This episode of Marketing Smarts takes you deep into the good, the bad, and the ugly of B2B market research.
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Your guide as we explore the topic is our guest, Discuss chief strategy officer and co-founder Jim Longo, who has 30+ years of experience in the market research industry.
So let's set the scene: "80% of new services fail, and only about 11-12% of companies actually
conduct formal research before they launch. It's just mind-boggling to
me," Jim says. Meanwhile, "firms that conduct frequent research—by frequent, I mean at least
quarterly—grow at a pace of 70% faster and are 60% more profitable."
In other words, market research is vitally important to the success of companies. Yet, many don't do it, or if they do... they don't do it well.
Few companies can survive, let alone thrive, without the necessary market research—and the intelligence derived from it that should be powering both business strategy, generally, and marketing strategically, specifically.
Join Jim and podcast host George for a lively look at B2B market research. Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
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George Thomas: Are you ready for a different direction? One that maybe you are thinking about, or one that maybe you aren't thinking about. Today, we are going to dive into marketing research, or listening to your customers, or understanding what's happening around you. I don't know what you want to name this, but today we're talking to Jim Longo. I'm going to ask him things like what keeps him up at night pertaining to B2B marketers not using or using market research, we're going to talk about why it's important, we're going to talk about things that you and I both should be considering, we're going to talk about brand, customer relationship, methodologies, and so much more.
It's going to be a dip into something that we definitely need to focus on in 2023 and beyond, and Jim does a great job. Jim Longo brings over 30 years of domain expertise in the market research industry and is considered a thought leader in online behavior and market research technology. He has consulted with brands and research agencies around the world on how to have insightful online conversations. He was instrumental in building the first global online qualitative research practice at Harris Interactive, acquired by Nielsen. So, you know we've got a great pedigree and you know we've got an interesting conversation.
It's time for marketing research, market research, listening to your customers, all the things with Jim Longo. Let's get into the good stuff.
Jim, I'm super excited. The funny thing is Marketing Smarts listeners always know that I'm excited. I love new conversations. I love being able to bring conversations with smart people to the masses through this Marketing Smarts Podcast.
One of the things that I like to start with is kind of a crazy question, a weird question, but sometimes it really takes us into some interesting places. When thinking about B2B marketers using or not using market research for their marketing efforts, what keeps you up at night?
Jim Longo: That's a great question, so let's get started with this. Basically, what keeps me up at night is really I don't understand why people are not doing market research.
It's a given fact, I've seen it in Harvard Review and other places, that 80% of new services fail, and only about 11-12% of companies actually conduct formal research before they launch. It's just mind-boggling to me. Then when you look at the stats, McKinsey has stated that firms that conduct frequent research—by frequent, I mean at least quarterly—grow at a pace of 70% faster and are 60% more profitable.
So, you really can't afford not to be engaged with your consumer, especially right now.
George: I totally agree with you. You have to be engaged with the consumer. Actually, my brain went a little bit sideways because I know we're going to use this term market research through the rest of this interview, and I don't think that everybody out there knows. When you talk about market research, because it could be voice of customer, it could be surveys, it could be real telephone calls, why don't you unpack when we talk about market research what exactly you mean, and even towards the end of that maybe what micro portion of that we're really talking about today?
Jim: Happy to clarify that. Market research in general is typically broken down into quantitative and qualitative research, which I'm sure your listeners understand. Quantitative being more survey driven and qualitative, historically, people think of focus groups, as it's been done for the last 60 or 70 years. That's what it breaks down to, but then as you said, there's customer experience, there's user experience, there's lots of different experiences.
That's really what it comes down to is understanding the customer experience. Market research is a catch-all phrase. Today, I want to talk about really engaging with the consumer or your target audience and doing that through conversation. With the technology is today, we've been able to prove at Discuss that we can scale qualitative research or scale live conversation and then democratize that throughout an organization to help them grow.
George: Beautiful. I love that we have that foundation, because it will help frame some of these questions and this conversation that you and I are having today. When you think about the why of this whole topic, why is conversation-based market research important? Really, what I'm saying is why is it important in the B2B or B2B marketing space that we have to lean maybe out of the historical and into literally talking with the customers?
Jim: It seems really novel to actually speak to customers, but we've gotten away from that. What technology has done, especially in the quantitative world, is it gives you a lot of data points, but you need to bring that data to life. The best way to do that is to have a conversation. Marketers are highly educated people, they're thinking about their products every day, they're having conversations and meetings with colleagues, so they're actually operating in a bubble. They need to get out of the building, if you will, and they need to align with customer needs.
Especially in the B2B world, people say, "That's great for CPG, but with B2B we don't really need to do research because we understand our customers and our salespeople talk to them." But how do you democratize or share those learnings through the organization? I challenge people often and say there is an emotional attachment in selling products B2B. It's a different type of emotion. It's not going to make your skin feel better or make you feel more confident, but if you bring a new service to an organization and it creates efficiency and saves time and money, and ultimately gets you promoted or noticed, that's an emotional connection. These conversations bring out that emotion.
