The components of a B2B vs. B2C market research project are very different. From the sales cycle, to the buyer’s journey, to the customer base, to pricing models, to the product complexity and more, almost every aspect of a B2B product is different from B2C. Here’s how those differences result in different strategies and approaches when conducting B2B market research.
Hi, my name’s Sean Campbell and I’m the CEO of Cascade Insights. If we were to crack open your average B2B market research project and look at it from the inside, and we were to contrast that with the B2C market research effort, we would notice a lot of differences. And those differences are driven by market dynamics, like how B2B purchases and engagements play out versus B2C.
So I want to talk about a few of those because they drive a lot of the decisions you make when you’re designing a B2B market research study.
The Buying Committee
The first one is the buying committee. In a B2B purchase, a buying committee is typically going to be at least five to six people. You’re going to have C-suite. You’re going to have stakeholders. You’re going to have line-of-business people. You’re going to have technical people. You’re going to have procurement people.
So this buying committee’s going to be at least five to six people. It might even be ten. Now, when you contrast that with a B2C purchase a lot of times it’s just an N of one. I mean, maybe you have an influencer or two. But for example, if somebody goes out and buys Halo Infinite, that’s kind of an individual purchase, right?
I want this game for my console. And sure, they might be influenced by someone, but at the end of the day, they’re the one making the decision with their money. On a B2B standpoint, though, you always have a bunch of people signing off on the decision. For example, instead of buying Halo Infinite, if you were to buy a Boeing 737, there’s going to be a lot of people that are going to weigh in on that decision.
So the other thing that tends to drive kind of study design beyond this, who do we interview in the buying committee? Do we interview everyone or do we exclude certain roles? You know, what’s kind of our decision tree on that? Is this idea of an impulse buy versus something that might take months or years to come to fruition.
Length of Buying Cycle
In B2B, most purchases don’t happen overnight. They don’t happen over the span of a few weeks. In many cases, they take months or years to happen. And there are certainly some exceptions to that. Like, for example, some software as a service cloud services can be purchased fairly just right away.
But the evolution of that organization using that service more and more, and it propagating throughout the organization to the point where hundreds or thousands of users are using it. Even there, that’s going to take a few months. You contrast this with a B2C purchase where again, to go back to Halo Infinite, this is pretty much an impulse buy.
You can be sitting on the couch, decide you want to play it, put in your credit card, and minutes or hours later it’s downloaded and you’re smashing the buttons and playing away. Right? So, it’s a very different kind of time pattern that you’re dealing with. For example, when you’re conducting a research effort in B2B, you need to have the ability to kind of walk somebody through a purchase process that might have taken months or years. So, there’s a lot of probing to do there, just even from that standpoint alone.
Then there’s this issue of pricing complexity. When we go buy a gallon of milk, we don’t have to bring a spreadsheet along with us to figure out what the milk is going to cost. But the same isn’t true for a B2B purchase.
Almost any purchase in B2B comes along with the complexity of a spreadsheet and multiple options. And what’s our price versus someone else’s price based on who we are as an organization and how many users we, or you know our usage pattern for the service and things like that. And certainly there’s some publicly stated prices in B2B, but what you find very quickly is that those are usually pretty quickly discounted for almost anybody.
So whatever you see as a public price might not really be the price that’s being paid. So if you’re trying to understand, for example, competitor pricing, it’d be kind of dangerous to just assume the public price is the price. So, obviously this leads to some design choices when you’re thinking about B2B market research.
Another factor is product complexity itself. So there’s this issue of just the product by itself is just a lot more complicated. When you think of a video game or a video game console. By definition these things are not that complicated. I mean, sure they might be challenging depending on what game you’re playing, but they’re not complicated to implement or set up buying a passenger jet.
Completely different experience. You have so many different people that have to be involved in making sure that that aircraft is airworthy and that your pilots know how to fly it and that you have basically the right facilities to maintain the aircraft and all of that kind of stuff, right?
And so if you’re going to do research on a business to business space, very typically you need to actually know the space pretty well. You can’t just go from one project where you’re working on something for a candy company to then working for something for a pharmaceutical company and then go do something for high tech.
It just doesn’t really work that way because you can’t really plumb effectively the complexity of that when you’re engaging with a research participant. And if it’s not about more of a qualitative approach where you’re engaging directly, the same thing’s true when you’re trying to design a survey instrument or something like that.
You wanna have it be something that really resonates and addresses the needs of that audience. So you’re getting at real world problems and then you can develop real world solutions.
Target Population Size
And then perhaps the final thing, and this is huge when it comes to designing B2B market research studies versus B2C, is just the size of the target population.
When we think about video game consoles, it’s probably fair to say that not everybody has a video game console, but lots and lots and lots of people have video game consoles. If you’re going to do research on a new game or a particular console, your issue really isn’t, does someone have one?
Your issue really is what slice of that market, you know, from a demographic standpoint, do I want to zero in on? And certainly if you make that narrow enough, it might be hard to find, uh, enough people that have a console with that demographic, but you don’t have this fundamental problem that not enough people have consoles to begin with.
You contrast this with B2B, you may have scenarios where an organization only has a couple hundred or at most a thousand customers because they’re very invested in their customers’ organizations, and they provide a very complex solution. For example, passenger jets are only sold to so many airlines around the world.
You know, certainly it’s more than a couple hundred, but we’re not talking about a million airlines. And so you have this kind of narrowing of the market that automatically impacts a lot of things. It impacts market research, recruiting. It impacts the kind of research effort you might be able to do.
Maybe you wanted to do quantitative, but you don’t have a large enough population that you’re targeting and you have to think about doing qualitative instead. And you just don’t typically run into this nearly as often with business to consumer research.
To sum up there’s a lot of things here that can impact a study design, and you have to know this going in. And if you know these things, you can be really well set up to design a well-crafted B2B market research study that’s going to drive really good business outcomes.