Struggling to find b2b research participants for your study? Our team researched the best solutions & strategies to help you recruit a high-quality...
The Key Differences between B2B and B2C Market Research
What are the differences between B2B market research and B2C market research? Let us unpack the fundamental ways in which research is conducted with these audiences.
As a business, you no doubt understand how crucial market research is. You can use it at every stage of development to better understand your customers, competition, and industry.
The process is invaluable for identifying and evaluating new market segments and increasing business awareness. On top of this, the data you gather can be used for everything from marketing to product development.
But how you approach market research depends on whether you are targeting a business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) audience.
B2C research will help you understand end-users who directly purchase your products and services. This typically focuses on the consumer experience, with feedback collected through direct user interview questions, focus groups, surveys, and so on.
On the other hand, B2B market research targets business professionals and organizations. The goal is to understand business decision-making, gather customer feedback on existing products and services, generate new product development ideas, and identify new customer segments.
So how do you know which research to conduct and when? This article will explore essential differences between B2B and B2C market research to help you understand how to gain the most benefit.
What is Market Research?
Market research is the process of gathering information about your target market to help meet business objectives.
The subject of market research can be anything from a domain lookup for businesses to individuals’ toothpaste preferences. Either way, research forms the backbone of any successful marketing strategy and business decision.
It allows businesses to gain insight into their target markets, consumer behavior, preferences, and purchase decision drivers. Ultimately, all of this insight leads to better-informed business decisions.
Why Conduct Market Research?
There are different types of market research – primary and secondary – and different methodologies, including interviews, focus groups, observation, and surveys.
You could use market research for a variety of objectives, such as:
- Brand awareness
- Consumer behavior
- Product launches
- Product pricing
- Consumer satisfaction
- Competitor analysis
- Marketing optimization
B2B vs B2C Market Research: 5 Key Differences
Most businesses market themselves differently depending on whether they sell to consumers or businesses. So while the B2C and B2B surveys may have similar objectives and methodologies, there are just as many differences.
For example, a business selling domain names and website-building services will need different research designs for their B2C audience who may buy basic services compared to their B2B audience who invest in more complex solutions.
Let’s dive deeper into some of the essential differences between how you might approach B2B and B2C research.
1. Research Objectives
B2C research targets the individual end users of a product or service to understand their preferences, needs, and behaviors. Survey questions are usually asked at the point of sale and relate to an immediate or recent experience. For example, “Did our product meet your expectations?” or “Would you recommend our product to friends or family?”
Consumer research typically focuses on engaging customers through various touchpoints, such as search, social media, and email marketing. This allows a business to create a positive emotional connection with consumers.
On the other hand, B2B surveys target businesses and professionals at various levels within an organization in a specific industry or industries. It involves identifying key decision makers, understanding their pain points, and analyzing their buying behavior.
B2B market research focuses on building strong relationships based on trust. This means understanding clients’ needs beyond the immediate transaction and providing ongoing support. Businesses conduct B2B market research to assess satisfaction, measure the effectiveness of their solutions, and identify areas for improvement.
For example, a B2C website design provider could be interested in an online survey of 1,000 bloggers to understand how they choose solutions for their blog design. A B2B website design provider, on the other hand, might be more interested in identifying specific industries, organizations, and decision makers and interviewing them directly.
2. Target Audience
Generally, B2C surveys have large sample sizes and respondents are easy to recruit. They’re designed to be fun and easy-to-complete, incentivizing consumers with monetary rewards, freebies, or exclusive offers.
To make access to B2C market research easier, more instantaneous, and cheaper, various online market research platforms boast sample sizes of millions of consumers around the world.
On the other hand, B2B research targets a very specific audience, often within certain industries, businesses, or functions, so this naturally limits the number of respondents. Survey questions are usually complex, formal, and require focus and time to complete. An incentive is usually business related rather than individual.
This makes it harder to recruit business professionals to take part in the research. For that reason, B2B market research tends to have small sample sizes, low response rates, and high drop-off rates, which makes it more challenging.
