Welcome to “Voices,” a new feature on the Springboard blog. Listen in as subject matter experts talk about best practices and trends in their discipline in our monthly Q&A interview.

This month we examine market research for the B2B world with Janese Evans, a research and creativity professional with Strategic Toolbox.

Q:    What’s the ideal role for market research in a B2B organization?

A:    Market research is all about managing the risk in decision-making. It gives you perspective. It lets you test ideas in the marketplace, helps you set priorities, and be more relevant to your customers. In the end, it’s all about having a mix of tools to make informed and conscious decisions, to have confidence in the answers.

Q:    Are there certain times, or triggering events, where research becomes more critical for a B2B organization?

A:    Research can make a big impact whenever you’re making changes. For example, if your organization, or your product or service has changed, or if you’re experiencing changes in your market place. Research lets you keep a pulse on yourself, your customers and your competition.

Q:    What do you love about market research?

A:    I love that if you do it well, it makes a difference. It starts by figuring out how much you don’t know and at the end, having the answers. I love that when a customer is facing chaos, I can help them step back and see the patterns. What starts out as a mystery transforms into something that’s full of clear patterns.

Q:    What’s the first step for a B2B marketer who’s considering market research?

A:    First, figure out where the gaps are in your knowledge. What do you wish you knew? What questions need answers? Then, think about what you would do if you knew the answers. How would that information impact your actions or affect your strategy?

Q:    What are some of the differences between conducting market research in-house versus outsourcing?

A:    An external firm or consultant will bring many things, but the biggest advantage is having an independent and objective point of view; bringing fairness and credibility to the research. My role is to present a “sanity check” that’s not the company perspective.

An independent researcher also adds value to the development of questions. Everything you ask leads to the next thing. There are good and bad ways to word questions, types of scales to use, benchmarks and biases that go along with the process, and a trained researcher can guide the organization to the best results.

Q:    Our resources don’t always allow us to conduct as much research as we’d like. Where do you recommend that B2B organizations focus their efforts if resources are limited?

A:    If you can only do one project, the place to start is customer research. Understand your point of difference, and hear it in the customer’s own words. Positioning work is also very important, and those studies are about understanding what you stand for. Is your brand and message relevant, compelling, differentiated and believable? It’s incredibly valuable to know what you own in the mind of your customer and the market.

Q:    On the flip side, are there times when it doesn’t make sense to invest in research?

A:    Oh yes! I talk people out of research all the time. If you know what you want to do already, and you don’t see the decision as a risk, then research becomes unnecessary. Or, if you’re in an organization where for some reason, no one will act on the findings. For example, if you conduct a study, and the results are the clear, but there’s no interest or commitment in the organization to make a change, then the research becomes merely nice to know, but not essential.

Q:    How has the Internet changed market research?

A:    I think it makes research more accessible. The good in that is the overall acceptance. The challenge is that a lot of it is poorly done or misleading. Any research, including Internet-based research, is still about matching your target population to the best technique to reach them. Representative sampling remains the challenge.

Q:    What other trends are you seeing?

A:    Our switch from landlines to cell phones, which have unpublished numbers, is changing the field dramatically. It’s harder to get nationally representative, balanced samples for studies. There are also certain populations that are hard to reach through email.

About:  Janese Evans is a research and creativity professional and Principal of Strategic Toolbox, a resource for results-oriented ideation, meeting facilitation and market research. Using a unique skillset that combines the disciplines of creativity, strategic thinking and data insight, Strategic Toolbox helps agencies and organizations move forward, uncover solutions in reams of data and tap into the best thinking of creative teams.

Learn more at:  www.strategictoolbox.com |  jevans@strategictoolbox.com  |  763.551.1710