The Future of Business-to-Business Research

4th July 2017 15:39

James Hinde and David Marchant attend the BIG Conference 2017.


A serious topic for serious people

We gathered in the historic Mayfair hotel, taking our seats in that grand room; the walls lined with glittering mirrors offset by dark lined patterns.  The great and the good were all there to reflect with intent on the issues of the day. After all, B2B research is a serious topic for serious people.

Brexit and the end of the world

We began, as is traditional in conferences these days, with a mournful discussion of Brexit, discussed with prayer like reverence and concern.  Of course, no-one really knows what Brexit means, but there were some very significant concerns about retaining the skills offered currently by the EU, (Eastern European programmers!), consistent data protection standards, currency exchange rate and more generally, the rest of the world regarding us as a pointless backwater country. 

But, with the perilous jeopardy of sounding like Boris Johnson, there were opportunities too. We could reach out to clients outside the EU - perhaps, and if nothing else, at least many of us are now really quite cheap for American clients. We would come back to this later in discussions.

Facebook upsets the methodologists

Then, Facebook had the temerity to present their SME business confidence survey. Methodologists drew a sharp intake of breath throughout the talk; faces contorted with profound displeasure. But, really? Is telephone research so accurate? Have we solved the issue of reaching microbusinesses in our sampling approaches? Can we not find value in additional sources of information? Questions abounded, but we needed to move on.


Meeting new client requirements or “can someone please do something about procurement?!”

We moved on to a panel discussion about client requirements. This was quite quickly and correctly redirected by Nigel Hufton, into a cathartic discussion on what a total pain in the arse procurement departments are. From a straw poll, around 97% had bad experiences and of these, about 62% had seriously considered resigning as a result of an encounter with procurement.  So maybe someone needs to talk to these guys, before things get out of hand!

Pause for a break

Poor Virginia Monk, the Chair of BIG, was nearly forgotten before our break. But time was made for her and she introduced the new look for BIG, updated after just 16 years. Looking good! 

We had some delicious waffles dusted with sugar with our coffee and a nice chat.  This was followed by an interesting discussion on data visualisation led by an endearing creative type.

Ray Poynter came to tell us we would be replaced by robots

We moved on to discuss the awfulness of automation. Ray led the way with a cheerful exposition of how we would be steadily replaced. Another straw poll indicated that, close to 16% felt their jobs were safe to the end of the month and Ray laughed out loud for a full minute at the hubris of this small group.

But other voices expounded the benefits such as: efficiency, cost, scalability, DIY research opportunities and more time to spend on providing insight. Future trends such as scalable neuroscience, text analytics and use of BIG data by organisations were discussed. And ZappiStore plan to get into B2B!

Business people are people too

Before and after our abundant lunch, we were treated to two presentations offering the theory that business people are, in fact, humans!

The first showed how SME types could be engaged in panel research more effectively, by offering them pointless but ultimately entertaining fluff, with a side helping of serious questions sneaked in. Response rates were impressive and I guess this is the time served equivalent of hiding vegetables in your children’s food.

The second showed: how understanding a customer’s home life could be informative in providing a rounded understanding. We were treated to a video of a financial professional who appeared, outside of work, to love life and all it had to offer. Who knew?

Death is just round the corner

Further to Ray’s talk suggesting we would all be replaced by robots, Legal and General now came to tell us we could all die!  L&G showed how they had successfully promoted Key Person Protection products, using thought leadership research to increase awareness. 

They had tapped into a real concern, raised awareness and action in an important area, and achieved impressive sales growth!

The problem of mobile phones

Whilst many of the delegates checked their phones for emails, tweets or played candy crush, a panel came to discuss the use of mobile phones in surveys.   

This is a technical and methodological nightmare and it is surprising in fact, how many surveys are completed on phones. Research suggested that mobile surveys can be unreliable, if made too fun. Everyone agreed we needed shorter surveys. The issue of designing the perfect questionnaire is now even harder!


Let’s not forget the clients

After a truly heart-warming story of two grateful SME clients touched by the value of research, we moved on to discuss the B2B marketer. Later we discussed how we could engage more with this group.

We then learnt about B2B digital marketing and how it was changing; blurring the lines between marketing and HR. The suggestion that marketing could soon be led by HR was greeted with a violent shudder from the room.

We were moving at pace now and it was down to Andrew Dalglish, from Circle Research, to try to tie things up in a concise fashion, so we could all move on to drinks. Clearly a competent chap, he expertly led us through results on the challenges for the B2B marketer. 

There was talk of technology and automation of course, but human elements were mentioned far more often. The biggest single need was for more creativity, and emotionally engaging ads were given as an example. There will also be an increased focus on personalisation and account based marketing. Humans are still important after all.

Closing time

We live in interesting times. Technology is exploding. Complexity and scale is incredible. Global borders are opening, only to be closed again, perhaps. We reflected, we worried, but ultimately we saw opportunities. 

Perhaps though the words of the 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie still ring true, even today.


“Men and women, not robots, are the real source of profits in any business.”


At least for now.

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