1,200 employed Americans provided the following breakdown: 55% individual contributors, 24% managers, 5% directors, 3% vice presidents and C-Suite, and 13% owners.

So for midsize and enterprise businesses, we typically aim to survey directors and above rather than just the C-suite, with studies of managers and above fielding faster, costing less, and producing higher sample sizes.

I’m afraid there won’t be a 2021 study that sees me personally delivering a bottle of Scotch to a CTO.