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The ultimate guide to B2B market research

13 min read
Knowing how your target customers are going to act and what they’re looking for can be the difference between business success and failure. Read our ultimate guide to B2B market research to understand how to carry out and use research to expand your business potential.

What is B2B market research?

B2B market research is the process of gathering data on what potential customers are looking for and what they need. The research can cover everything from brand perception, product fit, customer service requirements, sales and marketing strategies, and more.

It involves taking a sample of your target audience and understanding their motivations and preferences. By researching how your potential audience thinks, feels, and behaves, your strategic planning for attracting your target market will be more effective.

Not only that, but when you have them on board, you won’t risk creating an experience gap where your customers aren’t getting what they expect. You’ll be better able to predict future trends and tackle issues before they happen.

Differences between B2B and B2C market research

There are differences between B2B market research and B2C market research.

For example:

  • B2B research might be looking at more complex and niche markets. Enterprise and other large businesses often have very focused or very complicated market audiences, whereas B2C might be a bit simpler in nature.
  • B2B customers may need more convincing than B2C customers, which means research needs to be more in-depth. Your target audience will need greater incentives to choose you – so your research needs to be detailed enough that you can make the most attractive offer.
  • B2B customers might be more scarce – meaning you need to have a competitive advantage. Understanding how your offering is perceived when compared to your competitors is more important when the customer pool is smaller.

Free eBook: 2021 Market Research Global Trends

What are the benefits of doing B2B market research?


With business research behind you, you can more effectively target customers and encourage engagement with your brand. The more tailored your offering is to what they want, the more they’ll spend with you.

Up-to-date insights on customers’ mindsets

Your potential customers’ needs and desires may change frequently, and keeping up can be tricky. Basing your future plans on past customer behaviour might not be accurate. B2B market research can help you stay on top of any new developments and keep ahead of market fluctuations.

More significant customers

If you’re looking to target more than just small fry, you’ll need market research to understand exactly what your competitive advantage is – or what you have to do to get one.

Performance monitoring

Asking potential or current customers how you’re doing on a regular basis means that you can tailor your approach to fit their needs and expectations. Rather than guessing how you’re doing, you’ll have proof of your success (or failure).

B2B market research methods

There are many different types of market research, so it’s worth doing your homework before launching any research campaign. However, there are some common research types and tips that can help you to get started.

Primary research methods: pros and cons

B2B marketing research is usually divided into two types of research: primary and secondary.

Primary research is where your brand speaks directly to the target audience to get data and insights. This type of research can be qualitative research or quantitative research (more on that shortly).

Pros: This type of research gets to the heart of your particular audience, and gets words directly from your participants’ mouths.

Cons: It can be costly and time-consuming to gather large amounts of data and analyse it. Your B2B participants may not have the time or the inclination to help you in your research, meaning you need to make the experience quick, easy, and engaging.

Secondary research methods: pros and cons

Secondary research is research that has been conducted by a third party and is publicly available.

Pros: This type of method is important, as it can yield information from outside your experience that can inform your results. For example, asking people directly for answers (primary research) might not actually reveal their real intentions. Sometimes, understanding audience behaviour is easier when using secondary research.

Cons: You’ll have to evaluate what third-party data is actually useful for your needs. This research can also be biased, or be inaccurate – you need to check your sources thoroughly.

Qualitative research: pros and cons

Qualitative research involves the collation of data that can’t be summed up in numbers. It’s helpful for understanding potential explanations of behaviour, rather than providing an exact explanation. Using this type of research, you’ll be able to form a hypothesis about your target market and potential customers.

You might use the following methods for qualitative research: :

Pros: This type of approach is specifically useful for B2B market research as you might not have a large enough target audience to get quantitative data. Given this market’s complexity, you might need in-depth, smaller discussions to get to the bottom of certain behaviours or perceptions.

B2B decision-makers are also likely to respond better to a personalised approach, rather than being quantified. You can build a closer relationship with your customers if you ask them questions in a more personalised setting.

Cons: This is a time-consuming approach to research, and it can be difficult to analyse insights for comparison. The interviewer can also skew results, making it difficult to maintain an unbiased approach. For groups, scheduling can be an issue.

Quantitative research: pros and cons

Quantitative research collects information that can be defined numerically. It’s much more definitive than qualitative data and is often used to prove a hypothesis with empirical evidence.

You might use the following approaches for quantitative research:

Pros: Using numerical data makes comparisons easy, and you can gather a greater number of responses in a more cost-effective way. It’s easier to reduce bias as there’s no interpersonal element. B2B decision-makers are also able to easily fit this into their likely busy schedules.

