Ten Ways to Avoid Challenges in Business-To-Business Research

Within the past decade, business-to-business, or B2B, research has blossomed from a sales generator to an essential marketing tool. While the foundations of B2B studies are similar to those of consumer research, the field environment and process of execution can be quite different. Optimizing B2B marketing research requires clearing obstacles sometimes not faced with consumer research.

Here are ten steps that researchers can take to make B2B projects go more smoothly

1. Qualitative first. Conducting qualitative research in advance of the quantitative research improves the overall research project in several ways. First, it ensures you are asking about factors of critical interest to the customer, not those assumed to be of interest by the business. Second, it makes sure that you use language that is familiar and comfortable to the respondent. If the business calls the product a “BioGenesis 2000.” and the customer calls it “that binder thingy”, you want to be sure you use language in your questionnaire that everyone can understand. Finally, you may learn something (e.g, typical hours worked, facility with computers, language preferred) that will help you select the correct methodology for the research.

2. Going into the field with a strong sample. One common challenge in B2B research is smaller or inadequate sample population. It is the researcher’s responsibility to make sure the project is completed with a clean, accurate sample. To save time and cost, the client and the research firm must work together to ensure the appropriate respondents are included in the sample, and to remove duplicates, invalid phone numbers, cell phone numbers, do-not-call numbers, and/or invalid email addresses before launching the survey. It is also important that the contact names and businesses are accurate.

3. For smaller samples, execute segmentation and design quota groups. It is typical to estimate your completion rate by the amount of sample you have based on a 10% response rate. For example, in order to get 200 completes, you must have at least 2000 qualified, valid sample records to begin. To accommodate smaller sample populations, segmentation and quota groups can play a necessary part, requiring an elevated level of research sophistication. When it comes to setting quota groups, it is best to keep your margin of errors below +/-10% with a 95% confidence level. For example, with a sample of 1000 clients, you may set your quota to 300 completes, resulting in a margin error of +/-4.7%.

4. Plan for a longer schedule. Compared to customer satisfaction, or B2C, research, B2B research tends to be a slower process due to higher research cost and the complication of business activity. Allow for a longer planning phase and a flexible data collection schedule. Take into consideration that respondents are less likely to respond around major holidays. Other factors in field scheduling that should not be ignored are the work style and seasonality of certain business professions. For example, it is unreasonable to survey school teachers during the summer, or request in-depth interviews from accountants during tax season. Similary, you won’t find manufacturing plant maintenance engineers sitting at their desks most of the day.

Most telephone B2B studies are done during business hours, when the respondents have less availability. A solution to minimizing phone survey refusals is to call during less productive business hours, such as Monday morning or Friday afternoon.

5. Make the survey short and simple. Long surveys can be a drag, especially when the respondents are crunching for time and already thinking of ways to get you off the phone. Get to the point! To increase participation and get the best result, follow these guidelines:

a. Keep the survey under 10 minutes,
b. Shorten the introduction and conclusion,
c. Eliminate questions that are unrelated to the purpose of the study,
d. Keep the amount of open-end questions to an average of two or three.

6. Offer attractive incentives to increase response. In B2B research, not only does it take longer to find qualified respondents, it is also more difficult to secure participation. More often than not, extremely busy business professionals have no time and little interest in expressing their opinion for free. Proposing an incentive will increase the response rate, especially for surveys with a lengthy questionnaire. Of course, the research firm must consider costs and the respondents when selecting the incentive. For instance, it is unreasonable to offer a 2009 Hummer SUV as the grand prize to a study targeting environmentally conscious executives. Cash incentives are always preferred with most respondents, although we have had good results with a sweepstakes to win a desirable prize. There are many positive aspects to offering incentives; however, researchers must aware that some companies do not allow their employees to accept honorariums. Offering to make a charitable donation to the charity of the respondent’s choice is a good solution for these situations.

7. Inform the respondent of the survey prior to contacting them. With today’s dramatic overload of information and telemarketing harassment, it is best practice to notify your target audience of the study in advance of fielding. Let the respondent know when and where to expect the study. Notification can be done through the phone, letter, or email, depending on the nature of the business. If the study is not blind, a letter from a senior executive with the survey sponsor can lend credibility.

8. First impressions are crucial. When launching a B2B telephone survey, keep in mind that most purchase decision makers get survey phone calls daily. Unless the introduction presents a strong, valid case of why they should dedicate the next 10 to 15 minutes of their time to you, they will most likely decline the request. Below are some guidelines for the interviewer to help persuade participation:

a. Keep the introduction short
b. Avoid robotic tones, establish rapport
c. State the purpose of the call
d. Tell the respondent how long the survey will take
e. Offer the incentive
f. Let the respondent know that “this is not a sales call”
g. Identify the client, if the survey is not blind
h. Remind the respondent that their opinion is valued

9. Get on the World Wide Web. When surveying business individuals, web surveys provide an enormous increase in flexibility compared to telephone surveys. Busy respondents can complete the study at their convenience. Throughout all of the studies done at Polaris Marketing Research, we found that respondents are also more honest in their response when it comes to online surveys. Respondents feel that their opinion is more anonymous and therefore they can express it freely, which they might not do with an interviewer in a telephone survey.

10. Don’t over-survey. Especially when you are surveying a business’s customers, respect the time and attention they give you for marketing research and don’t go back to the well too often. Surveying too often will lessen the perceived importance of each survey contact and will make B2B respondents even less likely to respond, increasing the cost and length of time required for each completed interview.

The world of business-to-business research is unique and the challenges are not insurmountable. Respecting the differences between B2C and B2B marketing research and following these guidelines will help you properly design and successfully execute business-to-business research.

Leave a Reply