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How to conduct B2B quantitative research – key tools and advice

How to conduct B2B quantitative research – key tools and advice
Contents

    1. Why is quantitative research necessary in B2B?
    2. What types of projects are best suited to quantitative research?
    3. What is best practice in B2B quantitative research?
    4. How can we recruit B2B decision-makers for quantitative research?
    5. What are the key methods for conducting B2B quantitative research?

1. Why is quantitative research necessary in B2B?

Quantitative research is a critical tool for B2B researchers for several reasons.

First, many B2B research projects are used to inform critical business decisions. A large number of interviews are required to ensure that the insights underpinning these decisions is statistically valid. Quantitative research is the only way to speak to many B2B decision-makers in a cost- and time-efficient manner.

Second, quantitative research is more structured. You can control which questions are asked and how they are asked. This greater consistency means that it is easier to compare responses between different decision-makers. It also limits the bias that can be introduced by an interviewer.

Third, quantitative data sets can be the foundation for some fascinating analysis. You can combine survey data with other data sources to elevate your understanding of the target audience. For example:

You can also use the data to do some statistical analysis (such as conjoint, regression – see later for more information). B2B markets are complex, and statistical models can provide a deep understanding of the target audience that cannot be obtained through a simple quantitative analysis.

Ultimately, quantitative research is most valuable for contentious internal issues. Internal stakeholders are more likely to accept contradictory insights when they are based on a structured survey of a large number of decision-makers, rather than a small amount of exploratory discussions.

Of course, quantitative research has its downsides, and there are many situations when qualitative research is more appropriate.

That is why we often recommend conducting qualitative research and then quantitative research. That way, a client gets the benefits of both techniques. Of course, the ideal is not always possible due to time and budget limitations.
 

2. What types of projects are best suited to quantitative research?

In our experience, quantitative research is the only way to undertake the following four project types:

  • Validating and testing a product or service concept. Once a product concept is developed, quantitative research is critical for helping researchers to understand if there’s demand for the product. Quantitative techniques can also be used to estimate the likely uptake of the product, and the potential revenue or profit that it might generate
  • Identifying the optimal pricing strategy. Similarly, quantitative research is the only way to understand the best way to price an existing or new product or service. Qualitative research might give some rough guidance, but no pricing decisions should be taken unless you’ve interviewed a large number of the target audience
  • Tracking and managing perceptions of your brand and performance. Let’s say that you want to understand how many decision-makers are aware of your brand, or what they think of your organization. Both qualitative and quantitative research will give you fascinating insights. However, if you want to track these perceptions over time, you need a technique that can provide you a single, robust number that can be measured consistently. In other words, quantitative research
  • Identify the change in market trends and patterns. If you want to monitor industry trends – for example, tracking adoption of a specific product category as part of an industry ‘state of the nation’ study – quantitative research is essential. That is because it allows you to measure a number, or series of numbers in a consistent, structured manner

The following project types typically require quantitative and qualitative research. Without quantitative analysis, the project outputs will be lower in quality:

  • Evaluating reactions to websites, marketing communications or promotional materials. Quantitative research will tell us how people might react to different materials, which can be useful to decide whether to launch them or not. Qualitative research is needed to explore why they react as they do, which can help to guide what needs to change to improve the materials
  • Exploring perceptions of a company, brand, category, or product. Quantitative research is an excellent way to measure functional perceptions of a brand, for example, ‘the percentage of people who see brand X as easy to work with.’ Qualitative research allows us to use techniques that unlock a deeper, more emotional, understanding of perceptions (e.g., projective questions – see later)
  • Identifying the optimal brand positioning or marketing strategy. If you’re going to design a brand positioning, or a messaging framework, or a channel strategy, you need a deep understanding of the target market’s needs and attitudes. That can only be achieved through qualitative research. But quantitative analysis is also required to validate the qualitative findings and test the recommended positioning or strategy
  • Developing market segments.
    Similarly, you can only build customer segments or personas if you have an understanding of the audience’s underlying needs and behavior, for which qualitative research is essential. However, segmentations are built on statistical analysis of quantitative data. Quantitative research is therefore at the heart of any segmentation project
  • Developing content marketing and thought leadership. Generally, most content marketing reports require quantitative research, which provides valid and statistically robust results. However, qualitative research is useful in providing quotes, case studies, and stories that bring the story to life

quantitative research project types
 

3. What is best practice in B2B quantitative research?

B2B research is unique, so some of the techniques that are used in consumer research do not work in B2B.

