FEATURE11 May 2016

Playing hard to get

B2B Features UK

B2B respondents can be tough to recruit, says Andrew Dalglish of Circle Research. Using a mixture of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ incentives is the best way to secure their support. 

Fishing hook crop

Respondents are a market researcher’s raw material. Without them, an industry focused on exploring people’s opinions, would have no opinions to explore.

Sourcing these raw materials is a particular challenge for B2B researchers. B2B respondents are a scarce resource, especially when niche or senior-level roles are the focus of the study. What’s more, securing the support of these individuals is notoriously tough. They can be protected by gatekeepers (a PA, for example), they’re time pressured, and their primary responsibility is to further their employer’s business, not yours.

But with the right approach B2B respondents can be persuaded to take part in research. So, what’s the trick? It’s all about careful incentivisation. You need to give respondents a compelling reason to support the research.

The most powerful of these incentives are ‘soft'. There are exceptions, but most of the time in B2B markets people are buying from people. What’s more, this relationship tends to endure beyond the sale through to activities like product tailoring, service delivery, account management and ongoing support. The result is that in B2B markets buyers and sellers often forge a human bond; leveraging this relationship is the most powerful incentive when persuading someone to take part in research.

Another powerful soft incentive is to appeal to people’s sense of curiosity or desire for mental stimulation. If the topic of research, or the way in which you’re exploring it, can be made to sound interesting then people are more likely to see value in giving their support.

If you also emphasise how participation will benefit them and their employer through new innovations or service improvements, all the better. A third soft incentive can help to smooth the way. Remember that B2B respondents are time poor, so by placing as little demand on their time as possible and making participation easy, you’re more likely to gain their support.

These softer factors aren’t always available or may not be powerful enough on their own. So sometimes a more tangible incentive is needed and a common approach is to offer a financial reward for the respondent’s time. However, this is quite controversial with critics citing three main objections.

  1. Exchanging cash for opinions can seem a bit distasteful in a business context (and in some circumstances may fall foul of corporate bribery laws or policies).
  2. Putting these ethical concerns to one side, it’s also an expensive approach especially when senior, well-remunerated roles are the target.
  3. Not everyone is convinced that making such payments actually impacts response rates.

If you share these concerns then there are alternative options, most notably charity donations, prize draws or information (usually a short report based on the survey findings). These aren’t all equally powerful though. To explore the impact of these incentives on response rates I divided a database of more than 23,000 business people into several groups, all of whom were then invited to participate in a short online survey.

Group one, the control group, were offered no incentive. The remaining groups were offered one or a mixture of these three incentive types.

The results of this experiment were clear cut. The most powerful ‘hard’ incentive to use with a business audience was to offer a charity donation: 53% of all survey respondents in this experiment came from just two groups – those who were offered a charity donation in exchange for their time ( 29%) and those who were offered this charity donation in conjunction with entry into a higher-odds, lower value prize draw ( 24%).

So, if you’re looking to persuade B2B respondents to participate in research, use a mixture of soft and hard incentives. Leverage the relationship, appeal to their curiosity, make it easy to participate and seal the deal with the offer of a charity donation for their time.

Andrew Dalglish is a co-founder of B2B research agency Circle Research

Work in B2B research and looking for inspiration? The MRS B2B Conference, in association with BIG, is on June 30 in London.