There is a lot of interest today in marketing research, and there is no place where it’s talked about more than in the business-to-business world, where many firms consider it key to their success.
In this article we’ll explore this powerful tool piece by piece, breaking down business-to-business marketing research into a series of questions and answers.
Anyway, what is B2B Marketing Research?
Business to business marketing research is the process of uncovering insights into your marketplace by surveying a representative sample of its participants. Participants might include former customers, existing customers, influencers, lost prospects, and prospective buyers. And in a competitive employment market, research might even include prospective and current employees as well.
Typically, the research process consists of two parts: data collection and analysis.
Let’s start with data collection. There are two broad approaches you can take to collecting your data:
- Qualitative. In this approach, researchers talk directly with people to gather their experiences and opinions about your business, product, or other marketplace aspects. Because it involves live conversations, this type of research takes more time and effort, and it can be trickier to analyze. On the plus side, qualitative research provides unmatched depth, and it allows you to ask open-ended questions and pursue new lines of inquiry as opportunities arise. Phone interviews, face-to-face interviews, and focus groups are the most common ways businesses conduct qualitative research.
- Quantitative. If qualitative research allows you to dive deep into a relatively small sample, quantitative research derives its power from volume. Using a standardized survey questionnaire, the researcher asks everyone the same set of questions. While open-ended questions are certainly possible in quantitative research, they are used less frequently so that it is easier to analyze a large quantity of data. The more rigid structure of quantitative research lends itself to various formats, including online, mail, and telephone surveys.
At a very simplistic level, quantitative research is useful for understanding what is happening in the marketplace, while qualitative research is good at exploring why.
Qualitative research offers a great deal of flexibility, and it provides a rich body of information. Quantitative research is highly structured, making it easier to recognize patterns and draw broad conclusions from the data. Because of the amount of labor and cost involved in doing qualitative marketing research, it often addresses a small sample — sacrificing some statistical confidence for a deeper dive into the subjects.
What are the benefits of Marketing Research?
Firms that conduct frequent research (at least quarterly) grow up to 70% faster and are almost 50% more profitable than firms that don’t.
The most successful companies understand that the market is in constant flux, and the only way they can keep on top of all that change is by researching regularly. Up-to-date intelligence allows them to adjust their messaging and services to meet the evolving needs of their audiences.
How can my business use Market Research?
There are an almost limitless number of ways you can use market research to improve your business. Here are 23 to get you thinking about your own situation:
- Discover who you really compete against in the marketplace (you will be surprised, I promise)
- Uncover your differentiators
- Find your competitive advantage.
- Learn what services your clients appreciate most and why
- See emerging opportunities in the marketplace.
- Adjust your marketing messages to reflect what customers really want to hear
- Find out what your customers think about you.
- Discover which weaknesses you need to fix right away
- Get your Net Promoter Score and find out whether your customers are likely to recommend your company to others.
- Learn how well known your business is in the marketplace
- Explore why some customers chose to buy from another company, instead
- Find out how your pricing compares to the competition.
- Discover whether there is demand for your new product or service
- Recognize emerging trends in the marketplace
- Discover the one thing your customers would change about your business
- Find out if you are well positioned to enter a new market.
- Determine what issues you should be writing and speaking about to engage your audience and build your visibility
- Find out whether internal perceptions about your company match external perceptions.
- Learn how your customers find you
- Find out why your customers chose you over a competitor.
- See if your customers are aware of all of your key products or services.
- Find out what you are known for in the marketplace.
- Benchmark your business against competitors in your industry
What types of B2B Marketing Research are there?
There are many ways to approach marketing research. Here are a few of the most common:
- Market research — Find out who your true competitors are, what services you should be offering, and what opportunities you can take advantage of.
- Brand research — Learn how you are perceived in the marketplace and where your opportunities lie. Use this information to differentiate your business and strengthen your brand.
- Client research — Discover what your clients and prospects want and how you can deliver it. Use this information to adjust your marketing messages, services, and operations to meet the marketplace’s changing needs.
