I was delighted to participate in last week’s Market Research Twitterversity. The topic was Project Management, and I was a “guest professor” for the session on Special Considerations for B2B Research Projects.
B2B Market Research: How Is It Different?
The first step in preparing for this session was defining what made B2B market research projects different than those focusing on consumers. Many factors are very similar, but there are two important things that stand out as very unique:
- B2B purchases are complex: Businesses have a lot of stakeholders who impact purchases – economic buyers who own the budget, end users who drive requirements, procurement, legal, and more. Decisions are often global, which adds cultural, language and timezone complexity. Understanding these behaviors and incorporating them into the project is vital to ensuring that research goals are met.
- Participants have jobs: The reason why you want to talk to participants in B2B projects is that they work for companies. But that means your potential participant pool is busy, has other priorities, and is frequently very well paid. It’s harder to get their attention.
Managing Schedule Risk
When talking project management, a typical question is “How long do these projects take?” We’ve blogged about this topic before, and have given general guidelines. However, the key to meeting any schedule is identifying and managing timeline risks. At Twitterversity we discussed schedule risk specific to B2B projects, and gave some tips for handling it, including:
- Plan for no-shows: Participants have jobs and those always take priority. No shows are a fact of life in B2B research. Either put time in your schedule for rebooks, or over-recruit to meet project goals.
- Be realistic about customer information: Companies often have terrible information about their own customers, or there is an account manager that must give permission before you can make a call, or there are strict usage guidelines for communicating via email. Any of these things can derail a project schedule. If your project depends on customer information, have a “straight-face” conversation early on with the gatekeeper of that data to find out the real status of that information and your ability to access it.
- Understand confidentiality issues: You must find out if participants are unable or unwilling to talk about their business in front of their competitors. And this has to happen BEFORE they are all sitting together in a focus group. If you are aware of issues early, you can build the project to ensure that no participants from competitive companies cross paths.
- Capture international needs: Regulations, language and cultural differences are often important findings in a research project, but discovering those adds complexity to the project and must be managed.
- Understand verticals: Is there only one vertical that matters? How are those weighted? In B2B projects it can be particularly important to understand the importance of government, non-profit, and education since those three verticals purchase very differently. Do you include, exclude, or perhaps even over-represent those?
In spite of these extra considerations, B2B projects can be very rewarding. We are always learning something new!
For any research project – not just B2B – stakeholder management is important. We recommend Patty Azarello’s great blog. It is not research-specific, but it gives some great insights into how to manage your stakeholders.