Today’s investment decisions are driven by data. From signals like market share and industry growth to more detailed information about buyer sentiment and brand or product positioning, the right data can provide a crucial source of competitive advantage.
Unfortunately, data won’t deliver insight unless it’s intelligently gathered. By now, most companies have heard pitch after pitch from research providers that promise “better networks” or more reliable answers. Yet the underwhelming “insights” they receive leave many feeling like they must either learn to live with subpar results or stop using market research or surveys altogether.
To understand why bad data is harmful and what to do about it, we need to think about the sources behind B2B research—in particular, the networks and their so-called “experts” whose opinions underpin findings. To better understand the dynamics at play, we can think about these experts like fish. When we try to “catch” them and analyze their opinions, we need to make sure they are as fresh as possible and much more. Here’s why.
Why Using an Expert Network Is Like Fishing in a Small Pond
The goal of any B2B research project is to get real insights from real decision makers. What drives their purchases? How much are they willing to spend? What is the size of a potential market? Where are the new sources of growth?
To answer these and other market research questions you may have, you’ll need market-shaped answers to your questions. That means casting a wide net across the entire market to ensure you find enough respondents (to inform statistically significant results) as well as all types of respondents (to consider and understand the full view of the market).
Of course, the people that influence a purchase decision don’t all hang out in the same place. Let’s say you’re trying to research residential HVAC purchase decision making and spend. Insightful research would seek to understand the perspective of all involved decision makers and influencers: property managers, builders, contractors, installers, etc.
You might be able to locate some property managers through an expert network or panel. But your reach will be limited to supposed ‘experts’ who joined in the hopes of picking up some cash on the side. What about the perspectives of the successful property managers who don’t need the extra cash and therefore aren’t in a panel or network? And how will you find the contractors that make recommendations to end customers or the builders who typically select or buy the product in large volumes? Now consider the full range of people at a given company actually involved in the decision—from the finance managers that sign off on the investment to the project managers at larger builders. All of these personas could hold valuable insight into how this decision is made.
Yet when you engage an expert network to research residential HVAC decision making, you’re restricting yourself to only a pre-recruited group that lives in a single pond,—a small subset of the market.
Why is using an expert network like fishing in a pond?
- The selection is incomplete: Expert networks and panels use artificially stocked databases that contain the same group of pre-selected “decision makers.” If that selection doesn’t include the full range of personae you need to talk to, you’re out of luck.
- The volume is limited: When you fish in an expert network, your response volume is limited by the volume of their database, which is rarely enough to achieve statistical significance or generate reliable results.
- The “experts” aren’t fresh: Many expert network respondents are often retired or years out of the roles they are speaking to in research.
- The insights are repetitive: The experts in an expert network have been “fished” and recycled over and over and over—they are inundated with offers, and the answers they provide are repetitive and stale. In other words, they are saying the same things to your competitors, which is hardly a good way to drive distinctive insight!
- The results are skewed: Simply put, you’re sampling the pond and learning about the pond—not the market. Your results will be shaped like the network’s shape and your respondents will be biased based on how they were added to the network and the type of people who tend to participate in a network.
To generate results that are both reliable, distinctive and give your firm an edge, you need to be fishing in the ocean—and uncovering respondents who offer new perspectives.
What Casting a Wide Net in the Ocean Accomplishes
Expert networks may promise to deliver any audience you ask them to research, but because they fish in the same small pond, their respondent pool will never exceed their limited networks. The good news? You don’t have to settle—in fact, you can expect much more!
We call this “fishing in the ocean,” and the idea is deceptively simple: recruit respondents from anywhere and everywhere (except from panels or expert network ponds). This enables you to source large volumes of market-shaped data to precise, customized research specifications—and the results are far superior.
Here are some of the benefits of fishing for B2B & B2B2C respondents in the ocean:
- Volume: It’s not difficult to understand why you’ll catch more fish in the ocean—or find more people when you look beyond the confines of any one particular network (pond). The upshot? Exponentially more data and, as a result, a much more accurate view of what the market really thinks, plus the ability to analyze more granular, targeted cohorts.
- Reach: The ocean is a diverse environment—so are markets. Fishing in the ocean instantly elevates the kind of research you can do, because it enables you to gain insight from the wide range of relevant professions and personae, for any given survey.
- Quality: You won’t just find more in the ocean, you’ll also find fresher People who haven’t been inundated with survey requests or who have made a second career out of answering them. In fact, casting a wide net, outside of panels and expert networks, enables you to be more precise. You won’t have settle for people who almost fit the persona you’re looking for (because that’s all that you can find in ponds). Instead, you can now select decision-makers who have relevant, current experience—and whose unique answers will inform a richer data set.
- Market share and shape: Ponds are stocked with a certain set of fish, but the ocean is vast and wild. To represent and measure the full market accurately, you must collect responses from all possible decision makers—not just the ones in your database. This enables you to answer more sophisticated questions about different subsets of the market. If 10% of the 250,000 residential property managers in the country manage more than one ‘luxury’ property, you should be able to measure or validate this percentage in your research. That’s possible when you draw your samples from the whole market. When you draw them from a database, by contrast, you’re measuring the share of the database with all the biases from how it was stocked.
Reset Your Research Expectations
At their outset, expert networks addressed a real need in the market: gaining access to real professionals gave companies deeper insight into their perspectives. But, the world has changed and over time, these networks were overfished—leading companies to lower their expectations of what’s possible.
In the intervening years, several firms tried to address the problem by building bigger networks or aggregating networks—but this can only get you so far!
That’s because the decision makers behind B2B research data are individuals, not commodities. Shortchange your efforts in how you find the right individuals, and you undercut the utility of your study. Ultimately, you’ll be stuck with an impossible task—trying to wrangle disparate and nonsensical noisy data points into an executive, big picture story.
While fishing in the ocean—and recruiting for each study from scratch—is pretty difficult it is possible. Moreover, it’s worth it because the results are vastly superior to what alternatives deliver. Fishing in the ocean enables you to generate relevant, statistically significant insights that connect your research to your broader business questions and goals, make confident investment decisions, and maximize both the power and the reliability of your data.