B2B International
B2B International

September 22, 2006

One of our Directors, Nick Hague, was interviewed about online research in this months edition of B2B Marketing Magazine. The full article is below.

TECHNOLOGY: MARKET RESEARCH

New technology is increasing the opportunities for quick and effective market
research campaigns online. But how do the results generated compare with offline surveys? Ian Sclater reports

SURVEYING ONLINE?

As with every other area of business practice, technology has had a major impact on how market research is conducted in B2B. Widely used in B2C, market research in B2B has not been fully utilised for a variety of reasons. A general lack of awareness of its benefits has often relegated it to an afterthought, with insufficient time allocated and too small a sample of customers questioned to produce a reliable response.

There is also a common perception that market research yields poor ROI, so it is often seen as a cost rather than an Investment. Many companies take the view that, because their market is relatively small, they know enough about it not to undertake a bespoke, focused research campaign.

In fact B2B research can reap the rewards as an integral part of any business marketing and development activity, enabling a company to determine aspects such as market-size, the state of the competition, likely buying habits of prospects, reasons for purchase and customer views. It can also cut out expensive mistakes, such as an ill advised advertising campaign or a questionable new product launch.

B2B research also reduces risk (especially when a new product or service is being developed), instills confidence in the marketing programme and helps to establish core success criteria. Smaller businesses in particular can benefit greatly, as they can see where to focus their limited resources for maximum gain.

Online market research

A key issue in B2B research is that sample sizes are smaller, which makes the information retrieved more reliable. Typically, surveys are based on 100 to 500 interviews (and rarely over 1000) in ‘universes’ of a few thousand.

Web-based solutions have improved significantly on traditional methods of market research, enabling the surveyor to reach many more potential respondents, and to broaden the scope of questioning. It is quicker for the creator to build a survey online and far easier for the recipient to respond, making it more efficient at both ends. Online methods are also much faster in both capturing and analyzing data and are relatively cheap to use. According to the Market Research Society, they currently account for approximately 11 percent of B2B market research.

Where online research has a big advantage over traditional methods is that respondents can look at it in their own time and deliver a more thoughtful, considered view. However, qualitative research is more difficult through an e-survey, since surveyors lose a degree of control through not knowing who is answering the questions, or exactly how they are answering them. Spam avoidance also makes it difficult to reach the right audience.

Ian Parkes, co-founder of B2B research specialists Coleman Parkes, says, “While technology has provided real cost and productivity gains, it cannot replace researcher skills in terms of question design and interpretation of the results. Online surveys are useful for a certain section of the market place, but they still cannot fully deal with qualitative interviews, open-ended questions and deliver the depth of telephone interviews. Once you’ve sent out a survey, it’s out of your hands. You can’t do a bit more probing. The real issue is turning the data into information and actions, which help businesses and that takes people. In market research there really is no substitute for the right approach.”

Selecting a software solution

Online and postal self-completion and response-wise reply rates are comparable and depend on a number of variables, such as the incentive offered and the relevancy to the respondent the fact remains however, that in this time-hungry world, a lot of hassle can be avoided by using an e-survey.

A basic form of online research is provided by web survey tools, which enable a company to setup an online survey and e-mail a link to recipients, encouraging them to participate. The surveyor can view the results via the site, but the method relies on recipients clicking through to complete the survey.

Email surveys, on the other hand, enable companies to email a full questionnaire to their contact list. Anthony Green, sales& marketing director at Concep – a specialist provider of interactive email campaigns- says, “From the recipient’s point of view, email surveys are very easy and quick to do, while all the sender needs to do is hit the ‘send’ button to their target list and the responses will be automatically collated.”

He continues, “The problem- and it’s the same with paper-based surveys- is with multi-choice responses. In a telephone interview you’re gaining more qualitative data. Email is a broader collection tool.”

Using its main product, Campaigner, Concep develops and designs an email template in line with a client’s brand. The client then uses the system on a day-to-day basis- including content creation and the setting up of web links – with Concep providing technical and tactical support. Green says that his B2B clients are getting a 15-20 percent average response rate when surveying contacts with which they have an existing association. By contrast one to two percent is a good response rate for paper-based surveys.

Green adds, “B2 B marketing is just coming of age. In terms of market research there’s barely anything out there. I used to be chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (JAB’s) B2Bcouncil, and the biggest problem we found was insufficient recipient email addresses to research in the first place. We knew what questions to ask, but finding the right people was difficult”

Don’t cut corners

But not all are so positive. Nick Hague, director of the market research consultancy B2B International, contends that these essentially DIY tools work to the detriment of good market research. He explains, “There are a lot of software providers who can transform anyone’s questionnaire into an e-format so that they can send it out to their list. This is the cheap route for quantitative surveys involving large numbers, and you can get up and running for as little as £150.”

However, he says that far too often the uneducated researcher doesn’t really think about the questions, the type of answers the respondents will give, or how that information will be used in the future. “Quite often we’ll get drafted in by a company who thought they’d cut a few corners and the only way we can deliver any worthwhile recommendations based on a survey that we didn’t design is by carrying out further research!” He continues, “Without knowing about things like incentives and reminders and how to phrase questions in order to get the right response, the DIY route is a bit dangerous. It has its uses if people are looking for something rough-and-ready, but without knowledge when developing a project, it can leave you in hot water.”

Where the qualitative online survey has come into its own however, is in the use of focus groups or panels. These are typically spread over two days in the form of a bulletin board, with up to 20 respondents invited to share their views on a subject and interact with other people’s comments. Respondents can participate from their own office, making it possible to convene high-level executives, such as directors, CEOs and FDs. Online panels can also be conducted internationally, if the participants all speak a common language(usually English),

On the rise

Parkes of Coleman Parkes believes that the trend towards online and email-focused research campaigns will increase and predicts that there will be continued integration between the different data collection methods, with systems becoming more user-friendly. He adds, “Analysis will be more focused on the business issues rather than the statistical ones. At present too much time is spent testing the results instead of interpreting them.”

Green of Concep agrees that integration of systems will be the biggest development, explaining, “Everyone’s looking to demonstrate ROI to decision makers, which is very hard to do when you’ve got search engines, websites, customer relationship management systems and email systems all running independently of one another. We’re focusing on trying to combine all these systems into one and from there to analyse every customer’s experience.”

Which survey solution? Factors to consider

• Mix of research to be undertaken. I.e. Online versus telephone versus face-to-face.

• Nature of analysis and level of complexity required.

• Cost: the minimum entry price is often too high for an SME.

• Ease of set-up and use.

• Questionnaire testing capability. Some have poor or rigid sample management.

• Service and support from the supplier. Will the system be supported24/7?

• Expandability of the system. How scalable is it?

• Look and feel plus nature of the tables.

• Reputation of the supplier and current user-base.

• Where applicable, language issues and how the system deals with translations