In B2B Market Research, It’s About Quality, Not Quantity

Online market research tools offer a cost-effective way to gain insight into smaller B2B customer bases. In Part 1 of this 3-part blog, we covered the strategic underpinnings of market research for SMBs; the what and why. In part #2, we get down to the hows. Specifically, online survey best practices. Simple, well-defined questions can be deployed on a DIY basis. If more complex, a hybrid of DIY and professional assistance might be in order.


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Online Research Tools: A Cost-Effective Way to Gain Insight into Smaller B2B Customer Bases

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

Michael McClellan, CBC (mmcclellan@plexusmarketing.com)
Plexus Marketing Group, Inc. (plexusmarketing.com)

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In Part 1 of this 3-part blog, we covered the strategic underpinnings of market research for SMBs; the what and why. In part #2, we get down to the hows. Specifically, online survey best practices.

No doubt, online surveys are among the most economical market research methods. To answer simple, well-defined questions, they can be deployed on a DIY basis. If more complex, a hybrid of DIY and professional assistance might be in order.

Best Practice #1: Figure out where a survey tool is a best fit

Before conducting an online survey, ask yourself:

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    • What key questions are you trying to answer? (Remember Blog #1: “knowing where you want to go”).
    • Are you trying to validate, or disprove, key hypotheses with your survey? If so, write a short statement regarding the information you want to validate.
    • What’s the estimated economic value to your business of the answers? If of low/ limited value, do you even need to conduct a research project?

Answering these questions, you’ll know the strategic purpose and potential value of your survey. You’ll know who you need to survey and can evaluate if the methodology fits the research questions and target audience.

In our first blog, we shared key areas where online surveys fit: defining markets, validating potential interest in a new product or service, and evaluating your company’s competitive position.

Best Practice #2: Figure out who you need to survey

If using a survey as quantitative research (i.e., short answer or multiple-choice questions; few or no open-ended questions), pay attention to sample size, and budget for 100 or more completed surveys to generate actionable data and insights.

Online surveys are a fit for quantitative research. You can cost-effectively survey larger numbers of respondents. Important when trying to compare responses between different market or customer segments.

Develop your sampling approach and plan to collect sufficient responses, so results represent (at the projectability level you desire) the entire market/customer segment being surveyed.

      • First, ask “which customer segments do I need input from to answer my questions (or validate hypotheses)?”
      • Assess whether there might be key market or customer segments that may differ significantly in their responses. If yes, establish quotas (sample sizes) for each segment.
      • Finally, approximate how many businesses or decision makers are in the key market/customer segment(s) being studied. This estimated “population size” helps in calculating sampling error (standard deviation) for your target.

Some guidance: A sample size of 400 completed surveys typically provides a precision level of +/- 4.9% at the 95% confidence level. That’s also enough responses to compare 4 different market or customer segments with 100 completed surveys each.

      • If you don’t need to conduct analysis for multiple segments, sample of size of 100 to 200 completed surveys will usually suffice.
      • For quantitative surveys, avoid samples under 100 surveys, as sampling error is typically too large to be useful.
      • If your budget won’t support 100 completed surveys, consider using a qualitative survey methodology. Our Blog #3 will provide recommendations for Voice-of-Customer and other qualitative research projects.

Best Practice #3: Avoid addressing too many questions or strategic issues

It’s better to focus on a smaller number of issues, no more than 3 to 4 strategic/hypothesis areas. This makes it likelier to collect sufficient data to answer questions with higher levels of confidence, rather than covering more areas, with less precision.

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    • Limit the fielded length of surveys (time it takes respondent to complete) to 10 minutes or less. Longer surveys lead to respondent fatigue, resulting in more bias and less reliable results.
    • A good rule-of-thumb: limit questions to 25-30.
    • If including 2 or 3 open-ended questions (a good practice to improve engagement and provide a barometer of how thoughtful your respondents are), ask even fewer. That avoids survey fatigue…and open-ends provide good contextual data for survey analysis.

Best Practice #4: Begin with a bulleted outline of questions

Following these steps, you already have a list of strategic questions. Check your bulleted list against your list of key hypotheses to validate. Fine-tune the order of questions, before creating the survey. Pay attention to likely thought patterns of your respondents. Good flow makes it easier for them to think about questions. This improves engagement and reduces fatigue.

    • Write the first 5 or 6 questions as “qualifiers”, so only well-qualified respondents complete remaining survey questions.
    • Divide the survey into sections, each section focusing on a key subject. This helps respondents focus their thinking on that topic, before moving to the next. They’ll find it easier to share their opinions, and you’ll end up with higher-quality data.
    • As a wrap-up, ask profile or demographic questions that didn’t fit the qualification section. These will be fast and easy for respondents to complete, and you’ll get improved profile information for analysis.

Best Practice #5: Know the capabilities of the survey platform

Online survey tools range in cost from free to not-so-free. Sometimes, it’s worth upgrading, or using a different platform. Especially true for specialized B2B survey applications (e.g. brand awareness survey vs. product usage study).

Think about sampling and reporting when selecting a platform. For example:

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      • Do you need a respondent panel for responses (e.g. hard-to-reach audiences, like purchasing agents)? Are you targeting current customers using your list, supplementing with external lists for higher-value prospects? Some platforms do this better than others. Having email or phone access to the platform’s support team can be helpful.
      • Because analysis and reporting of results can be time-consuming, consider features of online tools related to these steps. For example, does the platform make it easy to format specific charts/graphs differently from their default approach?  Can you easily combine data from different segments,  and still generate the charts you need? Not all projects require these capabilities, but they can be time-savers if your project benefits from them.

Final thoughts

If undertaking a moderate-to-high complexity online survey, consider engaging a market research consultant to assist in the process. Many research consultants offer services ‘a la carte’, so it’s possible to get assistance with survey design, platform programming, and/or analysis – so you can focus on other key aspects of the project, like initial survey concept, reporting and presentation.

Want to read the earlier and later parts of this blog? Here’s Part 1 and Part 3.

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

Michael McClellan, CBC (mmcclellan@plexusmarketing.com)
Plexus Marketing Group, Inc. (plexusmarketing.com)
10 Glenlake Parkway, Suite 130
Atlanta, GA 30328
LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkmcclellan/)


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