Business-to-business market researchBy Tom Dougherty
11 July 2014
Business-to-Business Market Research Is Special
Business-to-business market research is often thought of as something completely different than consumer research. Developing and enhancing brands for companies whose main emphasis is business to business has particular challenges. These characteristic obstacles make the brand development model in B-to B strategy more complicated; however, the outcomes are all the more valuable. In general, the direct to consumer research process seems very straight forward. Therefore, 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, and 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 opportunities.
Before the study began, we agreed that we needed to focus on corporate logistics managers. These individuals 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-averse 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 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 in Business-to-Business market research?
After the target audience is identified, you 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) and aid in developing sales messaging. Myers/Briggs profiling, for example, in our research questionnaire, can be productive. It allows us to observe the target as if they represent an individual personality type. With this knowledge, we can get our arms around the target and visualize them as a person rather than as a faceless company.
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.
The Business to Business Market Research Questionnaire
As the questionnaire is written, we like to think of it as a telegram. We remind ourselves that we’re paying dearly for every word. Don’t ask questions to which you already know the answers. Most existing research is populated with non-essential data and sheds minimal light on real marketing issues. Ask difficult questions that enable you to actually gain insight into the segment. You must also 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.
Stealing Market Share
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,. You have no choice but to play in that range. What you seek to understand is outside of price what makes a difference? More for you
More for you. Less for them
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 your target audience’s precepts (beliefs) 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 my blog about Napoleon and Waterloo here from a marketer’s perspective) and Napoleon Bonaparte is still studied for his military axioms and tactics. Most marketers realize that marketing is a form of warfare — albeit without the national imperative or mortal risks. At Stealing Share, we look for clues anywhere we can find them, and we study success (as well as failure) to learn both the lessons and pratfalls.
Napoleon has always held a special place in our mythology because his pithy military quips provide an innate understanding of human nature and the nature of the struggle. Marketers have studied Sun-Tzu, the revered author of the Art of War for more than two decades — as you will see, Napoleon deserves the same treatment. Here are some Napoleon quotes here on brand strategy.