In the dynamic world of business-to-business (B2B), success hinges on making informed decisions.
To achieve this, organizations often turn to B2B market research because it generates insights that guide them through the maze of opportunities and challenges.
In this blog post, we'll explore the essential steps, types, and benefits of B2B market research, equipping you with the knowledge and strategies to not only stay competitive and carve out a winning edge in your industry.
What is B2B Market Research?
B2B market research is defined as the process of gathering and analyzing information about a specific business-to-business market to gain insights into the experiences, preferences, needs, and decisions made at an organization.
What are some example titles/roles that would be considered B2B market research?
- Graphic Designers
- Marketing Managers
- Logistics Directors
- Retail Managers
And many, many more.
When you think of market research, you might naturally gravitate toward learning from consumers. Why do people shop at this grocery store? Why do consumers buy this video game? Why do these households subscribe to this high-speed data provider?
However, there is a whole other world out there that focuses market research on B2B professionals. B2B market research can be challenging but invaluable for organizations.
Importance of Conducting B2B Market Research
Insights learned from business professionals can help an organization fuel operations, marketing, and strategy. Whether you are conducting qualitative or quantitative research with B2B professionals, the feedback and data you acquire through a formalized study carries immense ROI.
B2B market research offers critical insights into many different areas for your organization such as:
- Awareness levels of your brand
- Source(s) of awareness driving attention to your brand
- Decision-making factor(s) for choosing your brand vs. competitors
- Perceptions of your brand and competitors
- Word associations with your brand and competitors
- Satisfaction levels with your organization
- Net-promoter score (NPS) and likelihood to recommend your brand
These insights only scratch the surface regarding what a market research study in the B2B space can address.
Benefits of B2B Market Research
If you are not conducting market research, you run the risk of your competitors gaining market share, hiring better and more talented employees, improving marketing messaging to drive revenue, and creating several strategies that allow you to get closer to prospects and customers to improve your business.
Don’t let your competitors gain this advantage. Insights from custom market research can give your organization a significant competitive advantage over competitors who are not using it.
B2B market research offers several key benefits including:
Improve market share
Market research is a competitive advantage. If you sell B2B and are not gathering insights and intelligence on your clients and prospects, chances are your competitors might be.
Those competitors are finding new ways to market themselves, use compelling messaging, find new products and services to offer that have value, and learn what others like and dislike about your brand so they can make progress and earn market share.
A better understanding of drivers to purchase
When it comes to a prospect with a need, it all comes down to choice.
Why will that person or company choose you over competitors?
One of the most valuable questions in market research is exploring the B2B decision-making process, which is more complex than a consumer journey.
With consumers, it might be as easy as the packaging on the food looking healthy, a spur-of-the-moment checkout at a grocery store, or seeing a 5-star rating on Amazon that drives a purchase.
Decisions are much more involved and expanded, often taking days, weeks, or months.
That's why a big part of market research with business professionals is understanding their journey and buying process so you can optimize your sales and marketing approach for each phase – from your website/SEO to sales collateral, to what messages to use to differentiate your brand, pricing strategy, and many other layers.
Improve marketing messaging
It’s one thing to try to communicate to sell your B2B product or service, but first, you must land the lead.
Market research can help your organization understand pain points, source(s) where prospects turn to learn about firms like yours, and what types of messaging you need to highlight and prioritize in your campaigns.
Would you be pushing flexibility in subscription plans for your SaaS if you knew that customer service was the top reason for purchase among 92% of your users?
Understand the reason(s) for switching to competitors
While it's exciting to engage with startups or businesses new to your product or service category, in the realm of B2B, a significant portion of the market may already be utilizing a similar solution.
This shifts the sales process from convincing them to try your product or service to persuading them to choose your organization over competitors.
While it's a more intricate and demanding process, it's why insights gleaned from a meticulously planned market research study become invaluable.
For example, through the creation of competitive battle cards and audit scorecards in B2B research, you'll be able to conduct a thorough comparison of your brand with its top competitors.
This analysis will reveal what sets your offering apart from the competition, as well as what strengths competitors may hold that are absent from your suite of services.
You'll gain insights into messaging strategies, pricing models, service plans, and various other critical factors.
This comprehensive view of the landscape will equip you with the knowledge needed to not only entice competitors to switch to your brand, but also to anticipate potential moves by competitors to encroach on your market share, and, crucially, how to prevent those efforts.
Details on your website’s user experience
It’s been said before, but your website is the gateway and window to your company.
Because the B2B buying process is much more elongated than the consumer process, a lot of research goes on behind the scenes.
