B2B market research - business to business methodology best practices phone survey screened callIf you’re sitting at your desk right now, and an incoming phone call arrives from a number you don’t recognize, do you answer it or let it go to voicemail? Or if the receptionist pages you with a call from a name you can’t place, do you take the call or ask to take a message?

If you’re like most people, you tend to avoid incoming phone calls, especially from people you don’t know. We have become so conditioned nowadays to conduct the bulk of our communications digitally, that a phone call has been rendered to the realm of emergency in many cases. We simply don’t talk on the phone the way we used to even five or ten years ago. Instead, we email…we text…we instant-message or chat.

What this means for the market research industry — especially in business-to-business applications — is that we have to accept the realities of modernity, but that we also have to get smarter about how we collect true representative data sets, and not just a bunch of potentially misinforming and under-representative clicks and input noise.

Survey Responses Aren’t Conversations

As market researchers, we have historically relied on personal, interactive conversations as the best possible means of truly understanding respondent sentiment. In a perfect world, all qualitative research would happen face-to-face in small-group settings, as that is the most effective means of capturing the true voice of the consumer. As we’ve discussed, if you truly want to understand what motivates a market or customer to make a purchasing decision, you absolutely must capture their true voice, and this is best conveyed through conversation, where there is back-and-forth dialogue and where a researcher can react in real time to responses returned to questioning. This is also where the complete range of communication happens, including both verbal and non-verbal expression.

B2B market research - business to business methodologies focus groups personal interaction Second to that preference is phone. You may be sacrificing non-verbal cues in this environment, but at least you are able to capture tone and other verbal cues, and you are also able to conduct actual conversation that moves in time with a respondent. You can ask the recipient “why,” or to elaborate, or clarify, or provide an illustrative example, and so on. The data collection is dynamic, and can evolve naturally wherever the conversation leads.

But here we find ourselves in the year 2019, and nobody wants to take the phone call anymore. So we are reduced to collecting more one-dimensional, and more static, digital data. Right? Maybe not.

Sure, digital platforms and electronic surveys have injected a certain expedience and convenience into the market research industry. But these tools shouldn’t be relied on exclusively, for the reasons enumerated above. Nor should we resign ourselves to the notion that it’s impossible in the modern era to gain the perspectives of individuals the way we used to. Quite the contrary.

The Workaround for B2B Researchers

While this dynamic affects both consumer research and business-to-business research alike, the implications are perhaps more pronounced in the B2B world for one simple reason. The B2B respondent pool is far smaller than that of the general consumer. If a researcher wants to canvas the general consumer population, blasting out surveys is an effective means of casting a wide net. For B2B, however, we are often looking for deeper engagement amongst a far smaller sample size.

In fact, for some of our clients, they need to only elicit the opinions of perhaps only 20-50 people…worldwide. These individuals are often in the C-suite. And if you think getting these folks to answer a phone is difficult, try getting them to spend 10-15 minutes on an online survey. Not likely to happen.

B2B Research best practices business relationship trust building handshake partnershipYou’re simply not going to blast out an email anonymously to decision makers at large organizations and expect to get the data you seek. Instead, you need to rely on an age-old truism in order to obtain the true voice of B2B decision makers. That truism? Relationships matter.

In our experience, these professionals are perfectly willing to have meaningful conversations with researchers, so long as there is a good reason to exchange their time for intelligence. They aren’t likely to trust blind outreach, but they are willing to help trusted partners achieve their ends. This doesn’t happen easily, or overnight. In fact, it might take years to build relationships and rolodexes. But when you do, you will find that the phone actually does get answered, conversations do actually happen the old-school way, and the true voice of the customer is expressed willingly and openly.

Modern technology has made it easy to start conversations. LinkedIn, email and other messaging devices facilitate introductions and can break the ice in many cases. But a blind email or message is no better than a cold phone call, so exercise caution when it comes to outreach that hasn’t been softened in some way. There are best practices to get emails opened, or LinkedIn messages noticed. Relying on a third party that has the rolodex will expedite the process, soften the outreach, and open the lines of communication way quicker than a blind survey solicitation. And the quicker you can get a decision maker on the phone, the quicker you will attain the insights you seek to inform your next major strategic decision.

Do This and Don’t Do That

As you consider your next research endeavor, keep the following tips in mind to ensure that you are getting the most accurate and complete data set from your B2B respondents:

  • DO spend time making sure the screener is done right. Acknowledging the increasing difficulty in getting to the right field of respondents underscores the need to make sure you are talking to the right people to provide the intelligence you seek. Bad screeners yield bad data.
  • DON’T distribute a digital survey without some level of qualitative, conversational research in preparing that survey.
  • DO pre-qualitative research (by phone!) to empower the market to help you craft your survey. In other words, before you survey the field, ask the field what types of questions you should be asking. Their input will be invaluable.
  • DON’T let the survey be the last step. Once you have gathered quantitative data from a sample, validate those learnings with conversational follow-up via phone. There is a great danger on drawing qualitative implications from quantitative responses.
  • DO rely on the experience of market researchers to construct your survey. There is both an art and science to survey design; and there is no value in getting bad data easily.
  • DON’T settle for suboptimal responses. If you need 100 responses, don’t settle for eight. “People didn’t answer their phones” is no excuse for not executing the mission your research team has been charged with.

Here’s a pro tip I will share with you: If you want to earn the trust and gather the perspectives of a decision maker in the B2B world, tell him or her that you have already begun the research and are hoping to share the results with him or her for further feedback or clarification. That person will not only respect the esteem you are granting, but he or she will want to speak with you to get a sneak preview as to what the rest of the industry is saying about a given trend.

It’s tactics like these that have helped us address the realities of communication in the 21st century. It’s not that people don’t want to talk on the phone anymore, it’s just that you have to give them a darned good reason to!

Do you need to get to B2B decision makers? Maybe we can help. Contact us today to have a quick chat about your ambitions.

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