Business-to-Business Market Research: A Wide Open Opportunity

Business-to-Business Market Research Means Business

By Tom Dougherty

B-to-B Strategy Is Special

business-to-business market research provides surprising results
How the research is conducted matters

Developing and enhancing brands for companies whose main emphasis is business to business has very specific challenges.  These characteristic obstacles make the brand development model in B-to B strategy more complicated; however, this means the outcomes are all the more valuable. In general, the direct to consumer research process seems very straight forward, and it is assumed that this kind of market research is much more easily conducted.

This is not necessarily the case. In fact, the methodology of business-to-business market research is very similar to this model, and the importance is every bit as relevant. In all truly revealing research, regardless of industry, the value is dependent on both your ability to ask the right questions and your ability to identify the target audience to survey.

The questions that you ask to define your target are the same regardless of the venue. Who are the primary decision makers?  Who influences the decision? Who should be the decision maker?  The last question is most compelling because it requires innovative thinking and possibly even new category creation. In work that Stealing Share completed for a national logistics provider, discovering who should be the decision-maker opened the doors to new opportunity.

Do Homework

Before the study began, we agreed that we needed to place focus upon the corporate logistics managers, the individuals who held the responsibility of running the in-house logistics departments. Upon further thought and our preceptive behavior modeling, it began to emerge that a substantial opportunity existed with the “C” level executive.  Our modeling indicated a tendency in the logistics manager to be risk adverse, and committed to keeping logistics in-house.

The “C” level executive appeared more receptive to strategic messaging and more apt to embrace the change that hiring a third party logistics provider (3PL) represented. (Read how the CEO needs to be involved here). All of these hypotheses surfaced from the research. As suspected, the logistics manager did not want to give up control while the CEO viewed the gesture as a strategic decision. This discovery turned the industry on its ear, and all it required was simply assuming nothing and looking at the playing field with unbiased eyes. However, this is not ever where the work ends. Hypotheses lead to an entirely different series of questions, and the brand process continues.

What is Next?

After the target audience is identified, you then must understand the entire market by asking the right questions. You need to develop a means to profile the category in a way that will allow you to segment it in cross tabulations (for marketing purposes) as well as aid in developing sales messaging. Myers/Briggs profiling, for example, in our research questionnaire can be productive because it allows us to observe the target as if they represent an individual personality type. With this knowledge we are able to get our arms around the target and visualize them as a person rather then as a faceless company.

business-to-business market research looks at the customer as a person
Market share is the end game

Build your questions around your strategy and not around the known. Getting a business executive to speak with you during the business day is difficult, so assume that the incidence (the rate of completed surveys per number of calls made) will be low and more costly.

As the questionnaire is written, we like to think of it as a telegram and remind ourselves that we are paying dearly for every word. Do not ask questions to which you already know the answers. Most existing research is populated with non-essential data and sheds minimal light on the real marketing issues. Ask difficult questions that enable you to actually gain insight on the segment. In addition, you must compare your brand to the competitive set and find out who is credited with certain attributes.

The difficulty is that we are not talking about product attributes such as price. We are talking about brand attributes like beliefs and imagery. These answers will allow you to look at the market clearly and honestly. Furthermore, if you queried the target market as to the importance of these attributes, you will not only know what is important but who owns it.

In order to steal market share you must understand switching behaviors and beliefs. Open-ended questions will not give you the fodder you seek because price and availability are table stakes. If you ask consumers, they will tell you that price is the issue. This is what consumers regurgitate to protect themselves from looking foolish. Price is the first answer because it is the easiest value for your target audience to quantify. Obviously within your B-to-B category there is limited price elasticity, and you have no choice but to play in that range. What you seek to understand is, with all things being equal (read price), what makes a difference?

This requires careful thought because you must prompt the respondents and then get them to rank attributes dispassionately. This kind of business-to-business market research is involved work but indispensable in helping your B-to-B brand steal market share. Only when you fully understand the precepts (beliefs) of your target audience can your brand be implemented to influence the purchase decision. The secret is that the customer needs to covet your brand every bit as much as you covet the purchase transaction. (Read more detail on market research and the difference between methodologies here)

Read a B2B market study here

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