Have you ever wondered about your customers’ unfiltered opinions about a product or service? What if you could read a daily diary of a user’s experience as they learn to use your cloud service? That’s the type of access and insight B2B longitudinal research can achieve.
Longitudinal research is a study conducted over a matter of weeks or months as participants interact with your product or service. This type of research delivers detailed, in-the-moment feedback from developers, IT implementers, and business users.
While other methods tend to reveal a snapshot of a user’s experience, longitudinal research reveals patterns of behavior. In turn, these patterns reveal nuanced problems and opportunities with your product or service that other research methods may not expose.
B2B Longitudinal Research Use Cases
Here are some examples of questions that longitudinal research can answer.
- How do customers feel about on-ramping your product or service? You’ll learn about significant obstacles such as functionality and feature issues. You’ll also discover smaller, more annoying problems like UX or UI difficulties. Most significantly, you’ll understand how easy or difficult it is to learn your product and why.
- How easy is it to develop on your platform? Developing an application on a new platform takes time. For example, a developer migrating an application from on-premise infrastructure to AWS or Azure might run into unanticipated complications. To provide a better developer experience, a longitudinal study can reveal key areas to invest in.
- Are customers engaging positively with your content marketing? Do you know if your customers are viewing content or if they’re receiving it at all? How do customers act on regularly delivered content over time?
- What causes users to stop working with your product or service? You’ll learn the “off ramps” that cause developers to abandon projects.
- What are the downsides of using your solution? What are the different challenges users encounter each week throughout a project’s cycle? Are users able to schedule work accurately and be as productive as expected while learning a product? Why or why not?
- How do users react to issues with your product or service? How are users solving problems they encounter while using a product? Is it easy for them to find solutions?
B2B User Experience: An Inside, Real-Time View
Much of the user experience can be easily lost to memory.
People tend to exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events. They also tend to focus on the end of an experience over the middle. It follows that many minor annoyances and confusion or moments of relief and satisfaction will be easily forgotten when someone is asked to describe their user experience way after the fact.
You’re much more likely to learn about the true nature of user experience when you ask someone to recall how they felt this morning as opposed to one morning three months ago.
Longitudinal research records participants’ experiences daily or weekly as they are using a new product or service. This kind of real-time reporting reveals key details that would otherwise be lost to the frailties of memory.
Take the Lewis and Clark expedition. Meriwether Lewis was a prolific journaler, constantly recording in his diary during the expedition. Here are just a few events from his journals:
- Early in the journey, the team built an experimental iron boat that was so leaky it was unable to be loaded.
- On Lewis’s 32nd birthday, he was able to obtain three good horses from natives in exchange for “a uniform coat, a pair of leggings, a few handkerchiefs, three knives, and some other small articles.”
- As the Corps of Discovery traversed the Rocky Mountains with Shoshone guides, their food supply dwindled so much that they had to resort to distasteful dried soup.
- While navigating the Columbia River, a storm pinned the expedition in tiny coves along the north bank for six days.
In some ways, the Lewis and Clark expedition was a longitudinal study of the Corps of Discovery’s journey across the continent. Because of Lewis’ journals, Americans at the time gained richly detailed knowledge about the people, cultures, and terrain of the American interior.
B2B Longitudinal Research: The Caveats
Before jumping into a longitudinal study, there are a few things you need to know.
Firstly, they take time. Longitudinal studies typically take 2-3 months to complete. At Cascade Insights, we deliver results along the way, and you’ll be able to ask questions to an active cohort during a study. However, be prepared to wait as final findings only come at the end.
Secondly, recruiting can be difficult. A longitudinal study only requires short interactions – usually less than 45 minutes – but these interactions really add up over the life of a study. Not everyone is willing to make this kind of commitment over weeks or months.
Another recruiting complication involves finding people who are starting their journey in the same place, or phase. Phase is important because participants in a longitudinal study share their experiences with each other as well as the researchers. Participants in the same phase have roughly equivalent levels of experience or knowledge about the product they are learning. They can dive deeper into their shared experiences.
Conversely, studies with out-of-phase participants result in more generalized discussions. There’s little common ground to spark conversation.
If the only option is to work with out-of-phase recruits, they can be separated into groups based on their experience level with the solution being studied.
Use Their Platforms
Further, successful B2B longitudinal research should allow subjects to participate using their own research tools. This gets better results than requiring them to add or learn a new platform in order to take part. This makes participation easier and smooths the way for meaningful discussion.
Longitudinal Research is Worth the Wait
B2B longitudinal research is unique in its ability to closely track the user experience and how it changes over time. With real-time access to your target customers, you’ll understand how well your solution works for them in a way you’d otherwise never know.
This is what you can expect to learn from a B2B longitudinal study of your own:
- What problems users encounter with your product or service at different phases of adoption.
- How easy or difficult it is for users to learn your product or service.
- Whether or not your customers are able to solve problems they encounter while using your product, and how.
- Where exactly your product is succeeding or failing customers’ expectations, and why.
- Why your customers continue to use your product or abandon it entirely.
Interested in B2B longitudinal research? Consider partnering with a research firm that knows tech. With our focus on B2B tech, Cascade Insights knows how to keep participants engaged in a study until its conclusion.
Special thanks to Scott Swigart (President & CTO), Sean Campbell (CEO), and Philippe Boutros (Director of Systems Design) for advising on this article.