- Client persona research — Who are the people who buy your services or influence those who make the final decision? What messages do they need to hear? Persona research will identify and profile them so your marketing and sales can be more persuasive.
- Client journey research — Map out the path people take to find, learn to trust, and buy your products or services. Use this information to reduce friction in the buying process, improve your closing rate, and raise your service standards.
- Client satisfaction research — Answer the question, “how happy are your clients with your work and service?”
What questions should we be asking?
What questions should you ask? This question is difficult to answer without first identifying the type of research you will be tackling and the goals you are trying to achieve. Also, the way you word the questions can really affect the way people answer them. So I’m going to avoid prescribing specific questions here and talk about general strategy instead.
Of course, if you engage a marketing research partner, they will work with you to develop an appropriate set of questions that get to the heart of your issues.
First, let’s look at some of the different ways you can pose questions.
- Yes-No — Use when you want a definitive binary answer to a question.
- Multiple choice — Use this when you want to limit the answers to a specific set of possible answers. You can introduce flexibility, if you like, by allowing respondents to choose more than one answer, select “Other” as their answer, or supply a custom answer that wasn’t prompted.
- Open-ended questions — Use when you want respondents to provide their own answers. In qualitative research, an interviewer might ask a respondent to elaborate on an aspect of his or her answer.
- Matrix questions — These close-ended questions are used to evaluate multiple items using the same set of criteria. The result is a matrix table of results.
- Scaled — Use when you want to gauge responses on a continuum. 3, 5, 7, and 10-point scales are common. A 10-point scale, for instance, is used to determine customer loyalty in the Net Promoter.
Okay, now that you understand the types of questions you can ask, you need to define your goals clearly.
Are you trying to better understand your target audience and their needs? Do you want to know what buyers think of your flagship product or service? Do you want to measure the strength of your brand?
Each of those questions would require a very different questionnaire, so before you can begin designing your survey, you need to spell out what you’re trying to learn. This may sound obvious, but it’s all too easy to jump right into writing questions without setting any boundaries or goals. You’ll also need to decide whom you will ask to participate in your survey — again; your overall goals will directly affect your choices.
Next, you’ll determine whether qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of the two is most appropriate for your study. If in doubt, choose qualitatively.
After completing these steps, you should begin developing your questions. As you write questions, test them in your mind (or better yet, run them by others) to make sure they aren’t confusing and don’t accidentally reflect any biases or assumptions you may have about the answers.
It bears repeating: you are more likely to get accurate results if you work with an experienced research partner. That said, it’s certainly possible to do it yourself.
How many participants do we need?
How many people do you need to include in your research? That depends on your budget and whether you want bullet-proof data or good-enough results. If you want a high level of confidence that your research represents the entire population you are studying, you will need a statistically significant sample size.
In other words, if you want to be confident that your results have, say, less than a 5% likelihood of being wrong, you would need a truly random sample that is large enough to represent the full range of people that make up your audience. That could be a lot of participants.
How often should we be doing research?
It is believed that the businesses that research at least quarterly tend to be high-growth, high-profit businesses. But even those that do it infrequently (say, once a year or so) significantly outperform companies that do no research… at all.
So my advice is to dive in now and do something — even if you don’t think you’ll be able to conduct additional research again for a while. A little information can be a powerful thing, and it can be a great motivator to make changes in your business. Changes will make you more competitive and aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and blue-ocean opportunities.
Conducting marketing research can make your B2B company more self-aware, attuned to the marketplace, and better prepared for change. If you haven’t done this kind of research before, don’t worry. A qualified research partner can handle the heavy lifting and deliver a more nuanced interpretation of the results — results that you should be able to act on right away.
Marketing research is a powerful and often underappreciated tool. Whether you are wondering how to build your company’s momentum again, what’s going on in the marketplace, why your top competitor is winning all the business, or how you can keep your competitive edge, the answers are out there. You just need the will and the way to extract them.
Now go and do it! 🙂