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B2B Research Can Give You Heartburn

There is an encouraging trend in the growing number of B2B organizations investing in insights to fuel innovation. Scheduling and engaging industry professionals can be a real nail-biter, not to mention time-consuming and expensive. Because of these difficulties, it’s important to reconsider what is necessary to manage your nerves. . . and indigestion when doing B2B research.

The research methods at our disposal will deliver either depth or breadth. Qualitative research yields depth, while quantitative research yields breadth. In B2B research, your default should be depth. The reasons: surveying a useful number of B2B professionals in many industries is not practical. Is a sample size of n=25 really that useful? (Yes, I’ve seen this before.) You are better off spending an hour on the phone with 5 highly-engaged and knowledgeable stakeholders.

Our other point of advice: never rely on one data source. B2B research that is not supplemented with desk research is, well, heretical. We also find institutional knowledge is often overlooked. Somewhere in any organization are a handful of people who are well-acquainted with customer needs, pain points, and motivations. This institutional knowledge can be used to develop hypotheses that you can validate or refute through your engagement with the end-user, building on the things you already know.

One major missed opportunity we see when companies seek feedback from B2B customers is the under-utilization of digital assets. The consumer-packaged-goods industry has invested heavily in engagement platforms, and a primary driver is to create an insights and innovation engine.

Check out this great article from McKinsey and Company about how CPG manufacturers go direct to consumers. Most people are willing to give you feedback−but on their terms. Why more insights organizations are not involved in cultivating feedback via digital channels is perplexing. It is a valuable resource, but be forewarned: there is a right way to build a B2B engagement platform. In my mind, the best marketing you can do is to let your customers know they are being heard.

For ad-hoc study initiatives, traditional methods still work. You just need to understand the upsides and downsides to each approach.

To this day, I remember a comment from a client early in my career that sums up the experience of conducting good B2B research.
“It’s hard, messy, unpredictable, and damn it gives me heartburn. But it’s worth every penny.” 

The good news is that more firms see the value in the investment.  The part about hard, messy, and heartburn-inducing is still very true.

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