Primary market research and B2B surveys are a crucial tool for business strategy and decision making. Done well, they provide data-driven insights into market dynamics, new sources of growth, customer and competitor behaviors, and the drivers of purchasing decisions. They also enable companies to define and quantify opportunities—and craft actionable ways to pursue them.
Unfortunately, the market research landscape is dominated by providers that use stale expert networks, static panels, and poor processes that ultimately deliver inadequate and unreliable results. Quotas are missed because providers claim there aren’t enough people who match the target profile. Large amounts of data must be thrown away due to quality. What’s more, clients are often blamed for these issues—when in reality the fault lies with the research provider’s own practices.
How can you make sure your research provider is poised to deliver the insights you need to drive growth and answer your most pressing questions? Start by discussing the following five questions:
How do you source survey respondents?
What’s at stake: Most research firms source respondents using expert networks or panels. These pre-recruited groups are motivated by quantity, not quality. Potential respondents receive multiple survey invitations each week. Few of these respondents are credible decision-makers.
What you can do about it: You can’t trust insights generated by unreliable respondents. That’s why leading providers recruit every respondent for each study from scratch. The best way to ensure that you’re getting fresh, high-quality sources that align with your research objectives is to draw from a population that’s limited only by the size of the market—rather than the size of a pre-recruited group.
Don’t be afraid to ask providers for a detailed explanation of their recruitment process and, in particular, whether they use expert networks or panels to source respondents. A trustworthy provider will not hesitate to share those details and won’t source any respondents from panels or expert networks.
How do you ensure that results are aligned with market data (i.e., market share)?
What’s at stake: Because most providers rely on pre-recruited groups of respondents, they bring you answers from a small segment of the market. This tunnel vision introduces biases and skews, distorts your analysis and paints an inaccurate view of your business questions and opportunities.
What you can do about it: If the population that you survey doesn’t mirror the size and shape of the market, it affects the accuracy of your results. You might miss insights from relevant decision makers—or even unwittingly exclude entire populations that are critical to your decisions.
Make sure your research provider can deliver unbiased results based on the entire market population.
Will this study deliver statistically significant, reliable results?
What’s at stake: Many providers aren’t able to source and deliver the volume of respondents you’ll need to obtain statistically significant results. Sometimes, these providers boost their numbers by foregoing quality checks and even surreptitiously buying respondents from other panels or expert networks. Other times, they suggest that clients switch to a smaller group of expert interviews because they believe the population is “too small.”
What you can do about it: Many business decisions are too big to make based on just a handful of expert interviews. Fortunately, with the right respondent recruitment approaches, you can get statistically significant answers to your questions. You shouldn’t have to settle for a small, unreliable respondent pool that prevents you from being able to analyze different subsegments of your market.
Instead, make sure your research provider will collaborate with you to set and achieve respondent quotas that deliver statistical significance across multiple relevant sub-segments. Your answer quotas should be based on the size and shape of the market, not the size and shape of a provider’s database—and should be specifically designed to deliver answers to your critical questions.
Who will write your survey?
What’s at stake: The way your survey is written will have a dramatic impact on your results. Something as seemingly minor as using the wrong terminology can confuse respondents and prevent the right person from finishing your survey or deliver incorrect answers. Inexperienced or junior writers don’t understand these nuances or know how to manage tradeoffs.
What you can do about it: Survey writing is a specialized skill that draws on analytics, problem-solving, business, and research expertise. If your survey writers ask the wrong questions (or the right questions in the wrong way), you won’t get the answers you need to make effective business decisions.
The details can seem arcane, but make sure your provider is able to discuss them with you, especially tradeoffs—whether, for example, answer scales are strategically chosen and easy to understand, industry jargon is correctly used and adequately explained, and leading questions are avoided (e.g., “how satisfied are you with our service?”).
What will my results look like?
What’s at stake: Too many research providers don’t deliver value beyond survey execution—let alone any insights that transcend raw results.
What you can do about it: If your research provider isn’t able to deepen your understanding of the market or segment, it isn’t fulfilling the most basic task of market research: to underpin corporate and investor decisions by providing data-driven insights about opportunities for growth.
Your research provider should add value each and every step of the way, from design to recruitment to quality control to analysis. They should deliver actionable analysis on boardroom-ready slides, not a mess of raw data. They should enrich your findings with strategic insights that power confident business decisions.
Too often, market research and surveys are seen as a commodity whose flaws are inherent to the approach. It doesn’t have to be that way. Well-executed surveys—with customized recruitment strategies, thoughtfully designed questions, and smart analysis—can uncover precise opinions and behaviors. This information, in turn, helps boards and executive teams craft smarter and more effective business strategies.