B2B Insights Podcast #61: How to Ensure B2B Market Research is Strategic and Actionable

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B2B Insights Podcast #61: How to Ensure B2B Market Research is Strategic and Actionable

Market research can require a significant investment and it is vital for businesses to see a return in terms of business growth. Research is only valuable if it can be turned into actionable insights that drive growth and profitability.

In this episode of the B2B Insights Podcast, B2B International’s Tom Percival, Director of Business Development and Sales, and Simi Dhawan, Senior Research Director, discuss how to ensure B2B market research is strategic and actionable.

They define what actionable and strategic mean when it comes to market research, and then provide some top tips and best practices on making market research actionable based on B2B International’s experience working with some of the world’s largest B2B brands.


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Q1. Tom: First of all, before we get going, I think it’d be useful for our listeners if we can unpick the term “actionable” a little bit more to really understand what the term means. Simi, what do you think actionable insights look like in practice?

Simi: Whilst we want research to inspire action, I think it’s more than this since research can be inspiring but not have a practical value. As researchers, we’ll gather lots of detail but ultimately, it’s up to us to cut through the noise and offer our client crystal clear clarity on the ‘so what’ within the findings. The research needs to conclude with key recommendations and action points our clients can take to meet their original objectives. Often, the best research is based on a collaborative relationship between us as researchers and our clients as the experts in their business and business challenge. With that said, the onus to take action lies with the research owner and so there does need to be the intent and resources to take action versus the research being more a tick box exercise.


Q2. Tom: Great, so we understand that actionable insights are created from a collaborative relationship between the agency and client, as well as the buy in within the business to really action any strategies identified as part of the research. Based on your experience working with B2B brands, what kind of benefits have you seen when research has led to highly strategic insights?

Simi: Well as you mentioned earlier, market research can require a significant investment and the greatest return on investment is that it provides clear and actionable insight. We have many large b2b organizations who approach us with differing levels of experience when it comes to carrying out research. We might have a marketing department with concerns that their business could do more in the digital space, we might have a customer experience lead with concerns that their business is too product-led or we might have a product team that wants research to ensure a new innovation meets market needs.

There’s nothing more rewarding than someone who comes to us with a challenge or who is new to research but finishes it having experienced the value it brings. Highly strategic insights answer business problems and help our clients make informed business decisions, backed by research. We’ve countless examples from a scientific equipment manufacturer catching a blind spot in a new concept design resulting in a more successful product launch through to a recent client that following a post-research action-planning workshop, now has a program management team in place to help transform their business into one which makes things truly customer-centric, providing a more seamless experience at all stages for customers. The research should light that initial spark, and this can create wildfires in terms of momentum across the organization over time.


Q3. Tom: Now, the big question we’d like to consider is how to actually ensure that market research is strategic and actionable. From my experience, I’d say that this is not just something we need to think about at the very end of a project when analyzing data and creating a final report, but something that needs to be considered from the very outset. Simi, how do you think that a research project can get off to the best possible start?

Simi: You’ve hit the nail on the head – strategic and actionable research isn’t an afterthought, it’s effectively our compass from the outset. Clients can come to us with or without a formal brief but what’s key is that together, we properly define the research objectives and link these to a business objective. Often, there might be a question or business problem that needs to be addressed, but when scoping the study, we need to work collaboratively to understand the real question behind the question. For example, a marketing team might want to better understand their customers, but the real question might be how to truly focus their resources, efforts and attention on the right customers. In this example, we might want to utilize a targeted customer segmentation strategy to help our client target the right customers with the right propositions.

We should also remember that when linking the research to a business objective, this can impact multiple stakeholders or departments – from those providing the budget, to those leading the project and of course those tasked with acting off the back of research. It’s therefore crucial that we involve key stakeholders from the outset to ensure everyone is aligned, involved and engaged about what’s to come.


Q4. Tom: That’s really interesting and I agree that linking research objectives to business goals is crucially important.

If we now think about working together with clients during the project, I’ve always felt that we get to strategic and actionable insights when our clients have helped us get fully immersed in their business, whether that’s the technicalities of the category and market, or the background on their internal culture.

Do you tend to agree with that? Are there any other ways that we can partner effectively with clients during the project to ensure that the result is strategic and actionable?

Simi: I think that should go together with being a research partner. As mentioned earlier, whilst our clients are experts in their business, it’s important we get an opportunity to immerse ourselves in their world. Whilst good research is always independent and objective, interpreting the findings can be subjective and the more context we have, the better.