B2B buyers are browsing your website, making micro-decisions at every step to determine your expertise, whether your brand is a fit, considering whether or not they should reach out, and so on.
UX research on your website can ensure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot and offering a poor first impression to a prospective buyer.
Additionally, many organizations detail 95-99% of their traffic as stealth users. You know what they are viewing and where they are clicking, but you don’t know who they are. Research can fill those gaps and increase conversions and form fills on your website.
In short, B2B UX market research can make sure your website is an asset and not a deterrent.
Gather metrics around your awareness and perceptions
Although digital marketing provides a ton of analytics into impressions, clicks, and other metrics, there are gaps.
Before you can even acquire a B2B buyer, they first must be aware of your brand and likely have a positive impression of your organization (or at least an impression that has yet to be formed).
A professional B2B survey company can reach out to the market and understand key performance indicators.
Imagine having answers to the following questions...
- What percent of target clients think of your brand as top of mind in your category?
- How many have aided awareness
- What word associations do they have with your firm?
- How does your organization compare to competitors?
- What is their perception of your company? And what are the drivers of their perception?
The possibilities are endless.
How to recover lost customers
The B2B landscape of buyers for your product or service is more limited than B2C. For instance, there may only be 50,000 businesses that use your service compared to 100M Americans that use a household product.
Therefore, it’s not only crucial to penetrate new buyers but also to find ways to rekindle old relationships with past clients.
However, doing this yourself can be problematic.
You may not hear the whole truth, and clients may not be as critical with their feedback directly to you, which is not good news. You want them to be honest regarding improvements so you know what to fix.
This is where a third-party market research firm can collect data through interviews or a survey to ensure it’s authentic and objective to help guide your recontact strategy.
Test new product or service concepts
In the B2B space, you should always seek to extend your product or service line. Or at least expand your feature set.
Budgets should be dedicated to new product or service development in B2B.
Market research firms can help develop these roadmaps by collecting critical voice of customer (VOC) information to drive product redesigns and strategy.
Types of B2B Market Research
B2B studies can cover a wide range of topics and needs. The methodologies that a market research organization conducts in this space can be simplistic to complex.
At the highest level, B2B market research can be qualitative and quantitative.
- Qualitative research centers around focus groups, in-depth interviews (IDIs), or bulletin boards, which allows the study to dive deep and explore topics.
- Quantitative research focuses more on measurement, validation, and reliability among a much larger data set, commonly through surveys.
Now that we've nailed down the main categories of market research, let's dive into the specific methodologies that are most impactful for B2B organizations.
Common types of B2B market research include:
- New client onboarding surveys
- Brand equity studies
- Segmentation studies
- User experience market research
- Exploration focus groups
- Discovery in-depth interviews
Please click on a methodology above to navigate to that section or continue reading.
As a business, it’s critical to understand the first 100 days of the relationship.
- How smooth was the transition from a competitor?
- How easy was the onboarding process?
- What could be improved?
- Did the team deliver the customer service expected?
Nailing the initial experience is a critical piece to keeping your clientele long-term.
This is a personal opinion, but brand equity surveys are among the most valuable types of B2B studies.
In a competitive B2B market, you must find the best ways to grow market share.
Part of that puzzle is better understanding your clients and their satisfaction, but the other piece of the puzzle is understanding the market and your non-clients.
Therefore, brand equity studies target decision-makers and influencers knowledgeable about the products or services you sell, but are not current customers.
They address unaided and aided awareness, perception, word associations, source(s) of awareness, likelihood to consider, drivers to consideration, and how your competitors compare on these same metrics and KPIs as your brand.
Customer or market segmentation is a sophisticated B2B study that dives deep into an audience for richer insights.
The study breaks down a pool into specific quantitatively validated profiles accounting for firmographics, demographics, behaviors, attitudes, etc.
Not all of your clients buy your product or service for the same reason, and a segmentation study helps you fully understand the differences.
It uses advanced analytical techniques such as K-means and cluster analysis with survey techniques like MaxDiff trade-off to create scientific buckets of segments for analysis.
The segments can then be carried through to marketing and strategy to understand the market or your client base better, which in turn creates more relatable, custom, and segment-specific marketing.
UX studies are excellent B2B market research projects for new apps or websites.
These are often conducted through screen share interviews where users test the technology and provide live/think-out-loud feedback with a facilitator or moderator who asks questions.
If you have a new website or app, this is an excellent methodology. That's because as an app or web designer, it’s easy to get engulfed and not view the user's perspective.
Getting real feedback from this audience helps make your technology better and easier to use and helps improve pathways to your app or website’s goals.
