The Most Under-Used Question in B2B Market Research


We b2b market researchers are guilty of asking lots of questions. Too many. We like the tangible and the specific. We want to understand what a respondent buys, how often, in what quantities. What do they think of this supplier and that? What satisfaction score do they give? Too often we forget to stand back and ask ourselves “Do I understand this customer?”

One of the most valuable questions, asked towards the beginning of an interview, is “Tell me about the main challenges you face in your job” or closely related questions such as “What are the main things that worry you in your job”. Yes, we know that for some people this is too broad a question and they have difficulty dealing with it, but we can guarantee you will learn a lot from the answers you do receive.

This one great question can provide more insights than a long list of badly formulated, leading or overly-prescriptive questions. Too many surveys cut out the most useful, fundamental questions in order to accommodate long lists of spurious specifics.

The value of asking respondents about the general challenges or problems they face is that it tells us about their worldview. What are the issues that are always looming? What are the everyday pressures they face? What might be influencing them as they make business decisions? This understanding helps us enter that respondent’s world. It tells us what makes them tick and what ticks them off.

Understand your client’s world and you quickly understand their basic needs, their differentiating needs, their unmet needs and their latent needs. The person whose main challenge is getting everything done in time during their hectic day is likely to require speed and responsiveness. The respondent who lies awake worrying about health and safety will want assurances about product quality. The employee whose overriding worry is tight budgets will possibly need targeting with a message that focuses on ROI.

The message is clear. Asking the right questions is more important than asking dozens of questions. And no survey should neglect exploring “what keeps you awake at night”.

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