My blog post on technology market research garnered discussion and a request to address similar issues surrounding B2B market research. Here are our top five tips based on over 15 years of conducting business to business market research.
1. The biggest obstacle your B2B market research provider will face is recruiting the right people for your surveys, interviews or focus groups. Here is the situation: most market research firms have their roots firmly planted in the consumer or B2C space. Their databases contain records of tens of thousands, if not more, of consumers with demographic data along with other profiles such as shopping habits. When your business to business market research project lands, the consumer focused market research agency is faced with culling these records to find people who match as closely as possible the specifications of your target audience, based on those consumers' self-reported occupational data.
Two main problems exist with this:
The occupational data frequently does not include other important criteria such as business decision making role or influence. Your B2B market research project however, will probably require input from well informed decision makers.
As with income data, consumers will tend to inflate titles and importance of their roles.
A B2B market research specialist, on the other hand, will use entirely different methods to identify and recruit respondents for your survey, leading first with “firmographics” or business demographics and then selecting the appropriate target individuals.
2. As with the technology marketing research points in my previous post, conversational and situational fluency with the business and industry are all important. Survey and interview guides need to be designed to speak the language of the business audience at hand. Focus group moderators need to be conversationally fluent in business conversations, not to mention possess domain industry knowledge. Individuals designing surveys and conducting focus groups for consumers will not only fail to incorporate these nuances, but may alienate business audiences by addressing them in too simplified a tone, more appropriate to the consumer audiences they are used to communicating with.
3. Methodology and experimental design are important considerations in conducting successful B2B market research projects. Here again, the consumer focus agency may miss the mark. Consumer research project designs tend to rely on the ability to draw large sample sizes. A B2B client recently reported having hired an agency to conduct market research with top decision makers in Fortune 500 companies with poor results. The agency attempted to collect large quantitative samples to fit their standard research templates. Since there are only five hundred Fortune 500 companies and therefore a limited number of top decision makers in the population at large, the market research agency's attempts to gather large samples resulted in a sample population that contained too many non-decision makers, rendering the data useless. Other approaches should have been used for this study, including qualitative in-depth methods. Again, consumer focused agencies do not encounter this problem frequently enough to devise alternative research designs.
4. Mining for insights from the data is another important aspect where the consumer focused agency may miss the mark. Actionable recommendations in the Business to Business world tend to be very different than in the consumer world. Large scale broad based marketing recommendations to address consumer marketing often do not apply in B2B settings where recommendations need to be much more narrowly focused and targeted, frequently impacting both marketing and strategic account management activities.
5. Lastly, and most important of all, the consumer driven agency may not even be aware when they began to and how far they are missing the needed precision strategic research demands. The B2C market researchers’ worldviews won’t alert them to the pitfalls of working in the B2B market research space that I have mentioned above.
Alan Nazarelli is President and Chief Strategy Officer of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research and strategy development firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.