5 Obstacles to B2B Market Research and Actionable Customer Insights

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Tony Zambito

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The idea of market research has been around for a very long time.  Conceptually, market research is a strong component of overall business strategy.  A key element of market research is the gathering of valuable buyer and customer insights.  Ideally these insights will result in competitive advantage, innovation, and market leadership.

Sounds good.  Except there is one issue we are all dealing with.  We do not live in an ideal world anymore.

The global spinning world of networked buying behavior is calling for business to rethink how to gather insights.  While Big Data offers one avenue, it is still a heavy reliance on statistical and analytical interpretation.  As in all things quantitative, there are boundaries to how much we can squeeze out of data.

The Turning

In research and insight gathering, the ultimate goal is to turn insights into competitive advantages.  Recently, I have been calling for leaders to think in terms of turning buyer insight into buyer foresight.  A focus on buyer foresight brings new levels of buyer predictability into the mindset of marketing and sales.  Market research, with its’ quantitative roots, can be stuck in hindsight.

Hindsight can be good.  We can determine trends and more.  However, we are dealing with a new precedent.  The rapid nature of changing buying behavior makes hindsight lose its’ luster for deep profound buyer insight.  And, makes it difficult for senior leaders to turn into actionable strategies.  Quantitative analysis must be counterbalanced by equal efforts and investments in qualitative behavioral research.

Obstacle Course

For senior leaders today in B2B organizations, I have encountered five obstacles, which makes it difficult to turn buyer insight into actionable and strategic foresight:

Tactical:  the market research and insights are either very tactical in scope or very reactive to an issue.  Sometimes, leaders themselves can cause this.  Let me give you an example.

In one situation, I was asked by a head of a division to conduct qualitative buyer research and create buyer personas to develop marketing messaging for a new product launch.   I set out and performed on-site visits to businesses and buyers who were the assumed target buyer personas.  What was discovered was something more profound.  The real question became – was this the right product?  It turns out – no.    

The initial scope of the insight gathering was too narrow and focused only on marketing messaging to fulfill an assumed need.  The risk in this example was creating marketing messaging for a product already doomed at launch due to inadequate research of customer goals.

Profitability Pressure:  We can rename this as – taking your eyes off the prize.  Quarterly and annual profitability pressures are so dominant, it stifles energy towards insights.  It can cause agenda creep as the year marches on.  Good intentioned announcements to be customer-focused slowly fade as pressure mounts to hit internal or external targets.

Silo Gap: The function of research and insight gathering resides in a silo far removed from senior management.  The gap becomes insurmountable.  I have witnessed this with buyer persona development.  Good intentions of a small team in a department of marketing to do buyer research and buyer persona creation.  They help with content and messaging.  However, there is little by way of impact on actionable strategic direction.

Information Overload: This is a very common problem.  Senior executives are presented with pie charts, bar charts, analytics, and volumes of statistics.  Data is sliced and diced like a can of petite diced tomatoes.  By the time they get to page 127 in a report or slide deck, if there are meaningful insights – they have been lost.

Finance Strangulation: In some organizations, reporting has been located in Finance.  By nature, the orientation is quantitative.  Throughout the years, more and more reporting requirements begin to dominate the organization.  Strangulating resources to devote to research and insight gathering on customers and buyers.

You may recognize some of these 5 obstacles as existing in your organization.  Oftentimes, such obstacles are a result of layering inertia over decades or more.  In some cases, they are even hard to see.  Here is what I hope for you to see:

These five obstacles are often positioned as needed for running the business.  The market research elements of gathering buyer and customer insights are seen as helpful to the running of the business.  What is needed is for buyer and customer insights to be seen as essential to informing businesses on how to run their businesses to serve customers and buyers. 

Today’s dynamic and evolving world of the buyer requires new thinking.  The purpose of buyer and customer insight is to allow for insight-driven direction and growth.  How insights are  integrated into business organizations, removing obstacles, will determine how organizations can succeed in turning insights into actionable strategies.

 (I am available to have helpful further discussions on this important topic.  Please share widely – I am sure your peers and colleagues may be trying to overcome these obstacles.)

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