Conducting Business to Business (B2B ) market research can be challenging for many reasons. It’s something of a speciality. One question we are frequently asked – or challenged on – is whether online research techniques have any place in B2B research projects. The assumption seems to be that conducting B2B research online would be impossible.
I would counter this very strongly – rather than making B2B research even harder, online market research techniques actually make it a lot easier due to the convenience and control they provide. Participants decide when (or how) they respond. Convenience and control are two very big motivators for business people!
We’ve actually conducted a lot of online B2B market research over the years – with very different audiences; project managers on construction sites, high-level corporate directors and SME owner-managers to name a few.
Here are my top five practical tips for successful B2B market research.
1. Use an Online Discussion Forum
Far from making it more difficult, this is my number one top tip because it gives the business person the flexibility to take part when it is convenient for them, putting them in control of their scheduling. It also gives them some reflection time, ensures that their views are anonymous and makes the research more engaging. Researchers often make the mistake of assuming that face-to-face is more engaging. In reality business people are easily distracted by events that come up at the last minute. Such distractions can disrupt the flow of face-to-face interview, where an asynchronous online discussion allows for any distractions to be prioritised and dealt with before the participant returns to focus on the questions. We use QuestionBoardMR for such studies.
There are of course times where live online research is a better fit B2B methodology than reflective. In this instance…
2. Schedule a Calendar Slot
As a business person, I can attest to the importance of my calendar and scheduling meetings. Many of us are continuously moving from one meeting to another. If you want to make your B2B project a success, you need to play the same game as everyone else – get in their calendar! We plan our live B2B research, group LiveChatMR discussions and interviews, around this. We spend the first week scheduling times and adding ‘meetings’ to calendars: putting the digital fieldwork foundations in place. It may sound obvious, but it’s the total opposite of how most consumer research is conducted. Here a phone call or invitation email with no prior warning is often enough to achieve great response rates. So power up your Google or Outlook Calendars and use the meeting invitation functions to guarantee a spot in the diary.
3. Request Senior Client Stakeholder Introductions
Again, this may sound obvious, but it is so much more important in B2B research than consumer data collection. We recently ran a project spanning the scientific research community in its entirety: busy people that are hard to track down. To get the calendar scheduling off to a flying start, we asked the CEO of our client company to write to everyone from his personal email account, CC’ing our researchers. We purposely ditched the HTML marketing email format and didn’t use faceless project email addresses. The personal high-level introduction not only set the tone for the project, it also removed any suspicion by the user base that they were being approached as part of a sales tactic! Keep the email short, punchy and clear though – no one has time to read a long email, do they?!
4. Don’t be Fooled by Mobile!
So often ‘mobile apps’ are sold as the panacea of convenience for participants. I’d counter this with much caution for B2B research. Mobile apps don’t make research more convenient for business participants. Without doubt, your online research should be mobile optimised so that participants can choose to take part during their train commute if they want, but that’s different to an independent app which actually reduces multi-device convenience. The problem with an app is twofold – one, you have to go through an extra step to get it onto their phone in the first place and two, most executives spend a few (if not several) hours using a desktop or laptop computer. When making your research as easy to complete as possible, you want to be in the location that they are – which is online and at their desks, for the most part.
5. Push the Participant Benefit
Your research topic has to compete with a lot of business critical issues - some of which are immediate and urgent. Unlike consumer research, B2B research is not being conducted during your participant’s ‘downtime’. Far from it. So the topic really needs to benefit them as well as your client and the questioning and design must make it very clear how it will do so. Unlike consumer research, it’s unlikely that you can rely on the promise of an incentive to be the sole lure for taking part (unless you have a very generous client indeed!). When designing ‘interest’ into your project, rather you need to put yourself in your participants’ mindset and not your own. For example, we conducted an online discussion with architects about concrete and resin floor materials. Not very interesting to me at all and not actually the focus of most architects’ day to day work. But we managed to make the topic qualify for their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) portfolios. As a result engagement was high, answers were considered and our response rate was fantastic!
What experience do you have of B2B research? And can you give any tips for making it easier by using online research techniques?