B2B Research: In a Digital World, How Do You Protect the Integrity of the Data Set?

B2B research in a digital world
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By Chuck Bean, Martec Partner/CMO

B2B research is the process of gathering data on what consumers are looking for and what they need. This type of research can help you assess product pricing and fit, customer service expectations, brand perception, sales and marketing strategies, and more.

Before in-depth or primary research can begin, you need to find the right people to question. B2B decision makers have a complex set of needs, and they must evaluate a wide range of factors before implementing any changes. Connecting with these people presents its own unique set of challenges. Especially post-Covid and during the Great Reshuffle, B2B decision makers can be hard to reach.

Researchers are facing new challenges to obtaining quality research results necessary to guide sound decision-making. Collectively, we have become conditioned to conduct the bulk of our communications digitally. We simply don’t talk on the phone the way we did a generation ago. Instead, we email…we text…we instant-message or chat.

What this means for the market research industry — especially in business-to-business applications — is that we must get smarter about how we collect representative data sets. Capturing potentially misinforming and under-representative clicks and input noise undermines the integrity of the data set.

Choosing B2B research participants

People do business with people, not companies. This is especially true in the B2B world. You’re simply not going to blast out an email to decision makers at large organizations and expect to get the data you seek. Instead, you need to rely on this age-old truism: relationships matter.

In our experience, B2B decision makers are perfectly willing to have meaningful conversations with researchers, so long as there is a good reason to exchange their time for intelligence. They aren’t likely to trust blind outreach, but they are willing to help trusted partners achieve their ends. This doesn’t happen easily, or overnight. In fact, it might take years to build relationships. Yet when you do, you will find that the phone does get answered, in-depth conversations do happen, and the true voice of the customer is expressed willingly and openly.

If the research requires a broader list or enhanced segmentation, you may need to:

  • Access an existing research panel or list: When you’ve reached the end of your own contact list, this approach can help bring more people to the table
  • Advertise in your own digital community: If you promote what you’re seeking in spaces potential participants already are, you’re likely to enlist a few more qualified people
  • Find competitors’ contacts: Connecting with people who formerly worked for or with your competitors can provide valuable insights

Alternatively, you might consider using two separate samples:

1) Top customers (i.e., ideal, core, or most profitable customers)

2) Fringe customers (i.e., emerging, potentially promising, or contrary customers)

By using any of these approaches, you’ll be able to collect representative data sets (and worry less about misinformation).

Capturing meaningful responses

If you want to understand what leads a customer or market to a purchasing decision or trend, you absolutely must capture the true voice of the customer. The best way to do this is through conversation, where there is back-and-forth dialogue and where a researcher can react in real time to verbal and non-verbal responses. You can ask the participant “why,” or to elaborate or clarify, or provide an illustrative example, and so on. This data collection process is dynamic and can evolve naturally wherever the conversation leads.

But in a digital world, one-on-one conversations are hard to procure. So, are we reduced to collecting more one-dimensional, static, digital data? Perhaps not.

Digital platforms and electronic surveys have infused convenience and expedience into the market research industry. However, to ensure data integrity, these tools should not be relied upon exclusively. Nor should we resign ourselves to the notion that it’s next to impossible to have a conversation with a B2B decision maker. Quite the contrary.

Keys to B2B research success

The keys to B2B research success are making it as quick and relevant as possible for participants and keeping the conversations focused on what’s most important for you to learn.

This dynamic affects both consumer and B2B research alike. However, the implications are perhaps more pronounced in the B2B world. The B2B participant pool is far smaller than that of the general consumer. Further, in B2B research we often are looking for deeper engagement from a smaller sample size.

In fact, for some of our clients, they need to elicit feedback from only 20-50 people…worldwide. These respondents often are in the C-suite. And if you think setting up a meeting or call with these folks is difficult, try getting them to spend 15 minutes on an online survey. Not likely to happen. But they may set aside time to review information about:

  • Purchasing criteria
  • The importance of new or enhanced product/service features; or,
  • An emerging trend…

…with someone who is knowledgeable about their market.

While digital platforms have made it easy to start conversations, a blind email or message is no better than a cold phone call. Exercise caution with cold outreach. Use best practices to get emails opened or LinkedIn messages noticed. Personalize your outreach and provide a good reason why they should take part in the research.

Additionally, relying on a trusted research partner can expedite the process, warm the outreach, and open the lines of communication quicker than a blind survey solicitation. The quicker you can have a conversation with a key decision maker, the quicker you can attain the insights you seek to inform your next strategic decision.

B2B research tips

As you consider your next research endeavor, keep the following tips in mind to ensure that you are getting the most accurate and complete data set from your B2B respondents:

  • DO make sure the screening questions (also known as “screeners”) are done right. Acknowledging the increasing difficulty in reaching the most appropriate respondents underscores the need to make sure you are choosing the right people to provide the intelligence you seek. Bad screeners yield bad data.
  • DON’T distribute an electronic survey before doing some qualitative, conversational research to prepare the survey.
  • DO pre-qualitative research to empower the market to help you craft your survey. Ask your network of industry experts what types of questions you should be asking. Their input will be invaluable.
  • DON’T let the survey be the last step. Once you have gathered quantitative data from a sample, validate those learnings with conversational follow-up. There is a great danger on drawing qualitative implications from quantitative responses.
  • DO rely on the experience of market researchers to construct your survey. There is both an art and science to survey design, and there is no value in getting bad data.
  • DON’T settle for suboptimal response rates. If you need 100 responses, don’t settle for eight. “People didn’t reply” is no excuse for not fully delivering upon your research goal.

Here’s a pro tip I will share with you: If you want to earn the trust and gather the perspectives of a decision maker in the B2B world, tell the person that you have already begun the research and are hoping to share early results for feedback or clarification. The person not only will respect the esteem you are granting, but also may want to connect to get a sneak preview of the topic or trend being studied.

It’s tactics like these that have helped us address the realities of modern-day communication. It’s not that people don’t want to have in-depth conversations anymore, it’s just that you have to give them a compelling reason to!

Do you need to reach B2B decision makers? Martec has been building and maintaining relationships with industry experts for 40 years. Contact us today to discuss your B2B research goals.

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