George: So many good little micro nuggets in there. I loved when you said pop the bubble or get out of the building. My dad used to have a saying of walk a mile in somebody's moccasins, really start to understand them. What's funny is I tie that into what you said about it's B2B, but it's actually human-to-human.
Marketing Smarts listeners, you know we've talked about that in historical podcast episodes. It doesn't matter if it's B2B or B-to-C, but it is always a human. Jim, you literally mentioned emotion, or if it enables you to feel a thing or if it enables you to promote or get noticed. Again, some great tidbits of information in there.
Here's where my mind goes. I love conversations. I think this is an amazing thing that people should be plugging into their marketing efforts. As they start to use this conversation-based market research, what are some things that they should be considering along the way?
Jim: Great question. First of all, you have to think about who your target audience is. Who is buying your product? Who is buying your product today? Who do you want to position to sell to in the future? And maybe why you've lost certain customers. I think by looking at those segments first and then deciding what you need to tackle based on your priorities is the first step.
Then do you speak about your service or your product the same way as your customers do? That really comes out in a live conversation. It's hearing the adjectives that they use to describe the offering that they giving and listening to them. That's why you speak to your target audience often, because it is changing.
Then bring in the stakeholders. What happens so often in large organizations, and even medium-sized organizations, is they're asked, "Have you done any market research?" What happens is it goes and gets passed over to an insights team and it's kind of like this enigma that you have to run some focus groups or you have to do a survey before you get a green light to continue on.
Rather than passing it on to a professional who is trained on how to ask questions or structure surveys, you need to involve the stakeholder. This is where Agile has become very important. Involving the stakeholders in the entire process. Not just handing someone something and saying, "Give me an answer on this," but be involved, be an observer, listen, be part of the decision making on what those questions are going to be, but leave it to the professionals to write the questions in a way that is not leading.
Then you want to share those learnings across the organization, all the way up to the C-suite, because everyone needs to be aligned to the customer's needs.
George: I love this point that you just kind of blew by real quick, not leading. Asking the questions in a way that get you authentic and real answers, not the answers that you hope that you get. I love that. Then the idea of sharing it through the organization.
One of the things that I've learned, amazingly, being 50—I know I might not look it, and I know this is an audio podcast, so just envision me as a 24-year-old with this voice, not really what's going on, but I've learned a few things, and that is that always things are changing. There's ups and there's downs. Another way to look at this is hills and valleys.
Pertaining to this conversation that we're having on conversation-based market research and what we need to do, how has the current market—COVID, not COVID, recession, not recession, there's some stuff happening around in our ecosystem—how has the market volatility impacted the brand, customer relations, and everything that we're talking about today?
Jim: There is a lot happening. I think, first of all, we'll talk about that a-ha moment back in March 2020 when COVID hit. We saw companies that were doing face-to-face research and having these conversations suddenly had to move online. That's where Discuss came in, because we're a webcam based company that enables us to have these live conversations, so immediately our business blew up. But not everyone came to us. A lot of people started using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other applications to get closer to the consumer to see what was going on at that time and how their buying habits have changed.
What we have found is that with our product we're able to build something that has structure and that enables us to surface those insights really quickly. The type of research and the buying habits have changed in the last two to three years, and there is a need to continue to do research.
The types of research we're seeing done now is how do I keep my customers in the franchise, because it's too difficult to bring them back after the recession. It costs more to bring a customer in than keep an existing customer. Then how price sensitive are my customers right now? Price is always important, but it's not the only factor in making a decision. Really understanding the right equity model for my customers.
Then, last, is what should I be communicating to my customers right now? In order to do that, again, it goes back to having these live conversations. With technology and some automation, you're able to create some efficiencies and take advantage of technology in such a way that you can scale these conversations.
George: It's very interesting. As you were closing that section out, my brain went to I want to ask Jim about actionable insights from these conversations. But I have to go off the beaten path again for a second because I know there are probably Marketing Smarts listeners out there that might be wondering, "How do I get from here to there?" Meaning, I have been doing historical things, I don't have this conversational engine in place.
Before I ask you about actionable insights, maybe I should ask you how in the world do B2B marketers who are listening to this actually get started or implement this conversation-based market research element into their business?
Jim: I would say what you need to do is, first of all, decide who you need to speak with and then how often. That's often a difficult question because people have to look at their schedules, their life, what they're doing at work all day long, and how they fit this in.
What we've seen organizations do is build, everyone calls it something different, customer closeness, customer connection, empathy programs, but it's having marketers speak directly to consumers and customers. And bringing that for other teams, so not just the insights team in an organization speaking to customers, but the manufacturer, the logistics people, all of them listening and talking to other customers.
You achieve success when people start quoting customers in meetings. That's always to me the definitive point that there is a connection between what the customer or the consumer is looking for and the organization understanding that.
George: Love it. That is a great platform or place to dive off into the original question that I think others are going to have. How can we as marketers drive actionable insights using something like Agile research methodologies?
