When you think about market research, your default image may be that of researchers interacting with direct consumers- the end users who make that final product purchase. However, there are some product categories where the end-user isn’t the only (or most important) opinion to consider. For certain categories, the distribution is complex and the end-user has less say in the product that they purchase. As an example, take the HVAC (air conditioning and furnace equipment) category, where distributors and installers make up an important part of the decision-making process. The end-user may be the one purchasing a new HVAC system, but that purchase is frequently made under duress. When one’s AC has stopped working in the middle of summer, the knowledge and expertise of distributors and installers becomes much more important to a homeowner’s purchasing process than doing independent research. Because of this, HVAC manufacturers have a vested interest in understanding what those dealers and distributors want, as they make up key clients in their industry. Conducting research with their fellow businesses is often critical to their understanding of the market and helps guide future initiatives.
These business-to-business (often referred to as B2B, as opposed to business-to-consumer, or B2C) relationships require a different approach when it comes to research. If you’re planning on engaging in B2B research, we have five considerations you should keep in mind as you select your research provider:
1. Does your provider have experience in B2B research? In your specific category?
Engaging in B2B research can offer opportunities to conduct more complex studies. Because your ideal respondents are professionals, they have understanding and insight into the trade that end-users won’t have. To access the knowledge base they bring to the table, the survey (quantitative research) or discussion guide (qualitative) will likely have much more technical content. A research provider who has experience within your B2B category is a valuable resource. They’ll be able to craft a survey or discussion guide that helps speak the same language as your respondents. This helps to coax out the technical information that you need to succeed in your B2B endeavors and respects the professional expertise of your respondents. They may also have suggestions about what kinds of questions to ask, allowing you to uncover greater insights.
2. Is your provider certain they can reach respondents?
It can be difficult to find qualified respondents for a survey—even more so when you’re reaching out to professionals. Depending on the category, the professionals you’re reaching out to may also find it difficult to find time in their schedules to respond to your survey. If it’s a seasonal profession, like our HVAC example earlier, they may be busy from dawn until dusk with their own customers. When working with your research provider, make sure to ask how they intend to reach potential respondents. You need to make sure you understand how they source respondents and incent them to participate, and that you’re comfortable with their methods.
3. If your provider can reach respondents, are they the right ones?
Once you’ve established that your research provider can, in fact, reach B2B respondents in your category, you need to make sure they can reach the right respondents. You need to find the appropriate respondents in B2B surveys just as you need to screen for the right kinds of respondents in B2C research. Whether you need to reach out to C-suite executives, middle managers, or service providers will depend on your research objectives. Going back to our HVAC example, if you want to understand issues around equipment installation or repair, you’d want to target service technicians, as they’re the ones in the field every day. If you wanted to know how dealers choose which brands to carry, you’ll need to speak with decision-makers, like management, or company owners.
4. Is your provider realistic about costs?
We’ve already touched on the fact that it can be difficult to find qualified respondents for B2B research. Due to a smaller pool and other demands on potential respondents’ time, you may need to have higher incentives for participation. Whether you’re looking to do quantitative or qualitative research, you’ll need to make it worth the respondents’ time—and that means additional costs for you. Panels of professionals do exist for quantitative projects, but it’s expensive for research providers to maintain those panels so the cost is frequently passed onto clients. Coming in for a two-hour group discussion is a huge time commitment for professionals as well. So when planning for qualitative B2B research, be prepared to pay two to three times more for your respondents’ time than what you might pay in B2C research. When you’re discussing project costs with your provider, be prepared for costs that are higher than what B2C surveys would traditionally cost. If those costs aren’t there, open a discussion with them about how they’re reaching respondents as this might be a red flag–you may not end up with the true audience you’re trying to reach.
5. Is your provider realistic about sample sizes?
Because you’re focusing on B2B research, you have a smaller pool of potential respondents, and it will be more expensive to entice them to participate. Because of this, you have to have a realistic goal for your sample sizes. Though your actual target sample size will vary depending on who you’re reaching out to, a sample size of a few hundred respondents will probably be the best-case scenario for a quantitative project. If you’re coming from B2C research, this may feel underwhelming, considering that consumer surveys can include several thousand respondents. Some skepticism is healthy if a provider is promising to provide large sample sizes. While they may indeed be able to reach a large number of respondents, take the time to understand where they’re drawing from so that you are sure you’re surveying the correct B2B audience.
A well-designed B2B research project can help you uncover new opportunities and target pain points that consumer-facing research would leave unexplored. Partnering with a research supplier who understands your needs will go a long way to helping you explore that untapped potential, and open communication using questions like the ones we’ve provided will help you have productive conversations with potential research partners. Drop us a message on LinkedIn or tweet us at @TraQline. We’d love to have a conversation with you!