by Lucy Warburton, Senior Manager, Product Marketing
Doing business-to-business (B2B) research online can be challenging. (We don’t hear you arguing with that one.) B2B research comes with its own set of challenges – narrow targets, respondents that are hard to reach, a constantly changing professional landscape, to name a few – but it also has much in common with consumer research. What’s important in online consumer research – quality, respondent experience, objectivity – is just as relevant, and possibly more complex, in B2B research.
Looking to jumpstart your B2B research efforts? Improve results and get the insights you need with these eight tips.
The Art of B2B Research: 8 Ways to Drive Quality Results
1. Prioritize your research objective
When beginning a B2B project, it can help to go back to the basics. Rather than dive right in, take a step back and remind yourself what you are trying to accomplish. What is your primary objective? Maybe you need to reach financial decision makers to learn more about their product preferences. Ask yourself whether it’s a good fit for online. Are the insights you are looking for more quantitative or qualitative in nature? If qualitative data is important, a focus group might be a better match. Not all research is made equal. Sometimes a focus group or phone study is still your best bet.
2. Be creative in your targeting approach
It’s SOP to target B2B respondents by key characteristics such as employment status, industry, company revenue and number of employees, role, and title. And most of the time, when you’re looking for common profiles like IT decision makers or small business owners, this works very well. But what if you need to recruit respondents with highly specific or uncommon jobs? Maybe you need answers from oncology pathway vendors, potbellied pig breeders, or pipeline distributors. How exactly do you target for that? Who has that profile?
To understand the business and specific role of the B2B decision maker you’re seeking, go beyond standard B2B targeting criteria. Talk to people in the industry. Screen by employment status and industry and then think about other questions you can add to get the people you need. You might not be able to find people with an exact title match, but you should be able to find people who have decision-making responsibilities as part of their job and who have the authority to answer questions and provide the insights you need.
We’re living in a world where the professional landscape is constantly changing and where job titles aren’t what they used to be. Roles often overlap. Whereas before, researchers may have only been able to find IT decision makers within the IT department, now they can be found across all areas of a business.
To find these decision makers, you’ll definitely need sample at scale. Here at Lucid, we’ve found that tapping into the Fulcrum Exchange, the industry’s largest sample marketplace, has a huge impact on our ability to deliver traditionally hard-to-reach B2B segments.
Some tips on quality: When it comes to online B2B research the question is always about quality, quality, quality. For studies that typically start with incidence rates below 5 percent and with a limited pool of available respondents, it’s critical to limit the potential for bad data. You want to be stringent in your screening process while giving respondents every opportunity to successfully complete your survey and give you the answers you need.
So what can you do to help ensure quality sample?
3. Use red herrings
Red herring questions are a popular and effective way to control quality on B2B studies. Also called “trap” questions, these are questions that your target audience should be able to answer. They help you screen out respondents who don’t fit the professional profile you’re targeting. They are industry- and role-specific questions and should be tailored accordingly. On B2B studies, a red herring is as much about narrowing your target as it is about controlling fraud.
4. Stay objective
On B2B projects, where quality takes on even greater priority, it’s more important than ever to remain objective. If an answer doesn’t match your initial hypothesis or if the data is not telling the story you thought it would, that doesn’t necessarily speak to its quality. More than ever, it’s important to remain unbiased and objective. Don’t ask leading questions – this reduces the likelihood of receiving questionable data.
5. Ask a thoughtful question, get a thoughtful answer
Give respondents the opportunity to provide thoughtful answers. Encourage them to slow down; make sure they’re reading the question thoroughly; and hold them accountable. We’ve found that adding a single, simple B2B quality question helps ensure quality responses. It reads,
“Your feedback is important so please provide honest and thoughtful feedback. Should our quality checks indicate that you are not attentive throughout the survey, you stand the risk of forfeiting the associated rewards.”
6. Minimize open end questions
The use of open end questions is another popular method of controlling quality. But too many can kill a study. Use open ends sparingly on B2B studies. A good practice is only to use open ends if you need to let a respondent expand on a previous answer. Stick to one or two open ends as a quality measure, but aim to keep surveys shorter overall. If you find that you need more open end questions to satisfy your goal, qualitative research might be a better fit.
7. Respect the respondent experience
With all this talk of quality, don’t forget about the quality of experience you are providing respondents. It’s an important element of consumer research, but it becomes even more crucial when you’re asking for time from busy professionals – decision makers and C-level executives. They value their time; be mindful of that. For international work, be respectful of cultural differences. Speak to respondents in their local language whenever possible. Modify screeners to accommodate differences in work behavior and habits. For example, 35 hours of work per week might constitute full-time work in a European country but not in the U.S. One size does not fit all.
8. Consider new validation methods
APIs are ubiquitous on the web today and give businesses the ability to connect, share information, and create value-added products in ways that weren’t previously possible. With the growth of networks like LinkedIn for professionals, we have more opportunities than ever before to target and validate B2B respondents. At Lucid, we’re looking at how we can leverage data in real-time from sources such as LinkedIn to offer a new layer of B2B verification. Respondents who opt in give us access to their industry and job title information on LinkedIn, and our clients in turn can use this information to help screen respondents and ensure quality on their B2B research projects. It’s an exciting time in the ever evolving online research space. Be on the lookout out for even more ways you can improve and optimize your B2B work in the months and years to come.