Cons: Though you will get concrete data using this approach, it’s hard to get nuance from structured results summarised in numbers. There might be less incentive to respond to a questionnaire or survey as it feels less personal, and answers might not be as in-depth.

How to carry out B2B market research

Identifying your research topic: exploratory vs specific research

You might already know what you’re looking for when conducting your research, but sometimes you’re just looking for patterns and trends that you’re not aware of. This is where exploratory vs. specific research comes into play.

Exploratory research is generic and open, where you’re not looking for specific answers. You might use open-ended interviews with your panel or individual customers to get the lay of the land. Qualitative data is more helpful for this approach.

Specific research is for when you know the parameters of your research topic (a problem to solve, the success of a specific product). Your approach will likely be more structured and use quantitative data.

Choosing participants

Your participants are ideally formed of your target audience to get results that you can use to make informed strategic decisions. You’ll need a good sample size and a mix of participants to get useful results, and you should screen your participants for suitability before you carry out your research.

For B2B international market research, you might need to use a few different approaches to choosing participants. For example, you might:

  • Ask your current or forthcoming customers: The best way to understand what attracts customers you want to your business is to ask the people who’ve already followed that path.
  • Create your own research panel: This requires a lot of effort but can pay dividends, as you can access this panel repeatedly.
  • Access an existing research panel or buy a list: This is a costly approach, and B2B customers are unlikely to participate – but in some cases, it can be a good start.
  • Advertising on your website, a trade journal, or an industry community: Accessing participants may be easier if you advertise in spaces where potential customers might be.
  • Sourcing competitors’ contacts: Your competitors’ clientele are a good source of information for competitive intelligence.

Engaging your participants

Our best tips for engaging your participants are:

  • Personalising your approach to each participant
  • Offer multiple methods of response to allow for preferences and availability
  • Avoid carrying out market research at peak times of the year or day
  • Provide a good reason why they should take part in your research. This could be potential service improvements or tailored products, or a financial incentive to encourage them

Deciding on your B2B market research questions

The questions you decide to use can have a marked difference on the resulting information that you get. Choosing the right questions very much depends on what your goal is, and your questions will vary depending on whether they’re closed or open-ended.

Choosing when to carry your research out

You might have a specific reason for carrying out your research at a certain time – a new product launch, for example – but market research is useful at all stages of a B2B business.

You do need to establish a timeframe in which to carry out your research, however. This helps you to tie your results to specific instances and narrow down reasons why particular data has been gathered.

Collecting and analysing your data

The quantity of data you receive can be significant – so having a plan for how to analyse the information you get is key. This is where market research solutions, such as Qualtrics Core XM, can help.

How to use your B2B market research

Once you’ve completed your market research, it’s time to use the insights you’ve gained. It’s all well and good gathering information – taking action is where the true benefits of market research lie.

Here are a few ways in which you can leverage the data you’ve collected and get a good return on investment.

Create detailed market segments

You might use your B2B market research to create:

  • Buyer personas: Who within each customer business are you aiming your efforts at?
  • Customer segments: How can you create products and services that will fit the different types of customers you’re aiming to attract?
  • Competitive intelligence: What can you offer that your competitors don’t?

Improve brand perception

Your research can help you to tackle:

  • Brand perceptionHow do customers think of you? How aware of your presence are they?
  • USP: What is unique about your brand when compared to others?
  • Customer retentionWhy do customers continue to choose you over competitors?
  • Marketing strategy: How can you leverage your brand perception in your marketing and inform sales strategy? How are your current efforts perceived?

Develop products and services

By undertaking market research, you can get feedback on:

  • New product and service concepts: What do your customers want to buy?
  • Current product and service development: What are customers currently keen on, and how could you improve?
  • Pricing: How do customers currently feel about the prices of what you offer?
  • Forecasts: What will the market for your products and services look like in the future?

Optimise the buying process

You can utilise your market research to understand more about:

  • Decision-makers: Who makes the decisions about making a purchase, and how can you target them?
  • Drivers: What makes a customer choose one brand over another?
  • Wins and losses: Why did you win a pitch, or why did you lose a customer?

Measure success

Your research results can help you to track success across the following areas:

  • Brand equity: Does your target market think well of your brand? How aware are they of your existence?
  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty: Are your customers happy and will they come back?
  • Performance against decision-making factors: Are you successful in attracting customers with your price, ease of use, and more?
  • Product and service success: How successful are you in selling your products and services?

eBook: 2021 Market Research Global Trends