Ask most consumers to tell you what they know about market research and they’ll invariably recall one of the many questionnaires they’ve received into their email account or smart phone after a recent shopping experience. Ask the same of the SME business-to-business environment and we often see an identical response, that of a business owner who cites a personal consumer experience. So why would a business owner not reference a business example as his/her first thought, and what does this tell us? Here’s four learnt conclusions; –
- Members of the SME business community rely instead on turnover and profitability figures believing these to be the only valid indicator for current (& potential) success.
- SME businesses who have used off-the-shelf tools (such as Survey Monkey) have done so without professional skills in market research techniques. This means they tend to use the Free Edition with limited access of the software’s capability, inadvertently including bias amongst the results and thus delivering a poor outcome.
- They gauge the opinions of existing customers only but in casual ways, perhaps through the course of a meeting, often in an environment where again bias will invariably be overlooked, such as a lunch appointment. As such, they don’t see this as ‘typical market research’ and overlook it when questioned.
- There are those who believe that with B2B customer data being available in limited quantities, that this will negatively impact on the validity of any findings and consequently consider it as meaningless.
These reasons create a false misunderstanding about the true potential for incorporating B2B research in any short to long-term business planning and budget allocation. This suggests that for those of us who are actively delivering market research there’s far more for us to do to get our advice taken on board. Perhaps by sharing better examples that can enhance B2B SME appreciation of market research, we can ultimately contribute further towards the business planning.
One such example would be to expand, if not replace customer feedback with prospect feedback in a B2B environment. Why? Well interviewing prospects often provides considered personal experiences about your competition’s services and products that can open competitor gaps for further examination without the same levels of bias. But where do you start with this?
Of course, every company has a list of prospects but you are likely going to be known by them, so to some extent bias is still prevalent. So, the first question you need to ask is should you approach them as a known entity, or would it far better to have your researcher contact them on your behalf representing a ‘non-disclosed party’. Well the answer to that depends on how you gathered the agreement to use this data in the first place. However, many researchers have a ready-made network of sector specific business contacts which we pre-qualify for the latter telephone research interview (cross-referencing responses against your own data). This preliminary stage would be undertaken days or often weeks in advance and conclude with a firm appointment for the subsequent interview.
The actual interview is then welcomed by the agreeing interviewee because it gives them a chance to share details of their personal experiences about your competitor’s service and products. It becomes their chance to influence improvements that may not have been forthcoming with their current partners/suppliers, thereby making their own lives easier. Undertaking such a process negates the need for copious volumes of data because we’ve got the time to examine far more carefully each response during the research.
Of course, it’s important to survey your active customers too but only as part of the wider research. Doing so will highlight how your business has influenced opinions.
If you would like to explore this in more detail, please feel free to get in touch with us by sending an email to me, Nigel Davis.