Getting the depth and breadth of B2B market research right is a challenge for many companies. I have found that market research is treated in one of two ways:
- The company skips research and instead relies on the gut feel of key individuals, or
- The company decides to study a problem to death and is afraid to choose until every last unknown has been explored.
Each of these paths is full of dangers. The first may lead to wild swings in direction unfounded by fact, while the second leads to paralysis by analysis. This article provides some practical information about B2B market research to help you avoid going down either of these two paths.
Definition of market research
B2B market research is best defined as collecting and analyzing information about a company’s customers, competitors, or target markets for business decision-making purposes.
Information may come from primary sources (the buyers themselves) or secondary sources (already published and publicly available data).
B2B market research has two main components
- There are too many sources from which you can gather valuable information. Therefore, you must rely on several sources not to adopt hidden biases from any one source in doing B2B market research.
- You need to deal with information, not data. To become actionable, the data that is collected must be interpreted to reveal its actual value.
Develop and sustain a strong brand, enhance the customer experience, validate new product concepts, and find and assess new market opportunities.
Primary and secondary market research sources
Often, the very best source of B2B market research data comes from the people you know, particularly those who already buy from you. You can glean a wealth of information from people you already have a business relationship with, provided you collect it religiously.
Every company needs to have a customer database where you gather demographic information. (Note that the database may be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as a full-blown sales force automation system.)
What kind of market information should you collect?
For B2B market research, business-to-business companies (B2B sales) want to collect information about their customers’ vertical industry, size, revenue, and location. Beyond this basic information, you need to collect information about how the customer found you and why they purchased from you. How do you know why they buy? Ask your customers these B2B market research questions!
Ultimately your goal is to be able to ask and answer questions such as: Why are high-tech companies in Berlin buying my product? Or how do construction companies in London find out about my business, and why do they buy it?
However, you cannot ask your customers, as this never helps you understand the world that didn’t (yet) buy from you. Understanding their wants and needs is more challenging but can be done in a wide variety of ways.
- Read objective third party reports in journals or from analysts who cover your industry.
- Talk to you people that you do business with to get their view of the customer needs.
- Prepare B2B survey questions to ask interested parties.
You need information, not just data
For any of this stuff you have collected, it only becomes meaningful when you filter it with your B2B market research experiences. Let me provide two examples to explain this point:
On a recent project, I was in a discussion with an industry analyst. In it he touted the traction a particular company was getting in selling their solution to mid-size customers. When pushed on who specifically was buying, it turns out his data source was the CEO of the company in question.
On a separate project, we did some data mining and noticed that we had a large number of mid-sized banks as customers. Digging deeper into the data showed us that there was a common buying criteria for all of these companies.
In both of these cases the data only became valuable after it was further analyzed and processed. Admittedly this is sometimes the hardest part and where the art of B2B market research comes in. The best tool to use during this process is an inquiring mind that constantly tries to find what might be behind the raw data that you’re seeing.
Benefits of B2B market research
B2B market research benefits organizations in a variety of ways. Year to year, shifts in industries, B2B markets, global economy, and even society can have a tremendous impact on B2B enterprises.
Professional B2B market research methods give accurate snapshots of the current state of your crucial audiences and are critical in assisting you in answering the following pertinent business insights questions.
- With brand monitoring, you can determine the B2B market awareness and image of your firm among prospective and existing customers.
- Identifying whether or not your customers are acquainted with your core products (goods or services).
- Monitoring the market for new product needs (by asking product research questions).
- Developing an understanding of the opportunities that are just around the corner in your target B2B market.
- Identifying the factors that influenced your customers’ decision to choose you over a B2B competition.
- Recognize what attracts and retains customers.
B2B market analysis
- Establishing a map of your B2B market, segmenting purchaser profiles, and gaining an insight of your competition.
- Identifying the methods and locations via which clients find you.
- Identifying the importance of price to your B2B buyers.
- Determine how your pricing stacks up against the competition.
- Identifying critical themes for your technical content marketing plan in order to engage customers and establish your authority.
- Adjusting your B2B marketing content to make it more relevant to what buyers are looking for.
- Clearly defining what distinguishes you.
- Identifying your assets and liabilities.
- Identifying whether your perceptions of your business are consistent with public perceptions.
- Customer satisfaction analysis for your brand/products/company.
B2B market trends
- Detect and leverage on emerging trends in your industry or B2B market
As you can see, effective B2B market research techniques can assist you in determining existing difficulties. You’ll discover possibilities to emphasize your competitive advantage and add new prospects in your customer base. By utilizing this data, you’ll be able to make better business decisions.
When to do B2B market research?
Choosing the optimal timing for a B2B market research strategies requires two considerations: first, when is the ideal time to carry out the study in connection to a certain particular product or service launch, and second, when is the greatest time to conclude the data gathering.
The general guideline is that the earlier the research is conducted, the better. For instance, if you’re starting a new firm or releasing a new product, it’s usually prudent to do some B2B market research before investing significant time and money in one area.
You can consider natural opportunities for feedback gathering such as during a crisis, after a client calls your support line, following a conflict resolution effort, or following a purchase is decided.
The second issue with B2B market research timing relates to the research itself. Practical circumstances such as when funding is available or renewed, or how action plans are implemented, may require that a project begin at the beginning of a calendar year or a specified month.