The reason for B2Being: David Marchant attends the B2B Research Conference in London

11th July 2018 09:06

Written by David Marchant  Associate Director.  Email David here
Once again, B2B market researchers flocked to London. The MRS were hosting the annual conference dedicated to business-to-business research. 
It meant an early start. The 6:43 from Stockport would get me to London’s gateway to the North - London Euston - with plenty of time to spare. Time enough to saunter down Gower Street in the early morning sunshine, past the sprawling UCL campus and the gaggles of studious types spilling into its buildings, beyond RADA the home of dramatic arts and into the shadow of the imposing British Museum. Just beyond, lay The Radisson Blu, our venue for the day.
Chaired by the effervescent Richard Young, our appetite was soon wet as he not only referenced the debates B2B research is to play a key part in: From changing business models to Brexit and digital technology, B2B research would be pivotal; but hinted at things to come – brownies in the first break of the day!
The opening panel discussion introduced the importance of reputation, brand equity and social purpose for today’s business leaders - a subject that would run like a red thread through the conference. 
Set against the backdrop of “striving to build currency” with customers, and “striking a chord” with staff and other constituent parties, Jo Ouvry of Deloitte outlined their need to develop a “reason for being”, a sense of belonging and purpose, to drive business decision making and strategy. Indeed, it was the term “purpose” that would be the basis of our first noteworthy statistic of the day: Higher purpose businesses are five times more profitable than lower purpose businesses! 
Pampers and Gucci, Tesla and Cummins were referenced as brands with great purpose, vision and equity. But what did this mean, and how would we measure purpose, and maybe more pertinently, what did Millennials think about it? 
For it was from the perspective of Millennials that much of our insights were to be gleaned. We dissected them in every which way, looked at them from every angle. How do Millennials judge businesses on their ability to do good? How do they take surveys, and engage with technology? We assessed their skill sets, their attitudes and potential. We even let them lead our roundtable discussions. Their aspirations were discussed in the context of B2B research providers and B2B buyers alike. The latter quite pertinently, as 1 in 2 research buyers is a Millennial. 
Jemma Ahmed, a Millenial at Etsy introduced us to research techniques and approaches used in the engagement with micro enterprises – a sector gaining in importance exponentially, with the gig economy in the UK accounting for 14 million people. Jemma left us with an array of vivid images – depth interview settings ranging from campervans, to garden sheds and one bed flats; patting dogs and stroking cats while their respective owners trawled the breadth of their knowledge to respond to questions that only they - the sole decision makers of their micro-businesses - had the answers to. Ethnology and visual techniques, but above all variety and agility are required to accommodate for these respondents’ values and unique business models. 
From occasional digression into B2B2C to unashamedly and overtly dabbling in B2C, Richard’s pertinent rebuke - “We’re at a B2B Conference, is there a B2B angle to this?” - steered us slowly but surely toward the conference’s true purpose, culminating in two excellent presentations, oozing sheer, unadulterated B2B research at its finest. The first - co-presented by B2B International and the multi-billion pound Aussie insurance business QBE - a multi-faceted customer mapping exercise with insurance decision makers in the construction sector, involving both brokers and end-users. Yes, we had gone B2B2B, and we were loving it, applauding with vigour. 
The second – co-presented by Sign Salad and Diversey – a memorable demonstration of the power of semiotic insight. Diversey, a global supplier of cleaning products and services, crippled by numerous takeovers and resultant employee disengagement and a lack of purpose, invested in a rebranding exercise that created emotional resonance with audiences, stakeholders and customers (business customers, of course!). It found its purpose as the business that protects and cares for people every day.
I left before the final presentation on the use of scent in retail, involving scratch and sniff cards. But I did wonder about the links to B2B. Indeed, I left for the North with a key question unanswered - had the MRS B2B Conference found its raison d'être? Does it have a high purpose, a purpose relevant to its constituent parties, to B2B researchers? I think there’s a fair way to go on our own brand journey. B2C research was too frequently held up as the reference point for B2B research, and at times the context of a B2B conference was lost entirely to B2C matters. The lines were frequently blurred, and subconsciously and invariably, but IMHO unfairly, B2B was positioned as the poorer brother to B2C. 
It is true, an increasing number of presentations at this year’s conference were more obviously B2B, and research techniques such as the use of video research to build empathy and engagement with retailers, online analytics to improve customer journeys amongst Bestway’s technophobic buyers, and semiotics in a drive to emotionally engage with stakeholders, were both interesting in and of themselves, but more relevantly profitable for the businesses eliciting the respective services (Camelot estimated increasing engagement with retailers to be worth £50 million). We’re on the right track! But we would do well to build on a few key takeaways from the panel dedicated to upskilling B2B researchers.
B2B is distinct from B2C. We (B2B researchers) solve business problems, we don’t just answer research questions. We’re consultants. Yes, we use the full arsenal of research methods and techniques at our disposal, but our clients (usually) couldn’t care less. Research techniques are merely vehicles to answering strategic business objectives, no more. Yes, our audiences have the same common denominator - they are humans and consumers, but they operate in very different environments, subject to unique pressures and responsibilities. Their decision-making units are often extensive and complex, and their decisions result in significant financial investments. B2B is not B2C.
But most importantly, to all you Millennials, Generation Xers and Generation Zers, B2B research (IMHO) is more rewarding.

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