When doing any business-to-business (B2B) quantitative research project, we suggest taking the following into account:

Be comfortable with smaller sample sizes.

People are used to seeing consumer surveys based on large numbers of responses. B2B markets are smaller, and so are the sample sizes in B2B research.

That means that you cannot always ‘cut’ the data much as you might want. For example, you might be able to look at results by country, or by sector, but not by both country and sector together.

Similarly, specific statistical techniques may not be possible because they require larger sample sizes.

Be careful about where you are sourcing participants.

Research buyers often consider sourcing B2B respondents through research panels.

Panels are undoubtedly useful in the world of B2C research. However, they are rare in B2B research because the business model is harder to operate.

Decision-makers don’t have time to take part in panel surveys, especially given the lack of remuneration for taking part in panel surveys. Also, people move roles and companies all the time, so it is harder to keep a B2B panel up to date with granular information.

That isn’t to say that B2B panels are never relevant – they can be particularly useful for SMB decision-makers, for example.

However, lots of B2B panels are full of people who pretend to be someone else. It is essential to use a variety of techniques to ‘catch’ fake respondents – for example, balanced scales, logic traps.

If you’ve done qualitative research, use it.

Quantitative research does not do a good job of answering “why.” That is why we often conduct qualitative research before we do a quantitative survey.

Doing so allows us to gain some background knowledge that we can validate in the survey. It also provides us with words and phrases that can make our survey higher quality.

On projects with tight timings, it is easy to jump straight into the quantitative stage of research without actually incorporating learnings from the qualitative phase. It’s critical to ensure that qualitative insights are incorporated, otherwise you may as well have skipped that stage.

Don’t just speak to customers (or prospects).

Internal stakeholders, particularly client-facing staff, likely have a wealth of insight into the target audience.

There are several benefits to conducting a quantitative survey among internal stakeholders:

  • It helps us to understand what internal knowledge already exists. That means we can build on the foundation rather than telling the business what it already knows
  • It provides us with some hypotheses that we can validate in the external survey. Internal stakeholders may be basing decisions on incorrect views, and the research needs to correct that

Use a range of techniques to dig deeper and unlock hidden insights.

B2B decision-makers:

  • Don’t always know why they act the way they do
  • Are unaware of their subconscious thought processes
  • Are driven by emotions, not just functional variables

Certain statistical techniques allow you to unlock a better understanding of B2B decision-makers. For example:

  • Choice-based conjoint (CBC) is a statistical technique that simulates the decision-making process to identify which product attributes and structures are most attractive to the target audience
  • Regression circumvents humans’ tendency to over-rationalize to reveal the relative power of different attributes in driving supplier choice

To understand more about best practice in conducting a survey yourself, click here.

quant best practice

 

4. How can we recruit B2B decision-makers for quantitative research?

Consumer research agencies have it easy. Pretty much everyone is a consumer, so the pool of potential respondents for a research project can be vast.

It is slightly different for B2B research agencies. Our respondents – decision-makers within organizations – are a scarce resource, particularly when the study focuses on individuals in senior or niche roles.

The problem is not just that they are scarce. Securing the support of decision-makers is also tricky. Gatekeepers may be protecting them, plus they have limited time, and their focus is on improving their business, not taking part in research.

However, you can incentivize decision-makers to take part in the research if you use the right approach.

The most powerful incentives are ‘soft’:

  • In most B2B markets, people buy from people, and buyers and sellers tend to have a close relationship. Leveraging this relationship is the most powerful incentive of all. That means notifying a client about the survey and encouraging them to take part
  • Another powerful soft incentive is appealing to the curiosity of a decision-maker. If the research topic, or technique, sounds interesting, decision-makers are more likely to consider taking part
  • B2B respondents are time-poor, so it’s important to emphasize that the time they do spend on the research will benefit them in the long-run. We recommend emphasizing how research participation will help them and their employer through innovations or service improvements

These soft incentives aren’t always possible, and may not be enough by themselves, so ‘hard’/tangible incentives can be required:

  • A common approach is to thank respondents for their time with a financial incentive, often with a prize draw for a gift card or something like an iPad. That isn’t always appropriate, either legally (due to corporate bribery laws), ethically (due to the optics of giving well-remunerated decision-makers cash for their opinions), or practically (sometimes it isn’t even required)
  • A charity donation is a useful alternative – it rewards decision-makers for their time by appealing to their sense of charity, without any of the legal/ethical issues. It also allows clients, or respondents, to direct money to a charity that they support

In our experience, if you’re looking to persuade time-poor decision-makers to participate in research, a mix of soft and hard incentives works best.

