Posted by Alan Nazarelli ● Tue, May 28, 2024 @ 02:59 PM

The Power of "If...then" Questions in B2B Decision Research



One of the more challenging aspects of conducting B2B research to uncover enterprise decision dynamics is crafting the appropriate questions.

Conversations with B2B executive decision makers are inherently different than those with consumers. Yet, most moderator skills training is focused on B2C conversations. Having attended many of these in my early career, most content and role-playing exercises are focused on B2C scenarios. This is not unusual given that so much of the market research industry is conducted in consumer-focused industries.

In this post, we focus on the power of ONE type of question when asked of B2B decision makers and the great actionable insights asking it can yield.

The category of questions is " if...then" questions. These come in a variety of flavors, and each yields a different type of insight on the thinking of the respective decision maker being interviewed.

Type 1: The technology barrier-busting question. We start with the most powerful variant of the if...then question. When new technology solutions and presented and discussed with these interview respondents, it is difficult to discern their willingness and propensity to purchase. The rules of decorum and politeness make the respondent reticent to be completely honest with their intentions to purchase. This, despite the interviewer's attempts to position the conversation as being conducted by a third party who won't be offended by their candor. The “if...then” question gets around this. By directly asking "what if...then” conditions would need to be in place for you to purchase X", you distance the respondent from direct involvement in the underlying objective of eliciting their true objections. Their response to this if...then question is in effect the "objections map" that your sellers will encounter with this buyer persona. Their responses from the research can be highly actionable when inserted into sales playbooks.

Type 2: The Magic Wand variant. The magic wand question is designed to elicit their ideal state and highest aspirations and vision for their organization or line-of-business. In our experience, too many research and sales conversations focus on getting at pain points and not enough on the decision maker's aspirations. You've all heard the sales advice: “Sell the aspirin, not the vitamin.” Buyers, however, want both the aspirin and the vitamin. This question is best framed as sentence completion, as in, "please complete the sentence “if ____________ happened, then I would be satisfied that I have fulfilled my objectives or vision for my division/department, etc."

Type 3: The marketing content question: This is a question when asked directly yields surface answers that respondents don't give much thought to. Technology decision makers, in particular, claim to not pay much attention to marketing. A common refrain we hear from them is "we are above marketing" or "we don't care about marketing, but just about the technical specs". This, of course, does not mean they are above being influenced by your marketing efforts. The question here again becomes a sentence completion exercise, for example, “if I heard ___________ or if I heard that the product could help me accomplish ­­­­­______about the product then I would be compelled to take a further look, etc.

Type 4: The "future-scape" question. This variant of the question is designed to uncover their future expectations and goes like this: “If you and I were to talk again [a year/18 months/3 years, etc.] from now, and you were looking back to today, how would your _______ (pick an aspect of the business that you have been discussing) have changed or evolved”. This question is best asked at the end of the discussion.

Type 5: The People and Culture Question. Last, but not least is the question that is not likely to emerge in the conversation unless specifically called out, the people and culture question. Executive decision makers are highly concerned with people and culture issues within their organizations. Very often these don't surface, especially when these individuals are asked to discuss or evaluate technology products. The if...then question here is designed to elicit the impact on their people. General questions here are "how would implementing solution X likely to impact your people.... The if...then version is to be asked in two different ways:

  • “If implementing solution X would cause our people to_____, then I would be in favor of implementing it”
  • ‘If adopting solution X would cause our people to _____, I would not be in favor of it’

    The above questions are also suitable for asking in focus group settings. Here, however, we would recommend having participants be given time to jot down their responses before discussing with the group, as the responses to these questions can be highly leading.

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Alans high res picture 12.19.22   Alan Nazarelli is Founder & CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group. Based in San Jose, CA with offices in Seattle and New York, the company works with the world’s most innovative brands to provide timely and actionable market intelligence and strategic guidance to enable them to make well-informed decisions to positively impact revenues and profits and to achieve their growth targets. Connect with Al on Linked in


Topics: Market Research Best Practice