You are here

7 Essential Tips for Boosting your B2B Market Research in 2019

January 21st 2019

Want to increase business with existing B2B customers? Generate more high value leads? Break new sales territories? The answer lies in effective B2B market research. 

Quality business-to-business market research gives companies the insight they need to build stronger client relationships, grow market share and throw shade on competitors. But while similar research techniques and tools apply to business-to-consumer (B2C) research, B2B research is a very different animal. As one of the UK’s leading business research agencies with over 25 years’ experience of conducting research and analysis for leading global companies, here are our tips for uncovering breakthrough customer insights that make a real difference to business performance.

1. Understanding the B2B Decision Making Process

B2B sales are more complex than B2C sales for several reasons. For a start, the B2B business model - selling products and services to other businesses – comes in many forms, from companies supplying physical goods, such as IT equipment and stationery, to companies supplying digital services, such as eCommerce systems and social media, to companies delivering services, such as accountancy and marketing support.

Unlike B2C sales, where purchases are usually made on the spot by an individual, B2B sales cycles take longer, often involving several company decision makers (with different criteria depending on their position and expertise), each assessing whether a purchase makes sound commercial and strategic sense. Due to the scale and long-term nature of supplier agreements, B2B sales are usually high value transactions, and, unlike B2C sales - where customers choose their goods and walk away - B2B vendors offer continuous sales and service support.

Like B2C, the B2B sales landscape is also changing. Once about face-to-face sales meetings and nurturing individual client relationships, B2B is evolving, investing in channels and platforms to service customers remotely - keeping up with customers demand for a convenient, Amazon-like ‘one click’ purchase experience. Buying behaviour is also shifting too. B2B decision makers now have more choice of solutions than ever before (putting pressure on vendors to add-value at every turn) and are increasingly connected, using social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to assess potential suppliers and scour customer feedback.

What does this mean for B2B research?

Discovering the wants and needs of today’s B2B customers is complex. Developing an effective research template relies on understanding the unique factors at play in a B2B decision-making unit. A crucial in road we always take is to de-construct the decision-making process in a set business environment, uncovering how purchasing decisions are made and internal and external influencers involved. This includes identifying:

  • The different parties involved in the decision-making process e.g. Influencers, Deciders, Referrers
  • The level of influence of each party
  • The role in the decision-making process of each party (e.g. Commercial, Technical, Legal etc.)
  • The internal and external influencers – external policy e.g. Regulation compliance

Every buying scenario is different and, depending on the value of the order being placed, is often subject to an intricate evaluation matrix. One of the biggest challenges for researchers is uncovering what this matrix looks like from the perspective of each member of the decision-making group. Our studies show that decision makers (the ones who spend the money) rely heavily on Influencers (the ones who directly influence the decision makers). Understanding the softer areas of these relationships – not data-driven – about how these individuals work together make the biggest difference to the research outcome.

An example is a Contract Director role versus a Contract Manager role.

When assessing supplier value, the Director will want to be able to access and appraise hard data, such as deliverables on time, within budget and to quality.

While the Contract Manager is likely to be part of the team responsible for resolving issues, negotiating aspects such as whether a supplier can deliver goods earlier, increase the order size at a certain location or customise a load so that it is delivered in plain packaging.  

It is the researcher’s role to elicit this insight - through asking productive questions and other techniques – to map out the buying process and decision-making hierarchy. This allows us to pinpoint who the client needs to target, the best way to communicate with them and the messages they need to convey to secure more sales.  

2. Identify and Cater for Priority Customers

In a B2B setting, some customers are worth more than others. The Pareto principle applies, with 20% of customers accounting for 80% of revenue. Customers in the 20% are priority accounts and the decision-making process often varies, involving stakeholders with different roles and contractual arrangements, such as sole supply. It is vital that the research survey content reflects and caters for different customer segments and that results highlight the differences and commonalities between customer groups. Understanding different customer segments, their motivations and concerns, will not only help improve interactions with existing buyers but shape the perfect proposition to sell to new customer groups effectively. 

3. Choose B2B Research Specialists

Conducting high-value B2B research demands a project team with a unique mind and skill set to capture and interpret information, from the Insight Director to Telephone Interviewers.

A significant part of our success in the B2B market is having specially trained research staff who understand the nuances and challenges of working exclusively with B2B clients. Unlike interviewing consumers, who may have fleeting interaction with a brand, targeted B2B customer research involves speaking to key decision makers and personal contacts a company engages with regularly. Relationships have often been cultivated over time, during which an array of challenges will have cropped up, from pricing to product/service quality issues, all of which have required delicate handling and negotiation.     

Managing these relationships is complicated and the skill and professionalism of the research team play a pivotal role in project success.

From the get-go establishing a positive connection between the interviewer, the respondent and gatekeeper (often a personal assistant) is essential for winning the trust and co-operation of the customer. Setting the right tone during initial contact is key for securing a customer’s time and commitment to giving constructive feedback.  

