B2B Market Research: 3 Steps to Recruiting a Superb Sample

B2B Market Research: 3 Steps to Recruiting a Superb Sample

Sean Campbell
Authored bySean Campbell
Isa Gautschi
Authored byIsabel Gautschi

When it comes to B2B studies, having the right people is just as important as asking the right questions.

The efficacy of a B2B market research study hangs on the knowledge of its survey respondents, interview subjects, and focus group participants. Clearly, research teams should invest in recruiting study respondents that are qualified to bring insight to the business problems in question. It’s only logical. Otherwise, why bother with a research project at all?

This article is based off a B2B Revealed episode.

You can listen to the episode or read the article below.

B2B Revealed – ON: iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play

In order to find first-rate respondents for a B2B market research study, you need specialized knowledge of the industry. Much more so than you would for a B2C consumer study. Context is crucial. To use a skiing analogy, B2B market research is not a bunny hill. It’s a black diamond.

As a firm that does most of our market research recruiting in-house, we know that the process can be challenging. However, our high-quality respondents bring extraordinarily powerful new perspectives to our clients. Those strategy-shifting results make our elite market research recruiting well worth the effort.

Here’s how we do it.

Step 1: Don’t Just Take Anyone

Narrow it down.

Not everyone is qualified to be a good study respondent. At Cascade Insights, we spend a great deal of time figuring out exactly who we need to hear from to illuminate gaps in our clients’ knowledge.

Many teams we work with aren’t as meticulous. Like the skier afraid of anything with a steep slope, these teams have fallen into the habit of asking for only a limited number of requirements for market research recruiting.

Avoid outsourcing to panel firms.

Sadly, panel firms are a frequent go-to for tech companies when they want to shove off their recruiting efforts. This is not a good practice. For niche audiences like the ones B2B tech needs to hear from, panel firms typically lack industry knowledge and expertise. Panel firms simply don’t have enough context to identify and recruit respondents who can provide valuable insight.

Often, our new clients are startled at the emphasis we place on typical market research recruiting efforts. We recently had a client from a Fortune 500 say, “I want to talk to developers.”

“And?” we asked.

“What do you mean?” they said, sounding surprised.

“Do you want to talk to them about DevOps or the Internet of Things? Do you want to talk to development managers, architects, corporate developers, developers working for startups, developers building SaaS apps, developers who work with AWS or Azure?” We could have gone on and on.

You need to drill down like this right at the start of a B2B market research study. Without this kind of specificity, you won’t get the right people.

Get reallllllllyyyyyy specific.

Qualified respondents are essential to B2B market research studies. Say we want to talk to competitor customers for a qualitative research project. We would never stop at simply “competitor customers” as a parameter for market research recruiting. Instead, we would narrow our focus to customers that:

  • Bought from a specific competitor company.
  • Purchased a certain product or service from that competitor.
  • Belonged to a vertical or company size range that was of interest to our client.
  • Fit the buyer personas most relevant to our client.

Having the answers to these questions makes for a much more exciting and useful study. It’s also great for the client to have this type of strategic clarity and focus.

Get beyond broad phrases like “competitor customers.” You can do better.

Think more along the lines of, “Slack users who work for enterprise organizations in the manufacturing sector where the Slack deployment is sizable and has been in use for less than 12 months.” Now that’s a good respondent profile. You’re ready to start recruiting!

Step 2: Know Where to Find Quality Candidates

Look for them in their social media habitats.

The best place to start looking for excellent study respondents is LinkedIn.

A few years back, people would get very wary when we told them that we trust certain types of data from LinkedIn. They would say, “You can’t do that. My sister’s cousin’s best friend doesn’t believe in LinkedIn and he never updates his profile. That’s proof that it’s a faulty data source.” That’s what we call reasoning from a specific. Not a quality you want in a research firm.

LinkedIn is a goldmine.

Take a step back. Microsoft recently invested $26.2 billion in buying LinkedIn. That’s a huge investment to make in a platform with crummy data. It’s safe to assume Microsoft found some value (billions of dollars worth!) in LinkedIn’s data. Don’t let your sister’s cousin’s best friend arbitrarily discredit a great resource for your study.

When we approach B2B market research recruiting via LinkedIn, we hone in on study candidates’ titles, companies, and locations. Just those three pieces of information are quite valuable for identifying qualified respondents. Also, a subscription to LinkedIn Premium is much cheaper than hiring a panel firm or buying a third-party list to get the same information.

One caveat: take the job description section (not the title) with a grain of salt. LinkedIn users supply this information themselves and may play up or omit certain things. Other times, they may have neglected to refresh a dated description.

In our recruitment process, we take the job description section into consideration but we don’t value it as highly as the title, the company, and location. Before you start fretting about dated, obsolete profiles, remember that you’re not conducting a census, you’re drawing a sample. Every profile you look at doesn’t need to be perfect.

Company, title, and location = powerful data.