Jim: Let's talk about Agile for a second. It came from the software world. What are those? Those are short sprints that involve the stakeholders in the entire process.
What we see organizations now doing is creating these Agile programs from concept all the way into product launch. They typically run two to three week sprints and they alternate between live conversations and then validating that with survey work, again involving the stakeholders in this process so they're almost required to either observe in real-time or listen to recordings of a session or highlights from a session and be involved in taking it from an idea to position it for your brand.
Does this new idea fit with your brand and what your offering is? Talk to the customer and see what they think. Then maybe designing the webpage or the usability functionality, again involving the stakeholders as you're having these conversations and then doing quantitative to validate that. Continuing on all the way into a launch.
George: I love that earlier in the interview you said leverage technology. Then the micro tidbit that I got out of that great information that you just shared was this idea of recording the conversations. Being not only able to get back to it yourself after the fact of the initial conversation, but being able to share it through the organization, and being able to drive those actionable insights.
Eventually, I want to ask you what success looks like. We've hit the top part of the podium, we have the conversational market research gold medal on, but before that, I understand there's a journey that the B2B marketers are going to have to travel through to get there. One of the things that I like to do is always help people diagnose the hurdles, the potholes, the things that might get in their way to that success that we're going to talk about in a minute.
What are some conversational market research hurdles that you would want to warn them about? It could be two, it could be three, there might be 17, I doubt it, but two or three of these hurdles that you would want to warn the Marketing Smarts audience about as they head out on this journey.
Jim: What people come back to me or push back on is they say, "I don't want people other than who are trained to have conversations with consumers." You hit on it earlier, and we spoke about it, that confirmation bias, people only listening to things that are going to validate their own ideas. Once they hear that, they turn off the rest of the conversation.
It's important that if anyone is leading or facilitating these conversations, they are trained to ask more forward questions and not leading questions. That is super important. It's not what people say, it's also what they don't say. That's where the training comes in. How do you bring out things that maybe even the customer isn't thinking of at the moment? That's where the skill set comes, and people get better at that over time is what we've seen.
George: Are there any other gotchas that you've seen, after they get that one mastered, that people are falling prey to?
Jim: What we see is a lack of sharing this throughout the organization.
What we've seen C-suite doing is actually speaking to consumers themselves before an executive is traveling to a different market, having two or three conversations with people, so when they go and meet with the marketing team, they understand what the customer thinks in that region of the world as well. That's super important.
We've also seen people creating video clips and putting them on a loop in conference rooms, so as people are gathering for a meeting, there is voice of the customer right there speaking to them around key questions or key initiatives that are being addressed by the organization.
George: I love that. Marketing Smarts listeners, if you hear that word, voice of customer, and you haven't gone back and listened to the Nate Brown interview that we did a month or so ago, definitely check out that voice of customer with Nate Brown interview.
Jim, back to the good stuff. What does marketing research success look like? We kind of teased about that top place on the podium and the gold medal around our neck. How do we know that we're doing it right, how do we know that we're leveraging it in the right ways, how do we be able to go to sleep at night like yes, we are being victorious with conversation-based market research?
Jim: We touched on this, but really quickly again, team members using actual words that the customer uses in meetings. I think that's the low bar right there. The high bar is getting to market faster. What we have seen is companies that really engage in Agile research can actually get to market sometimes one or two fiscal quarters sooner than previous. That to me is the ultimate success. Laying on top of that would be success in the marketplace and the company growing. The data shows that by having these conversations businesses are growing 60-70% faster.
George: One of the things that we need to think about is how do we think about this from a global standpoint. Conversations are all over the place. When you think about global conversation market research, what do you want to unpack in your brain?
Jim: This is an area that we've really excelled in over the last seven or eight years is that we understand there are emerging markets and there's a need to understand that market as your business grows to a global organization, or maybe it already is and you're looking into new markets. It's having that localization experience. What we have seen is using local moderators or facilitators in-country gives you that ability to understand the local marketplace.
We've built a network of close to 200 research professionals that we tap into when we need to go, whether it's the Middle East or Southeast Asia, to have these conversations. It's super important to understand the global perspective, because it is different than the US or EU based.
George: Awesome. Jim, this has been some great information. One of the things that I like to do at the end of the episode is always give the option to go one layer deeper in their cranium, because we've all gone through these journeys, we've helped other people through these journeys, and so we get this magical thing called wisdom. Pertaining to our conversation today, what are some final words of wisdom that you would want to leave the Marketing Smarts listeners?
Jim: You can't afford not to be engaged with your target group. Stay close to your customer. They're evolving just as your business is evolving, so you need to do the same.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Jenn Herman about the magical combination of B2B marketing and Instagram, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on September 29, 2022
Jim Longo, chief strategy officer and a co-founder at Discuss. He has 30+ years of domain expertise in the market research industry and is considered a thought leader in online behavior and market research technology. Jim has consulted with brands and research agencies around the world on how to have insightful online conversations, and he was instrumental in building the first global online qualitative research practice at Harris Interactive (acquired by Nielsen).
LinkedIn: Jim Longo
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