B2B Market Research: It’s Not Just for the Big Guys Anymore

B2B marketing research isn’t just for the big guys anymore. Digital and hybrid methodologies make it faster, more effective, and more affordable. Market research is an excellent tool for establishing where you are, and clearly identifying a path forward. This blog is the first in a 3-part series, helping SMBs understand how to use research to help firms flourish.


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Digital and hybrid methodologies make it faster, more effective, and more affordable

By Mark Semmelmayer, CBC, Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications

Michael McClellan, CBC, President
Plexus Marketing Group, Inc.

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An old saying posits “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.” True in business and in life. That said, as a small-to-medium B2B business owner or manager, it’s unlikely you don’t have a well-defined goal. You know where you want to go.

However . . .

In times like these, is your old map still accurate? Still pointing the straightest, most direct path to your objective? Like natural forces alter physical landscapes, social and economic upheaval alters business landscapes. It might be time to confirm your map still matches the current territory.

Market research is an excellent tool for establishing where you are, and clearly identifying a path forward. This blog is the first in a 3-part series, helping SMBs understand how to use research to help firms flourish.

OK, we hear alarm bells in your head. “Market research? Too complicated and too expensive for us.” Old-school thinking. Digital tools have made market research more focused, practical, actionable, and affordable.

Affordable B2B research for SMBs involves, for the most part, a qualitative rather than quantitative approach. The difference? Quantitative research requires large numbers of respondents to provide statistically projectable information. It’s ideal for consumer research when marketing to a mass audience.

B2B is a different dog. Offerings are generally more focused and niche-oriented, prospect bases smaller and better defined, and the buying process more rational. These factors lend themselves to a qualitative approach, where research results provide narrower insights, based on fewer responses, to provide actionable findings.

First, bona fides re: your co-authors. Mike runs a successful market research firm, specializing in B2B for more than 30 years. He’s worked for the “big guys,” but now focuses on SMBs. Mark had 30 years with a major manufacturer of consumer and B2B products, and now runs a small B2B marketing firm. Over that time, we’ve worked together, at the corporate and SMB levels, always with satisfactory results in terms of timing, budget, and outcome.

In a sense, this is a “twofer”, providing perspectives of both client and vendor, in a collaborative attempt to help frame your thinking on market research. Subsequent blogs will dive into tactical aspects. Here, we focus on that framework . . . because research is a strategic tool. Much like battlefield intelligence, it provides good ideas for the tactics needed to conquer business objectives.

B2B market research helps companies to:

  • Define their markets
  • Determine or validate there’s a viable market for goods/services
  • Measure changing customer needs
  • Gain competitive intelligence
  • Strengthen competitive advantages
  • Uncover new opportunities
  • Answer high-value questions
  • Empower companies to refine their offerings

In short, research provides a data set for guidance in making informed business decisions, especially useful for evaluating the dollar impact of those decisions.

Mapping the territory is a strategic tool . . .

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Research should give you a clearer picture of your positioning in a customer’s mind. That position can be defined by assessing three key attributes of your offering . . . and, by extension, your competitors’. It’s equally applicable in assessing current business, or opportunities for new offerings. Those attributes are:

  • Desirability: Products or service must be desirable, or the market won’t buy it
  • Distinctiveness: Customers should be able to separate your offerings from those of other players
  • Defensibility: Defining your strengths and weaknesses better positions you to counter or deter competitors from gaining strategic advantage

. . . and it doesn’t just impact marketing

We live in an increasingly integrated world. Look no further than your pocket. Your smart phone. Recently, a History Channel evaluation of the Top 100 gadgets of all time ranked smart phones #1. Why? Because they integrate many other Top 100s . . . like TV, radio, television, and the PC . . . into a single package. Most can’t imagine living without the convenience and capabilities smart phones offer.

Your enterprise should be no different. Manufacturing, Sales, Customer Service and Marketing aren’t different departments. They’re what a company does to satisfy customers’ needs. Market research and analysis provides opportunities to improve any or all these functions. Some examples:

  • Manufacturing/product development - What do customers need? Can we deliver a better, or cheaper (or both) offering to meets those needs?
  • Sales – What’s the buyers’ journey like? How can we be there, at the front of the welcome committee, at every rest stop along the way?
  • Customer Service – No doubt, the most profitable business is business retained, not new accounts we beat the bushes for. Can we better serve current customers, to create or retain loyalty? How can we turn service into an advantage over competitors?
  • Marketing – What are customers’ pain points? What messages can we deliver that promise immediate, soothing relief? Where and how do we deliver them, so they think of us first (we think that’s called “branding”)?

Get these elements of your enterprise humming together, and you’re a powerhouse.

Bottom line, market research’s role is providing clearer vision, facilitating better business decisions, on many fronts. Vision that drives you to be the first . . . and best . . . solution, in the minds of customers, to fill their needs. To get pithy about it: “If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? ( ______ ) ” Fill in the blank. (Bet 99% of you can.)

That’s where you want to be.

A parting thought, regarding “DIY” research. Today, numerous free or low cost, online research tools provide applications a firm can independently deploy. Appropriate in some instances, but not when complex or far-reaching business intelligence is needed. That’s best left to – or at least implemented with assistance from – “the pros.”

Einstein said, “True genius lies in asking the right question. The solution is just mathematics.” That’s the role of a research professional. They know how to ask the right questions and provide the analysis needed to make information actionable.

Thanks for listening (wait . . . what . . . this isn’t a podcast???). Subsequent blogs will discuss online research options, and hybrid online/personal methods, often called Voice of Customer. See you again soon!

Need more information?
Mark Semmelmayer, CBC, Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
Saint Simons Island, GA

Michael McClellan, CBC, President
Plexus Marketing Group, Inc.
10 Glenlake Parkway, Suite 130
Atlanta, GA 30328

About the Author

Mark Semmelmayer, CBC, Chief Idea Officer, Pen & Ink Marketing Communications

Mark Semmelmayer, CBC

Mark is a past international chairman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), the 2015 recipient of BMA’s prestigious G.D. Crain Award and an Inductee into the Business Marketing Hall of Fame. A 40-year B2B marketing pro, including 32-years with Kimberly-Clark, he’s the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Saint Simons Island, GA.


About the Author

Michael McClellan, CBC, President, Plexus Marketing Group, Inc.

Michael McClellan, CBC

Mike is founder and President of Plexus Marketing Group, Inc., an Atlanta-based B2B market research firm with over 30 years’ experience conducting research and Voice-of-Customer studies for companies like General Electric, John Deere, Kimberly-Clark, and Siemens, as well as a host of SMB and agency clients. He previously worked in product marketing and sales management for Monsanto, and served with Business Marketing Association at both the international director and chapter levels.