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Are you making this B2B market research mistake?

What many people understand as market research is actually B2C market research. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in business-to-business research is in trying to adapt a consumer research approach to your company.

August 21st 2014

What many people understand as market research is actually B2C market research...

Asking a focus group of consumers for feedback on a newly developed product, or customer satisfaction surveys.

B2B market research differs from consumer research in its aims, approach and methodologies, but both forms have the same goal: to use insight to drive decision-making.

There’s a popular argument that data can be made to tell any story. With a different perspective or different analysis, the outcome of a piece of research can vary, impacting the decisions that are made as a result.

Ensuring the goals and research design are sound, and using the most appropriate techniques to ask the right questions, in the right way, as well as interpreting the feedback accurately, will ensure your B2B research meets its goals and enables good decision making.

How are B2B research techniques different?

B2B research techniques vary considerably from B2C - the most important difference being the expertise of the participant.

In B2C research, respondents are typically members of the public in particular demographics, and are usually filtered to exclude anyone who may have industry knowledge or a biased view. The aim is to gather feedback from a group that forms a representative sample of the wider population. Feedback from this sample group is then used to determine, for example, the most appropriate product attributes or marketing communications for the target audience.

In B2B research, the respondent will be usually be an expert in the subject, and their views will be biased towards their own needs. For this reason it’s important to consider the most influential customers first when conducting B2B research. By applying the Pareto principle (80/20 rule), developing a solution that meets the needs of the most important 20% will have a disproportionate impact on the outcome.

The most important 20% of customers usually represents the views of the majority of the business population. Their disproportionate importance means it’s often possible to design research with a very small sample size, where the qualitative opinions of a few individuals create a reliable view of wider market needs. Even where a larger sample size is used, additional weight should be given to the opinions of the most strategically important customers.

When conducting B2B research, it’s also very important to be aware of the respondent’s relationship with the research client. B2B research must respect this relationship, and also be mindful that sometimes relationships aren’t as positive as they could be: perhaps research is being conducted to develop a better solution to something that’s not working well.

The two most important criteria for B2B research

This leads to two important aspects of B2B research:

1. Research must gain the support and buy-in of the individuals who own the customer relationship. It must support and develop that relationship, not undermine or damage it.

A guarantee of confidentiality is crucial to those providing their opinion, and to increase engagement it is often beneficial to offer a direct follow-up on research results. This gives respondents a further opportunity to provide input, and also continues to build their engagement in the outcome. This is especially useful if there have been issues or challenges in the relationship that the research is aimed at addressing.

2. B2B researchers need to have sufficient knowledge to engage intelligently with expert respondents. In B2C research the focus tends to be on using a proven set of techniques to gather opinions from a group, regardless of their expertise. In B2B, the research must also be delivered in an informed and intelligent way.

Significant consideration goes into B2B buying decisions, and questions must reflect the buyer’s needs and how they go through their buying process. By its nature, B2B research represents a client’s business, so must accurately represent a company’s vision and values, and not undermine existing relationships.

To summarise, B2B research doesn’t only provide valuable insight to drive better decision making for product and service development, it is also a valuable relationship-building tool.

Focussing on the most important customers will deliver disproportionate benefits, and customers who participate and see their views being used to shape the supplier’s business will inevitably be more engaged as a result.