 

5. What are the key methods for conducting B2B quantitative research?

There are three techniques for conducting quantitative research, whether in consumer or B2B markets:

  • Online
  • Telephone
  • Face-to-face (either through interviews at the respondent’s place of work, or through intercepts at events)

Face-to-face quantitative interviews are rare in B2B research:

  • It is a far more expensive technique than online/telephone
  • Decision-makers tend not to want to interviews at their place of work
  • Intercepts at events can be cost-effective, but tend to lead to a biased sample because the respondents represent a specific sub-set of the target audience

Online research is typically preferred because it is more time- and cost-efficient, but it is not always possible:

  • The target audience may not use computers or the Internet in their day-to-day work (e.g., lab workers, production line workers)
  • We may not have a list of potential respondents, or the list may not have quality email addresses. In that scenario, you could buy a list, but the response rate would be low

In those instances, the survey needs to be conducted via telephone (also called CATI). A telephone approach provides control over who participates, although the response rate depends on the strength of relationships with contacts on the list.

However, it is more expensive due to the labor costs of those calling people on the list. On the plus side, you can typically target or guarantee a specific number of responses, as telephone response rates are generally consistent and predictable.

If the survey is being conducted online, there are four potential approaches to sourcing respondents:

  • Sending it via email – this approach is free and allows you to control who is participating in the survey. The response rate will depend on how well your brand is known, and the strength of the relationship you have with the email contacts. For example, if you just email a list of contacts that you have purchased online, the response rate will be low
  • Buying respondents through a panel – this approach sounds great in theory. Interviewees have already signed up to take part in research, so you typically know in advance how many responses you will get. You have to pay to access the respondents, but the cost is often worthwhile. However, the reality can be different. First, not all audiences are available on panels – you won’t get senior decision-makers, and any agency that claims that senior B2B decision-makers are present on panels should be treated with caution. Second, as mentioned above, you have no control or visibility over who is taking part
  • Embedding the survey in a website or newsletter – this can allow you to gather responses by getting the study in front of a potential respondent when they’re close to the brand or product category covered by the questions. It’s typically a cost-effective way of distributing the survey, unless you have to pay for the website banner or newsletter presence. The downside is that you cannot guarantee how many responses you will achieve. Besides, you cannot control who is taking part in the research
  • Finally, distributing the link on social media – same as ‘embedding the survey in a website’

 

Summary

1. Why is quantitative research necessary in B2B?

First, you can conduct more interviews in a cost-effective manner, which is useful when the research is going to inform critical business designs.

Second, quantitative research is more structured, which limits bias and makes it easier to compare responses.

Third, quantitative data sets can be the foundation for some fascinating analysis (e.g., combining with CRM data or doing statistical analysis). Finally, it can help to settle contentious internal issues.

2. What types of projects are best suited to quantitative research?

Quantitative research is the only way to: validate and test a product or service concept; identify the optimal pricing strategy; track and manage perceptions of your brand and performance; identify the change in market trends and patterns.

Quantitative research is also needed, in parallel with qualitative research, in order to: evaluate reactions to websites, marketing communications or promotional materials; explore perceptions of a company, brand, category or product; identify the optimal brand positioning or marketing strategy.

3. What is best practice in B2B quantitative research?

First, be comfortable with smaller sample sizes than consumer surveys. Second, be careful about where you are sourcing participants. Third, if you’ve done qualitative research, use it. Fourth, don’t just speak to customers (or prospects). Finally, use a range of techniques to dig deeper and unlock hidden insights.

4. How can we recruit B2B decision-makers for quantitative research?

Use a mix of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ incentives to recruit time-poor decision-makers. ‘Soft’ incentives include: leveraging the relationship they have with their Account Manager; positioning the research so that it sounds interesting; emphasizing how the research will help them in the long-run. The best performing ‘hard’ incentives are prize draws and charity donations.

5. What are the key methods for conducting B2B quantitative research?

Online research is typically preferred because it is more time- and cost-efficient, but it is not always possible – for example, you may not be able to access a list of potential respondents. In those instances, the survey needs to be conducted via telephone.

Chris Wells
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