As well as establishing rapport quickly, the interviewer must be confident about moving away from structured questions to ask probing questions – helping extract B2B customers’ problems and pain points that may not have been thought of before. They must also be familiar with the client and B2B customer’s solutions and operations to be able to talk about and capture information knowledgeably and accurately.    

At TTi, we call this ‘adding value’ to the conversation. Adding value goes beyond being polite and professional but stems from getting under the skin of an organisation. Alongside enhanced interview skills training – allowing individuals to drill down into respondents’ answers - our business interviewers undertake in-depth business familiarity training, getting to understand a company’s business and management operations, its customers, suppliers and stakeholder alliances. This establishes credibility and reflects well on the client we’re representing.

When approaching a research company, check for these best practice B2B research processes:

  • Client database handling - Each B2B customer is approached professionally and tactfully, paying close attention to the client relationship and its dynamics.  
  • Customer segmentation – Customers on the database maybe a SME owner or a CEO of a global bank; respondents should be initially segmented, and a tailored interview approach designed and implemented.  
  • Trained Interviewers – Check interviewers receive appropriate development training, so they can build rapport and gain commitment from time-poor individuals, maximising interview response rates.
  • Skilled in ‘added value’ conversation – Confirm interviewers familiarise themselves with a company’s solutions, processes and environments beforehand, allowing them to glean detailed, contextualised answers from respondents.

4. Tailored B2B Research, every time

Every B2B is different. Making sales involves interacting with multiple personnel, each with their own agenda and strategic priorities. Each offers different services and solutions using different software and processes. Each varies in size from three man-bands to multinationals. For meaningful survey results, designing and developing a tailored customer survey is a must.

At TTi, all our business research projects, no matter the size or company sector, start at the same base point – an expert-led research design and development workshop. Attended by the client’s key stakeholders – including sales team leaders and account managers, who often have a wealth of untapped customer knowledge - our workshops discover:

  • What business questions the research needs to answer?
  • How do the objectives link to wider business needs?
  • What does the customer look like?
  • What environments does the customer operate in?
  • How does the customer like to interact?
  • The content of the research and how should this be applied?

Not only does this set clear, defined research objectives – the foundation of any research project, as you need to know what you are aiming to improve - but also pins down the best type of approach.  

B2Bs are busy multi-channel operations – finding the right interview method that works for them is important to maximise the response rate. There are several viable qualitative research methods to choose from, including:

  • One-to-one pre-appointed in-depth interviews
  • Pre-appointed in-depth telephone interviews
  • Online feedback system
  • Multi-channel survey solution   

Choosing the right one depends on several factors, geographical location, sample size, diversity and complexity of questions and study budget and timescale.   

5. Schedule an Appointment

As well as considering which interview method will provoke the best responses, it is important to be mindful of respondent’s busy schedules and the time they can give to answering questions. Unlike a consumer survey which can be issued any time, asking CEOs, Financial Directors and Sales Managers to give up time when they have a host of business-critical issues to deal with is impossible, so getting a pre-arranged appointment in the diary is imperative.     

6. In-depth Telephone Interviews

We’ll let you into a secret, telephone and online conferencing tools win when it comes to B2B opinion gathering. Easy to use, cost-friendly and, importantly, convenient for respondents to use without disrupting their day, they also work across varied geographic environments and are good for getting respondents together where paired interviews are needed.    

Granted, there are some technical subjects and markets where only a deep-dive face-to-face will do, but experience shows that in-depth telephone interviews can be as focused as in-person interviews, eliciting similar depth and granularity.

The second point for conducting meaningful B2B research interviews is that they should be undertaken by an experienced business research agency. Although DIY survey tools are accessible and cheap, they aren’t suitable for garnering deep level insights needed to bring about real change in buying behaviour. Professional, accredited researchers and analysts have the technology and knowledge to develop an accurate, 360-degree customer view. You can read more about this here

7. Address B2B Wider Business Needs

Many B2B research programmes are set up to support a strategic business need, such as understanding specific market challenges or testing customers’ response to a new product or service. Depending on the business dynamic, these are usually run on an as-needed basis, typically occurring every six months to a year.

But just as B2C customer perceptions about a brand are constantly changing, so too are B2Bs. Many B2C companies use our Customer Experience Quality Analysis research system to identify customers’ new expectations of relationships, services, and products, helping them hone their offering and gain competitive advantage. As the market changes it is as important for B2Bs to understand their customers’ needs, what these needs look like and how the business needs to change to address them. Applying industry-leading CEQA gap analysis, we can measure customer requirements against their perceptions, identify where gaps exist, and the improvements actions to meet their needs.  

Keeping in touch with the market reality regularly rather than intermittently, enables a company to fulfil its customers’ expectations better, in turn improving customer satisfaction and customer retention.  

Advanced B2B Market Research and Analysis Services

We understand uncovering what makes business customers tick is complicated. We combine years of market research experience with knowledge of B2B business models, strategy and marketing, to get the answers to unique business research problems.  

Whether you want to launch a new service or product, identify new customer segments, research competitors or raise customer satisfaction, we deliver the actionable insights that matter. To find out more about our B2B research solutions, contact Glyn Luckett on 01753 214038 or email gluckett@tti-global.com