An additional consideration in B2B research is the complexity of the business audience. For example, it’s likely that tools such as screen share software, accounting solutions, and graphics software target different industries and are sold by resellers and distributors. If the developers wanted to research the preferences of both clients and distributors, the research design would need to reflect that.
3. Statistical Validity vs The Pareto Principle
Because of the low sample size and response rates, B2B research results don’t often need to be statistically significant, unlike consumer research where it is often a requirement.
The Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) is when a small number of customers make up a large portion of revenue, as is often the case in B2B. In B2C research, every individual respondent has an equal weighting in the sample, and researchers aim to accurately represent the general population. In B2B research, some clients may receive higher weighting in the sample.
This can have an impact on the research methodology. For example, a business that wants to survey its main customers for satisfaction may decide to conduct in-depth interviews with key accounts (20% who generate 80% of the revenue) and an online survey for the rest of the sample (80%).
High-engagement products like houses and insurance aside, B2C products and services tend to have shorter decision cycles. Consumers typically make purchases based on emotions, convenience, and personal preferences.
As a result, the focus of B2C market research is on understanding consumer behavior and purchase decision drivers, such as brand awareness, advertising, and pricing. Because market trends and consumer preferences change quickly, B2C businesses often rely on real-time market research and data analysis.
However, the B2B sales cycle is more complex, involves multiple stakeholders, and is significantly longer, typically spanning several months or even years. Business contracts tend to be long-term, pricing negotiations can take months, and it’s often necessary to integrate products and services into existing systems.
For example, B2C research design that aims to survey potential customers looking to register a domain name in the United Kingdom would be quite straightforward. Researchers could target bloggers, freelance consultants, or sole traders. On the other hand, B2B research that aims to study organizations wanting to buy a domain name UK would need to identify interested businesses, decision makers within them, and find an engaging and effective way to approach them.
Spend on B2B products and services tends to be higher than on B2C products, too. On top of this, B2B products and services tend to be more customized and complex, and their distribution may involve wholesalers, brokers, and white labeling. In addition, B2B products are more technical.
For example, an automated follow up service that allows companies to send automated emails to prospects who do not respond will be used differently by companies depending on their target audience, sector, and size. The solution provider will need to customize the solution to different business needs and scenarios.
B2B businesses are also more likely to use multiple and more complex distribution channels than B2C businesses. In the example above, the solution provider will likely position and sell their automated email product differently depending on the target industry and clients, and might partner with the distributors to unlock a specific market.
To reflect this, B2B market research design tends to be more complex. For example, a target audience may include distributors with different business models of various sizes and with unique products customized to them. So the research design will have to account for this complexity.
Research methodology ensures the reliability of your research design’s results. Due to differences in target audiences, B2B and B2C market research employ a different set of methodologies.
B2C research tends to use large-scale quantitative research tools, including online surveys, telephone interviews, and social media monitoring. It helps understand consumer sentiment and preferences, allowing businesses to create engaging and relevant marketing campaigns.
B2B research, on the other hand, tends to be more qualitative so research tools are more formal. They can include in-depth interviews with industry experts, focus groups, and surveys with key stakeholders within companies.
In B2C research, methodology usually involves one specific research tool – an online survey, for example. In B2B research, you can use various research tools. For example, a research project for a cloud-based communications provider may start with a strategic workshop with the key call center accounts. This may be followed by in-depth interviews with the SMS clients and a large-scale online survey of the email clients.
No matter what product or service your company specializes in, effective market research is essential for both consumer and business audiences. But different audiences require different approaches.
While B2C research focuses on capturing consumer sentiment, creating emotional connections, and responding quickly to ever-changing trends, B2B research aims to understand the complexities of business decisions, build lasting relationships, and navigate longer sales cycles.
By leveraging these differences in your market research design, you can optimize marketing efforts and develop effective strategies. A well-executed market research plan can serve as a powerful catalyst for growth, enabling your business to stay ahead of the competition and deliver value to customers, whether they’re individuals or businesses.