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Move Beyond the Table Stakes

For those “in the know”, conducting VOC in the B2B domain is not for the faint of heart. First of all, rarely do we have a panel of study participants ready to take our call. I could write a whole book on study enrollment alone.

Another factor that makes B2B VOC challenging is pushing participants beyond the table stakes—better known as customer pre-requisites and minimum expectations. Regardless of industry, the table stakes are always the same: cost savings, greater efficiency, reduced risk, and improved compliance. These are logical responses, and they’ll usually come up top of mind. But though people tend to be more rational when making purchases decisions in a work context vs. a personal context, that doesn’t mean there are no emotions involved.

Evidence is mounting that one way to stand out from the crowd is to strike a different balance between rational vs. emotional in your positioning and marketing communications.

It turns out that even while making supposedly rational business purchase decisions, emotions still play a role. The B2B Institute in Europe conducted a very compelling study sponsored by LinkedIn. Pay particular attention to the section: Harness the Power of Emotion. Even in B2B, more emotional appeals are linked to better business performance.

For more context on the different kinds of value drivers, check out this 2018 Harvard Business Review research that identified 40 distinct value drivers among B2B buyers. The research categorized these value drivers into table stakes and beyond. This is required reading in our organization.

So, during qualitative research how do you overcome the obvious table stakes? Here are some pointers:

  • Cost, compliance, risk, and efficiency will always come up. Accept it. However, what most interviewers fail to do is to exhaustively unpack what each means. For example, “cost” could mean acquisition cost, maintenance cost, sunk cost, and more. Knowing the exact definition and degree of each cost factor is essential.
  • Look beyond the immediate. A requirement is to fully understand the decision ecosystem. Your product or solution may be a nuisance to one department but have tremendous positive (or negative) impact elsewhere.
  • Make it clear to the participant that we MUST move beyond the table stakes. We often do this by introducing thought starter questions prior to the interview. An intra-interview visual aid can work wonders. We’ve extracted information from the HBR study and used that as a prompt.
  • When defining your research objectives, make it known that table stakes are not enough. A highly skilled researcher can design the best engagement to get at the good stuff under the surface.

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