There’s lots that can be done to achieve this level of immersion – having an opportunity to delve into any internally-held data the client holds, whether that’s previous research or information about their clients and their business is always helpful. We can conduct upfront workshops to align on the actionable outcomes and expectations of key stakeholders. Equally, we can conduct depth interviews with internal stakeholders who can impart their expert knowledge – again, all very useful background information that can help us refine our approach, think more about the target audience to speak to and the all-important questions we want to ask, with the aim of meeting our research and business objectives.


Q5. Tom: I definitely agree with you there. Given that B2B research often gets quite technical, we really need to make sure we are fully immersed in the context in order to get the best results.

So moving on, effective data analysis is at the heart of market research, but sometimes with so much data it can be challenging to cut through the noise and really find those interesting nuggets of information. Do you have any suggestions of analytical techniques which can help us identify those critical insights?

Simi: I think as researchers, we should never underplay the critical importance of questionnaire design. I often liken it to the architect’s drawing for the entire project! We should keep the end in mind during questionnaire design to ensure we are asking the right questions in the right way to obtain the quality of data we need in our analysis.

If it’s qualitative, are we getting beyond surface-level top of mind responses? If it’s quantitative, are we asking questions in the right way for any statistical analysis needed? We also need to manage interview length and avoid respondent fatigue so again, it’s key to ask the important and necessary questions that can lead to strategic understanding or action, versus the nice-to-haves.

You asked about analytical techniques to synthesize the most important findings and again, when it comes to analysis, this needs to happen in stages. The first stage can be labor intensive, as we look at the raw data question by question to get a sense of the key story coming from the data. We’ll also conduct cross-analysis here – perhaps looking at differences by customer types, country or any other category of relevance.

However, getting to the ‘so what’ in the findings is again, always linking back the story to the research and business objectives. It’s utilizing the upfront immersion in our client’s business to add to our context and understanding when pulling out the most important headlines. Again, this is where collaboration is key between the client and research partner. It’s often useful to have an interim ‘first look’ of the findings with key stakeholders and seek their input and interpretation of the findings from their knowledge of the business or market. This can happen at the end of the project, but it can be valuable to explore the findings throughout the fieldwork process. Again, the context and discussion around interpreting the data can be as important as the data itself.

Tied to this, there’s huge value in running workshops or ‘machine room’ type sessions at the back end of a project to help our clients digest the findings and think about actionable next steps in the context of their business challenge. We often make use of frameworks to help synthesize findings and recommendations in our reports and we can utilize these when running any workshop exercises too.


Q6. Tom: Probably one of the critical points in a project is the creation of the final reports and recommendations. It’s not so much the case now, but in the past market research has sometimes been guilty of delivering too much detail with less attention paid to the ‘so what’. Do you have any thoughts as to how the final outputs of a project can be made more meaningful and engaging to a range of stakeholders?

Simi: I think we should think about our target audience and who will be on the receiving end as we cascade the findings. There’s often a range of stakeholders and whilst some might be interested in the detail, others want the key takeaways.

Over the years, we’ve learned the importance of offering a range of final deliverables to meet these different needs. We can report in PowerPoint and seek to make our slides informative and engaging, but as mentioned, we can also run workshops or disseminate findings in a video or webinar too. We’ve presented key summaries at client conferences but the jewel in our crown is the fact that we have a designated in-house design team who can create a range of creative outputs from infographic summaries to visual synopses of key findings.

Tied to exploring the ‘so what’, it’s worth mentioning that we also run our own B2B Superpowers thought-leadership research which is an annual tracker looking at trends amongst b2b buyers and we hold various b2b benchmarking data internally such as for NPS. Again, wherever it makes sense to, we’ll make project outputs more meaningful for clients by drawing on learnings from our own internally held data.


Q7 Tom: Thanks Simi, this has been a really interesting discussion. You made a good point there, we definitely need to make sure that the final outputs are relevant to the audiences in question, and I think that goes back to understanding the context and stakeholders as we talked about earlier. Also, these days we’re all so pressed for time that finding new ways to present information, whether that’s a dashboard or a video summary, is important in ensuring that the research is fully utilized.

So before we close I wanted to ask one final quick-fire question as a summary: if you were to give our listeners three top tips for making B2B market research strategic and actionable, what would they be?

Simi: Great question…everyone loves a rule of three! Ok here goes….

I’d say:

  1. Always ask yourself what’s the real question behind the question and start with the end in mind
  2. Collaboration is key between the client and the research partner – at all stages of the process
  3. Never underestimate the importance of good questionnaire design – it’s the architect’s drawing of the entire project and its success!


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