Recently, data expert Sam Panini tweeted out a link to a 2015 Quirks.com article written by Mark Towery of Geo Strategy Partners. In his lively piece, Towery presents his own professional insights on how to conduct successful Business-to-business/industrial research.
He begins with a contrarian perspective: Business-to-consumer and B2B marketing are entirely different creatures. B2C marketers collect and analyze large amounts of data about consumers’ relationships to products. They may use sophisticated tools to do so, but the relationships being studied are fairly straightforward.
B2B, on the other hand, requires both data analysis and an understanding of business context. “Sophisticated research techniques, while valuable, are less important than understanding technical product applications or complex business models,” he says. “As a B2B market research professional you need to get the data right but you need also to be a strategist and approach each research project as a business case analysis.”
“B2B market research projects demand that you leverage a flexible tool kit of methodologies and may require you to invent one along the way.”
— Mark Towery, Managing Director, Geo Strategy Partners
After presenting a list of typical challenges facing B2B MRX (for example, the difficulty of finding, reaching, and interviewing busy industry experts), Towery provides his five keys to successful B2B/industrial market research:
- Accessing the right people. As researchers know, finding the ideal respondents for a B2B panel is not always a matter of consulting an existing list. As an example, Towery presents the challenge of reaching an oil rig worker to question him about personal protective equipment. Not every panelist is easily contacted or questioned by phone or internet and some may be scattered globally.
- Engaging experts in meaningful conversation. Getting experts to open up and share their thoughts requires more than research methodologies. Respondents need to feel that researchers understand and empathize with what they’re saying. “For better or worse,” Towery says, “the only way to have amassed the vast breadth of knowledge necessary to conduct effective B2B/industrial research is to have several years of experience and accumulated wisdom; then do your project-specific homework.”
- Realizing research and strategy are inseparable. For B2B market researchers to be most valuable to clients, they need to have an understanding of business strategy. “In the world of B2B, clients may seek tactical insights but are more likely to seek a strategy to position their company for growth. Research for the sake of research has zero utility. It is ultimately all about the business outcome.”
- Embracing ambiguity. B2B market researchers must be comfortable with the answer “it depends.” Large business purchases can be complex and may be weighed differently by different decision makers within a company. Engineers, often binary thinkers, may be a poor fit for this work. Towery stresses that great researchers “must be able to think in parallel patterns, synthesize volumes of information, combine intuition and analysis and question absolutely everything until nothing is left standing but the obvious path forward.”
- Being nimble and flexible. Marketers need to have a flexible toolkit with more than one methodology, because B2B market research and studies are rarely repeatable. “Every B2B/industrial market research project is an exploratory voyage of discovery as epic as the building of the pyramids or the race to the moon.”
Towery also offers a sixth bonus tip, his “ultimate key”: hiring the right people. He wraps up his article by listing the personality traits and patterns of thinking that make exceptional B2B market researchers.
To view the full article, including specific sample case studies to illustrate each of his six points, click here.