Understanding B2B Buying Journeys Requires Qualitative Research

Ed Marsh | Jun 8, 2018

Surveys and salespeople are the wrong sources for buyer information!

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to episode

  1. Most companies think they understand what their buyers are thinking
  2. That's often based on hearsay and quantitative research which are likely misleading
  3. Qualitative research is the solution to really understand buyers
  4. Independent third parties are more effective at collecting valuable insights
  5. A methodology like Adele Revella's Buyer Persona is important to follow

Transcript follows

Hi. I'm Ed Marsh. Thanks for joining me for this episode of Signals from the OP. If you know Signals, you know by now that each week I tackle a topic that I think is of strategic importance or significance to industrial manufacturers.

Today's topic absolutely fits the bill. It's how to understand what's driving buying journey. This is so fundamental to so much that we talk about, whether it's digital marketing or modified sales process, or complex buying journeys, all that kind of stuff. You've got to get this right, and many companies don't.

So let's kind of start from the beginning. Now the Heisenberg principle says that the simple act of observing something can change it. That's absolutely true. I see that happen all the time when companies talk to me about how they are doing research to understand buying journeys.

Most people start by asking sales and marketing teams what do you hear from buyers. Sounds reasonable. The problem is that you get a combination of what reps assume they should be saying that you want to hear, what they think is important based on what the company keeps telling them to talk about, and a reflection of the questions they're getting from buyers.

Now you say how can that be bad, right? If those are the questions people are asking, that's what we ought to talk about, except, and this is a really important caveat, the questions that buyers are asking normally are the questions that they expect your salespeople are going to be able to answer and the things that they know salespeople will want to talk about.

Those questions that they don't ask that are really burning and important to them, they go to the core of why they might be interested in a solution to what the business issues are they're wrestling with, what the outcomes are that they're looking for, what they're worried about, what the experiences, the concerns they might have or they want to have. They're not asking you those. They're asking those anonymously on the internet.

So the questions that your sales reps are getting asked tend to be about fairly mundane specification or feature related kind of stuff, not the real things that motivate buyers and animate the sales process.

There's a similar sort of a challenge kind of when you look at quantitative versus qualitative buyer research. Surveys are considered a powerful tool and they can be great for uncovering certain things. You can use them as a tool to create proprietary content for yourself. You know, our research on such-and-such a topic says that ... That is a great form of content.

You can even understand some buyer activities, but you're not going to understand what buyers are thinking. You may understand a little bit about some of what they do, but not what they're thinking. Even with great research technique, quantitative surveys will often create answers you want by the way the questions are written. The questions can lead the answers, and that leads then to stilted sales and marketing that just doesn't resonate with buyers.

The same actually can happen with qualitative research as well. I mean for instance if you ask people how they compare competitive solutions, you're already skewing the results. They're viewing that question as the expectation that they can compare, that they find competitors and compare them to make a decision. Now many do, but some people will just find the first solution that fixes the problem and buy it, so you got to be really careful not to skew your research with the way you're asking the questions.

What's the solution? I strongly recommend independent third-party research. There's a lot of really cool ethnographic models, but they can be expensive to do and there's people talking about doing it that aren't particularly good at it, and there's a lot to it.

There's a much simpler method that I think is perfect for many industrial manufacturers, at least in that revenue growth space where you're trying to understand how to market, how to sell, what people are thinking about, what motivates them, and that's Adele Revella's buyer persona model.

The really interesting thing, I think the key to what Adele Revella does ... There's lots of techniques that she talks about in her book and on her website and in her training classes. There's a lot of nuance to what she does that really delivers a result I think that's better than what you do if you tried it randomly on your own, but the key that unlocks all of the other opportunities is the way she starts with an open question, something like take me back to the moment that you first thought about solving this problem, and then you have a conversation from there.

You probe. You ask questions. You follow up on threads. You ask them when and how and where they research, what they worry about, what made them hesitate, what the outcome was that they were looking for, how they thought it might help them or cost them personally and professionally in addition to the corporate objectives.

You do this with won deals and lost deals. You record and you transcribe the calls. Record them professionally obviously. Transcribe the calls, distill out the insights, and it is really powerful. I can almost guarantee you that from listening to those recordings, reading those transcripts, or even just looking at the distillation of the insights you're going to be shocked by some of the things that you hear from buyers speaking directly in an unguarded and authentic way that you probably had never had conversations with them before, and your salespeople probably haven't either.

I've seen cases where this has fundamentally changed the kind of content companies were producing with incredible results. I've seen companies that have shifted the emphasis of the products and services that they're selling because of what they heard from buyers, heard really authentically, legitimately and clearly for the first time by using this method.

The bottom line, in complex B2B sales quantitative research is really of limited value because these complex deals are very much based on understanding people and emotions. Qualitative research can be incredibly powerful, but it's got to be done right.

If you like this kind of counterintuitive or sometimes contrarian look at issues related to B2B sales, revenue growth for industrial manufacturers, et cetera, I'd welcome you to subscribe to these periodic videos. You can do that at SignalsFromTheOP.com. That's SignalsFromTheOP.com. I'm Ed Marsh. Thanks for joining me.

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