Focus groups are the most well-known methodology outside of a survey. With this approach, businesses can recruit B2B professionals to attend an in-person or online focus group with a collection of 4-6+ other professionals.
Focus groups are best for exploring new topics or diving deep into complicated topics or journeys, which makes them great for the B2B buying process.
A 60-90 minute discussion with a moderator allows the market researcher to dive deep into insights and pull out themes, takeaways, and commonalities among your target audience.
These can be great for testing a new product or service offering, understanding gaps in the market, or fully outlining what the B2B buyer journey looks like.
In-depth interviews are similar to focus groups but are 1:1 sessions. This helps individualize the feedback to eliminate group bias.
Across 12 IDIs vs. 2 focus groups, it allows the moderator to evolve the findings a bit from one session to the next, and more feedback is collected overall.
It also offers more flexibility in scheduling (e.g., 2 sessions lasting 90 minutes each vs. 12 interviews lasting 30-45 minutes each).
How to Conduct B2B Market Research
As with any study, I recommend working with a third-party market research company. If you are going this route, the first step is to contact potential partners, such as Drive Research.
We’ll gather more information over email and potentially schedule a call with your team to explore objectives if we’re an A+ fit.
After some discussion, we’ll develop a customer proposal and recommendation on the approach. It helps to share more about your needs, target audience, timeline, and budget if you have one.
Here are the steps we follow when conducting B2B market research:
Step 1. Kickoff meeting + workplan
If you decide Drive Research is the best fit, we’ll assign a dedicated researcher or research team to your project to schedule a kickoff work session.
An agenda will be sent ahead of the meeting to recap your needs, discuss the approach, gather more feedback, and answer any questions.
Following the kickoff meeting, our B2B market research team will share a document outlining how we plan to execute our plan and share the next steps with dates and deliverables.
If you decide to conduct the study in-house, this is still a step we recommend as it assures all project stakeholders are on the same page.
Step 2. Designing the research instrument
From there, we get into the most critical document of your study.
Whether it be a survey draft, interview guide draft, focus group guide draft, or other instrument, this is the most essential part of the process.
The design of this instrument explains what questions we’re asking your target audience how they will shape desired outcomes, and set the tone for the value of the B2B market research study.
Step 3. Collecting feedback from B2B professionals
Once the design of the survey or guide is finalized, programmed, and tested (if necessary), the team will also begin fieldwork.
This step will be different based on whether you are conducting a qualitative research study or a quantitative survey.
In the qualitative setting, this includes executing a screener document to find the niche B2B audience you are targeting for the market research.
In the quantitative environment, this involves launching the survey and collecting data from many respondents.
Step 4. Analysis
Once fieldwork is closed and data quality checks are run, the fun begins for the research team.
Here, we dive deep into the findings to understand and tweeze out themes, insights, and critical differences between audiences.
Exploring differences might include geographies, company size, type of role, department, etc. We leave no stone unturned as part of our analysis in a B2B full-service study.
Step 5. Reporting
This final document shared with the client after every B2B research project is the ultimate deliverable.
Here, our research company brings the insights and analysis to life by telling a story going back to the kickoff meeting and your original goals of what you wanted to learn, what actions you wanted to take, etc.
The report typically includes a background and methodology, a summary of themes, data visualizations, and deeper crosstabulations and cuts.
Additionally, supporting deliverables may include portals, a data file, a banner file, or an infographic.
Step 6. Recommendations
No good B2B market research study is complete without the “now what”?
The best B2B market research companies help clients take the next steps with the market research following the what, so what, now what philosophy.
Our consultants give you a game plan to make improvements, changes, and fixes to drive your operations, marketing, and strategy forward.
Step 7. Debrief
As a final step, the B2B market research team schedules a meeting with your team to walk you through every step of the findings.
We fill in gaps and add context through a conversational meeting, including Q&A.
Investing in B2B market research is not just a strategic move, but a vital one in today's competitive landscape. It empowers businesses with the insights needed to navigate complex markets, understand customer needs, and outshine rivals.
By leveraging the various types and benefits of B2B research outlined in this guide, you're poised to not only thrive but also lead in your industry.
Remember, knowledge is power, and in B2B, it's the key to unlocking lasting success.
Are you considering a market research project in the B2B space? Do you have a B2B customer audience, or are you looking to target a niche B2B audience with specific roles, titles, or responsibilities?
First, let's create a plan for your research and find out more about your needs. Then, we put together a custom plan for you. We can help. Contact us below.
- Message us on our website
- Email us at [email protected]
- Call us at 888-725-DATA
- Text us at 315-303-2040
George is the Owner and President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX-certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.
Learn more about George, here.