Companies in the manufacturing and wholesale distribution space have some unique challenges when it comes to doing the kind of B2B market research necessary to inform their business strategies. In B2C, market research methodologies typically fall into two basic categories: quantitative and qualitative:

Quantitative research is research that is performed with the intention of measurement. You are looking at numbers that describe the size of a market or segment, market share for a brand, how often consumers purchase certain types of products, etc. Quantitative research requires large sample sizes in order to provide statistically significant information.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, is more interested in trying to gain a more nuanced understanding of how or why people do what they do. Statistically significant samples are less important, but you still need enough information to draw reasonable conclusions.

In B2B, finding large sample sizes is often challenging, due to the difficulty of finding a large enough number of the right kinds of people (whether they are in certain industries and/or roles in their companies, for instance) who are willing to share information. This makes true quantitative analysis difficult. Qualitative research is therefore more common, yet it can be difficult as well.

Some of the tools that B2B companies can use to conduct market research include:

  • Search tools: Google is not the be-all, end-all of research by any means, but it is a great place to start whenever you need information. Google Analytics’ keyword tool is great for keyword research, which can tell you a lot about the kinds of things people in your market are searching for. Google Trends can also give you insight on what is happening in your market. You might even get lucky with Google search and find published results of qualitative research that has already been done relevant to your business.
  • Stakeholder or influencer interviews: These are a tried and true method of conducting B2B market research across a wide variety of industries, and are great for providing in-depth, detailed information that other tools simply can’t match. However, the risk is that sometimes this information can be more anecdotal in nature.
  • Email survey: If you do email marketing, surveying your lists can sometimes provide valuable market information depending on the size of your database and the types of questions you plan to ask. Your survey can be simple or complex, and can even be put together in a simple online tool such as SurveyMonkey, depending on your needs.

Why is B2B Market Research So Hard?

Why is B2B market research so difficult? Here is a short list of challenges B2B companies may face when doing market research:

Every business is different: Businesses are unique, and the decisions they make depend on a variety of factors, like location, industry, company size/structure, and more. Any attempt to lump them together into large groups can provide meaningless results.

Finding the right people: B2B market research may require you to find specific individuals within particular types of businesses, whether they’re decision-makers at a particular level in the company hierarchy, or in a particular department like sales or marketing.

Group decision-making: On the other hand, one of the hallmarks of B2B is that decisions are not typically made by a single individual, but rather, by groups of people who may each have different objectives. Therefore, you may have to survey people across a wide range of departments.

Time is short: The right people to ask about high-level strategic questions are typically executives or business owners, who are extremely busy. In other words, you’ll have to deal with busy professionals who may or may not have time to answer your questions with the level of detail you need.

Willingness to share information: Assuming you do find the right people to ask, getting them to actually share meaningful information can also be difficult, particularly if the information could be classified as competitive in any way. But even when a research subject’s reticence isn’t due to fears of losing their competitive advantage, there’s an even more basic question: why should they talk to you at all?

In the face of these challenges, here are some tips that will make your job easier:

1) Experience matters: You need an experienced professional who knows how to identify the right people to ask and asks the right questions. Partnering with a B2B market research firm that knows your industry is a huge plus in this regard.

2) Leverage relationships: People will be more likely to provide information if you have a pre-existing relationship. If you are hiring an outside firm to do your B2B marketing, you’ll need to pave the path for them to speak to the right people by working with your contacts within the companies you are targeting.

3) Make it easy for your respondents: Remember how packed your respondents’ schedules are; it’s important to make it easy to respond – online surveys and questionnaires are great. If they’re incentivized with a gift card or raffle drawing, even better.

Is your company doing B2B market research? Which methods are working best? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.