14 October 2022 1438 words, 6 min. read

Conducting market research: 9 comparative methods for B2B

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
This article on B2B market research methods completes the guide we have already published on the subject. We wanted to offer you an overview of the different techniques applicable to B2B. Market research in B2B differs substantially from that in B2C. In addition to the classic […]

This article on B2B market research methods completes the guide we have already published on the subject. We wanted to offer you an overview of the different techniques applicable to B2B. Market research in B2B differs substantially from that in B2C. In addition to the classic techniques (telephone survey, documentary research), some are much less known. No. 7 is particularly effective and yet rarely used for market research.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our market research firm. We will be happy to help you.

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9 B2B market research methods compared

Method Advantages Disadvantages Sample size target Timeframe for data collection
1 Desk research Easily accessible secondary data Data not necessarily adapted to your market context n/a 1-2 weeks
2 B2B survey by telephone Primary data and ad-hoc targeting High rejection rate in B2B (80-90%) >100 1 month
3 B2B survey by mail Not too intrusive Low return rate >100 2-3 weeks
4 Panel B2B online Rapid implementation and sample size Answers are anonymized, so there is no possibility of using them to generate leads 100-1000 1-4 weeks
5 Individual interviews Ability to go in-depth and have access to unique data Some respondent profiles are difficult to recruit. Interviews require much work. 15-30 4-12 weeks
6 Focus group Choosing the best options through a simultaneous discussion Difficult to bring together several companies at the same time or even impossible if they are competitors 10-20 2-4 weeks
7 Trade Show Research The possibility of collecting information in a short time Physical presence and associated costs 30-50 <1 week
8 Research via social media Very affordable Potential sampling biases >100 1-3 weeks
9 Mystery shopping Perfect for competition research It may be inapplicable in some very closed areas 1-10 >1month


Desk research (documentary research) in B2B

It’s amazing how much market research information can be found online. In a recent research project on the German market, we found our client’s competitor’s entire financial plan and projections. We still don’t know how this highly sensitive document became available online, but it simplified our task.

Desk research is a simple method to access so-called “secondary” data. This is the data collected by others that you accumulate to answer typical market research questions. Documentary research is particularly recommended for competitive research.

Multiple sources can be used: professional reports, competitors’ websites, customer reviews, and scientific research; … If you want to go deeper into this subject, we advise you to read 2 articles:

The difficulty of implementation: very simple.
Timeframe: 1-3 weeks.
Budget for a market research firm: from 2500€.

B2B survey by telephone

Telephone surveys are a staple of B2B market research. As a market research firm, we still use it despite the difficulties of implementation. The rejection rate is indeed very high. We have had to make 800 calls to get 100 responses. One of the keys to success is not to use a call center. The people who work there are often not very motivated, read scripts without believing in them, and get unreliable answers.

The difficulty of implementation: difficult because of a high rejection rate.
Timeframe: allow 1 month if you are alone.
Budget for a market research firm: from 5000€.

B2B survey by mail

Mail surveys are still used in specific cases. In B2B, the results are generally disappointing, with very low response rates (<1%) when the survey is not “incentivized.”

We have had good results in the past by targeting respondents and informing them in advance of the mail arrival. They will generally be more likely to respond than people who don’t know you. This method works relatively well when you need to survey your customers (for example, for a satisfaction survey).

The difficulty of implementation: easy to implement but don’t expect miracles in terms of response rate.
Timeframe: Close the survey 3 weeks after sending. The likelihood of still receiving responses so long after the mailing is low.
Budget for a market research firm: from 5000€.

Panel B2B online

Few market research firms have a panel for B2B research. Ours has 30,000 respondents, and this is a real competitive advantage. This allows us to mobilize large samples in a minimum time. In this way, we make it possible to realize quantitative research in B2B, which is usually very complicated to implement.

This research requires the use of a market research firm because the panels are proprietary. However, it is worth the effort because the results are incomparable and offer you many possibilities for segment creation.

The difficulty of implementation: impossible without a research firm.
Timeframe: 1-3 weeks to collect all responses depending on the targets, the country, and the desired sample size.
Budget for a market research firm: from €5000.

Individual interviews

Our firm is specialized in qualitative market research and, in particular, in individual interviews. We believe that this is the most important method in B2B for:

  • accessing owner information essential to the understanding of the functioning of companies
  • generate leads

The most complicated part is the recruitment of respondents (sometimes very difficult to convince) and writing a good interview guide. For the latter, preliminary documentary research is an excellent way to improve the quality.

To fully understand the role of qualitative interviews in market research, look at this free online guide.

The difficulty of implementation: The only difficulty is recruiting respondents. Consider proposing an incentive.
Timeframe: >8 weeks for research on a well-calibrated sample (see our advice here).
Budget for a market research firm: from €8,000.

Focus group B2B

Focus groups are a confirmatory qualitative technique. For B2B market research, focus groups are an interesting choice option. By bringing people together around the same table, you can compare points of view and determine the best option. What is the best go-to-market strategy? Is the sales pitch well received?

The focus group is, therefore, useful downstream from your research when you have already collected enough raw data and must make choices.

The difficulty of implementation: difficult to gather professionals around the same table for 2-3 hours, especially if they are competitors.
Timeframe: 2-4 weeks.
Budget for a market research firm: from 6000€.

Trade show research

This is a technique that few people know about, yet it works very well. We use it every 2 years at SIAL to make a panorama of food trends.

The principle is simple. You use the trade show as a place where:

  • the people who can inform you about a market
  • competitors in the same market
  • the experts who talk about it during the conferences

The only problem is that you depend on the organization of a trade show in the field on which you must do market research.

The difficulty of implementation: easy if the trade show exists, close by and not too far away in time.
Timeframe: a few days (the time of the trade show).
Budget for a market research firm: 5000€.

B2B market research via the social networks

First, the biases inherent to market research via social networks must be kept in mind. In a B2B context, research via social networks can be useful to reach specific profiles or sectors.

This research is not complicated, especially if you opt for SNA (Social Network Advertising). With a small budget, you can make a targeted advertisement to reach your B2B targets. Be sure to have a perfect questionnaire and offer a small incentive (raffle, for example) to increase the response rate.

The difficulty of implementation: easy.
Timeframe: 1 week.
Budget for a market research firm: from 3000€ excluding the cost of advertising targeting.

Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping also applies to B2B contexts. Our customers ask us to discover their competitors’ pricing secrets in some competition research. Mystery shopping is the right technique when pricing information is not publicly available.

Sometimes mystery shopping in B2B requires the implementation of very elaborate scenarios. Some companies check their VAT number, financial strength, and sector of activity … before making offers. This is the case for leasing companies and, generally, for all financial companies. The conditions of access to a quote can sometimes be so drastic that mystery shopping becomes impossible.

The difficulty of implementation: difficult in B2B.
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks.
Budget for a market research firm: from 5000€.

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