Warning.  Market research can be bad for your health.

It can actively hurt business performance by drawing misleading conclusions.  Conclusions which fail to consider the full picture, which focus on the obvious rather than delving deep or which are simply based on faulty information.  The result is bad decisions.

Research can also passively hurt business performance by not driving action.  The conclusions are sound, but sit on a shelf gathering dust.  Usually this comes down to poor communication – the research isn’t cascaded throughout the organisation or the communication is so impenetrably dry that nobody listens.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Research can also be very, very powerful.  Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that good research can transform a business.

So how can you ensure research actually does drive better performance?

One of the most important tricks is to avoid shoehorning a B2C research approach into a B2B environment.  This just leads to superficial outcomes and potentially damages your brand in the process.

B2B research is different from consumer research in eight important ways:

  1. The 80:20 rule applies.  Give extra weight to the opinions of strategically important accounts
  2. ‘Kingmakers’ are critical.  Provided those that lead supplier decisions are represented, a relatively small number of interviews obtains a reliable view
  3. Behind the ‘Kingmaker’ are various influencers.  The research needs to represent these voices for a rounded perspective
  4. Account for the ‘domino’ effect.  Take a holistic perspective so that events in another part of the customer’s eco-system don’t catch you off guard
  5. Relationships matter.  Don’t try and bypass those who ‘own’ the customer relationship – they and their customers may react negatively.  Instead, gain their support for the research
  6. B2B buyers are experts.  Engage them intelligently and ensure any interviewers have sufficient knowledge to do so
  7. B2B decisions are more considered.  Reflect this in questioning, but don’t forget to cover ‘emotional’ dimensions too
  8. B2B research can be a valuable relationship building tool.  Promise confidentiality to those sharing their opinion, but ask if they would like a direct follow up.  That’s often what they want

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) target market research.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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