“Whenever I hear the phrase ‘primary research’”, said one senior marketer when I asked him about his customer insight plans, “I break out in a cold sweat. The process is going to be long, expensive and land me with a load of extra work.”

I didn’t blame him for feeling this way. Meaningful insight in B2B has long been patchy – easier to lay hands on in some markets than others, and generally existing at category rather than brand levels. The relatively limited data that has been available often incurs huge subscription costs. Of course, anyone paying for those subscriptions receives the same data – and, to justify the lofty price tag, there is often a lot of it. This means that detailed trawling is required to find new, relevant insights. So it’s no wonder that primary research often commands a premium – and that my client wasn’t filled with joy at the prospect of any of it.

Back to basics

For the most part, B2B marketers who struggle to justify research aren’t being lazy. The CIM’s famous definition of marketing states that it is “the management process of identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customer requirements profitably”. Indeed, most marketers I’ve spoken to wouldn’t disagree that the customer should have a strong voice in marketing development. But then, faced with limited budgets on the one hand and exorbitant demands from suppliers on the other, they feel they have no choice but to rely on a combination of sales team anecdotes, instinct, competitor activity monitoring, and trial and error to second guess what the customer wants. This is unreliable at best, downright misleading at worst.

It’s time to get back to first principles. Research shouldn’t break the bank, and it shouldn’t break the ‘to-do’ list. Indeed, the very point of research is to stop unnecessary wastage, and inject energy and focus into strategic development. Simply put, listening to what the customer wants should stop your business saying things that she doesn’t want to hear. In theory at least, it should be possible to question the customer at a relatively low cost, and to report back the answers without the aid of a foot-thick presentation.

It’s not a problem of your making – it’s hard, but it can be fixed

So why has it proven so difficult to develop a supply chain that is capable of doing this? Three reasons spring to mind. The first is that many B2B categories are complex, and the levels of domain knowledge required to even start planning customer research are considerable. How many commercial research firms specialise in the minutiae of the data warehouse market?

The second is that sample sizes in some B2B categories are notoriously small and hard to reach. When you have a total universe of 750 senior and busy buyers, how feasible is it to source a statistically robust sample?

The third, and perhaps most pernicious, reason is that the first two reasons seem to have dampened down demand amongst B2B marketers. ‘There’s no way of doing this well, so let’s just accept what we’ve got.’

But it’s the market that is broken, not the principle of research itself. Of course, the great thing about markets is that they can be disrupted, and fixed.

And that’s precisely what we’ve set out to do.

How can this market be disrupted?

At Aperture, we’re valuing insight over industry. This means a number of things.

Firstly, it means that we’re building specific B2B specialisms into our team. We have talent with deep domain knowledge in mobile, fintech, enterprise tech, broadcast and media, and a host of other areas. This makes it possible for us to have meaningful conversations with our clients and their customers.

Secondly, we are rolling out proven methods of accessing and developing relevant insights from smaller groups of B2B buyers. Psychological insight tools go deeper than traditional research; they also have an astonishingly high take-up rate, owing to the fact that participants benefit from useful insights at the end of the questioning process. This creates robustness and overcomes sample size issues.

Thirdly, we have replaced the traditional 100+ PowerPoint chart debrief with a simple worksheet format that allows any insights to be communicated clearly, credibly and accessibly across a business. Brevity forces the conversation to focus on the vital few things that a client needs to know to improve their marketing. This creates momentum.

Finally, we are structuring ourselves in a way that allows us to undercut the expensive and low-value data offered by much of the current B2B research supply chain, and deliver higher quality bespoke research at a lower cost than many generic subscriptions. This improves value.

Ultimately, demonstrations of industry are only necessary when the bill is high and the value is low. It’s time to re-educate B2B marketers everywhere that an insight only take a few sentences to communicate – and, in the right hands, it’s priceless.

Richard Fogg

Richard Fogg

Richard Fogg is CEO of Aperture, a consulting and advisory firm for B2B organisations seeking to transform sales and marketing performance. The firm offers two things. The first is disruptive insights into buyers and markets. The second is practical advice about how to turn those insights into action.
Richard Fogg