For example, let’s say you need 30 knowledgeable people to interview for a qualitative study about your competitor’s sales process. Search filters for company, title and location may give you a pool of, say, 2,000 profiles to consider. That means that it’s perfectly acceptable- even necessary- to rule out a majority of the candidates. You’ll still end up with more than enough stellar potential respondents. You don’t have to worry that some of those initial 2,000 people may have since changed jobs and not updated their profiles. That’s what screening is for.

From our experience, the title, company, and location data for potential B2B tech study respondents is rarely wrong. It happens maybe 5 percent or less of the time in our recruiting efforts.

There is an obvious reason for this. Lying on your LinkedIn profile is like lying on your resume. Someone is going to find out. When they do, that lie damages your professional standing and employment viability. Most people implicitly understand this. Sure, just like on resumes, many people inflate the truth a bit. But no data set is perfect. This is why we take the job description with a grain of salt. It would be much odder to lie about who you work for, where you are, and your specific job title. All of that information is rather easy to prove or disprove.

A little social savvy goes a long way.

Though LinkedIn is our favorite respondent hunting ground, we also sometimes leverage Twitter to great advantage.

For a recent project, we had to reach individuals who were quite familiar with the product Tableau. To find them, we searched for folks who claimed to be Tableau Zen Masters, a designation given to active members of the Tableau community. Searching for “Tableau Zen Master” on Twitter surfaced nearly a hundred viable candidates for our study.

Another time, we had to identify companies working out of the startup incubators funded by AWS and Google. These incubators provided startups with computing power, cloud services, and office space. The challenge with finding these startups was that the founders and development team members were unlikely to mention anything about their relationship with AWS or Google on their LinkedIn profiles. Further, unlike other providers, Google and Amazon don’t publish a list of the companies currently working out of their incubators.

However, both AWS and Google have Twitter accounts that market their incubators to new startups. With that knowledge, we started looking for Twitter users who were startup founders and were actively following one of the Twitter accounts aligned with an AWS or Google incubator account.  We then checked on LinkedIn to make sure these individuals were still with the startup listed on their Twitter profile. After confirming that the startups were residents of AWS or Google incubators, we just had to reach out to enough of these folks to get a good study sample. Of course, not everyone we reached out to was working out of one of the incubators, but a surprisingly large number were.

Go beyond social media.

We aren’t shy about getting creative to recruit the perfect study respondents. In addition to leveraging social media, we might look at speaker lists for conferences that align with our market research study question. If we’re looking for competitor customers, we may take a gander at the competitor’s case studies. We might even look at websites like SlideShare or individual forums and communities online to mine participants from these locations.

However, that creativity requires extensive industry knowledge of the B2B tech sector. You won’t find that in a panel firm.

Step 3: Personalize Your Outreach

Make ‘em feel special.

Let’s talk about outreach. After you identify your dream respondent profile and find a sufficient sample of them, you’ve got to convince them to actually participate in the study.

Here’s another area where panel firms are likely to make a mess of things. Often, third-party firms specialize in mass recruiting. Their outreach efforts tend to be very templated and rely heavily on form letters. This is no way to woo a busy specialist working in a unique niche of B2B tech. These respondents need to be interested and intrigued before they are willing to take the time to engage. A form letter isn’t going to entice them. Outreach for these prized respondents needs to be more individualized and specific.

In one recent study, we were focused on looking for individuals who could meaningfully comment on app stores. To do this, we looked for professionals who had spoken at major conferences where app stores were the topic of conversation. We also searched for influencers who were regularly sharing content on the subject via blogs and social media.

Once we had identified a pool of qualified respondents, we crafted highly personalized outreach.  We demonstrated that we were specifically interested in speaking to each candidate based on the public information we found about them online.

We say why we want them.

In our outreach, we include context for why we’re interested in each potential study participant. We’ll include relevant details from their public LinkedIn or Twitter profiles or information that is readily available via web search. This automatically makes our outreach personalized. It gives the impression that the person we are contacting is not just a fill-in-the-blank on a form letter but an individual specifically desired for their expertise.

Let’s say we’re looking for companies that have deployed a certain type of product. We might start by looking for individuals who mentioned that they have experience with that product on their LinkedIn profile. We’ll scan their job descriptions to see if they’ve claimed to have led a business initiative that leveraged that product.

In the outreach, instead of saying something generic like, “Do you have experience with GIS solutions?” we’d say, “Given you’re responsible for running the GIS department for the city of Denver and you’ve got a team of 12 all focused on GIS concerns, we would love to talk to you about the products you use today to meet business needs.”

Understandably, this kind of outreach is going to get a much better response rate than a generic form letter. So, don’t go the form letter route.

B2B Market Research Recruiting Can’t Be Rushed

The wrong people can’t give the right answers.

In sum, the next time you start a research project, ask yourself whether you know:

  • Who can best provide insight into the business problem.
  • How to find a sufficient sample of qualified respondents.
  • What information to include in the outreach to entice participation in the study.

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, don’t worry. Send us an email or give us a call.

This podcast is brought to you by Cascade Insights. By focusing on B2B market research and marketing servicesCascade Insights helps companies seize opportunities in the B2B technology sector. For more information on B2B market research, visit “What is B2B Market Research?”. 

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