B2B-v-B2C, Understanding and Recognizing The Key Differences

iStock_000044165236_MediumNearly all market research firms perform business to business (B2B) as well as business to consumer (B2C) research studies, and—unfortunately—far too many approach these distinctly different study types identically. Choosing a market research firm that recognizes and understands the key differences between B2B and B2C studies positively impacts your study’s validity.

Let’s look at four specific differences between B2B and B2C market research.

Sample size differences.

Okay, so we’re starting off with the obvious. Compared to B2C, there is a much smaller population of potential respondents in B2B markets, which means that designing B2B studies to utilize fewer respondents is both practical and, indeed, necessary.  The exact numbers you need for any study are heavily determined by the type of analysis you plan to do, as well as the number of available respondents., When designing B2C studies, you should always keep in mind the cost-effectiveness and ease-of-collection that a smaller, more focused pool of respondents generally affords.  Just be sure you do not bias the sample by who you screen into it or the participant sources you use.   

Sample type differences. 

In most B2B studies, there is an entire decision-making team that influences perceptions and purchase of your product or service.  This is less common in B2C studies, where there is generally an individual decision-maker. Because B2C studies are often much larger affairs with significant amounts of demographic data attached to each respondent, conclusions can be made about entire populations with relative ease and accuracy.  Where B2B studies are concerned, sufficient effort should be made by the researchers to assure that all viewpoints within a decision-making team are collected and understood (e.g., if the decision is made by CFOs and engineers, interviewing only CFOs would produce poor results). 

General methodology differences.

In general, B2C studies tend to be either entirely quantitative or entirely qualitative. On the other hand, B2B studies are increasingly requiring mixed methodological approaches, either at different stages of the project or intermingled in the same survey instrument.   Make sure you have the expertise – inside or out – to determine which methods are most appropriate for your study at each phase.  Incentives are also a different animal in B2B studies.  While it is relatively easy to find consumers willing to answer a survey for reward points, a drawing or a small cash incentive, business professionals value their time differently.  Consider the industry, professional level and incidence rate when deciding on incentives.  Often, for high-level executives, an option such as a donation to their favorite charity is more appealing than a personal monetary reward.

Qualitative-specific differences.

The target respondent population for most B2B studies are high-level, low-availability experts and/or executives in their fields. These people are used to making decisions and strategizing by phone. They are often located sparsely throughout a region or country and offer their time at a premium. Furthermore, the target respondent population for most B2B studies are used to “running the table” during conversations, often having the ability to speak at length, without interruption, until their entire thoughts on a matter are known. For these reasons, in-depth phone interviews are a key data collection tool for qualitative B2B studies, and focus groups are rarely—if ever—either feasible or a good idea.

B2C target respondents are more plentiful and less expensive to interview. Additionally, they generally do well in focus group situations, which is especially helpful when a client is able to observe those interactions. For B2C studies, in-depth phone interviews may be too impersonal or too overwhelming for the general respondent, and should generally be avoided unless the client’s needs or product demand one-on-one interaction between respondent and researcher.  

The takeaway from all of this is that researchers cannot simply superimpose well-worn consumer research techniques onto B2B clients. Unique approaches are required in each market, and utilizing a market research firm that recognizes and understands the key differences between B2B and B2C can be as important to your outcomes as the research itself. 

For more information about your market research options, download our Free eBook, How Much Does Market Research Cost? Or feel free to contact Vernon Research Group at (319) 364-7278 and we’d be happy to help. 

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