OPINION8 January 2016

Business Sampling 2.0

B2B Opinion UK

Overcoming budget constraints and sample sizes is always an issue on B2B projects, but there are ways says ICM Unlimited’s Maurice Fyles.

When I began in research (around the time our latest graduate intake was born) I worked exclusively in B2B and the projects were usually conducted on the phone. It wasn’t always CATI, which was very new and difficult to programme in those days.

Sampling was taken seriously and we relied on Dun & Bradstreet or specialist list brokers. Projects tended to be high value by today’s standards, due to the large telephone interviewing component and the effort involved in completing the interviews. An ad-hoc research project was a major investment for most of our clients.

Nowadays we find that that many B2B briefs are budget-driven and fixated on the question of whether business decision-makers can be found on panels, and if so how many can we get?  

The answer in many cases will be not enough for a quantitative sample, particularly when specific verticals and/or company sizes are needed.  In addition, it tends to be a matter of diminishing returns when we look beyond the UK, the US and one or two other key markets. 

The icing on the cake is usually the pricing: not only can we only get three interviews in the Netherlands and 11 in Germany, but the cost per interview proves to be astronomical, and there’s a minimum engagement fee at each panel provider. 

And it’s at this point that we have found that some agencies give up and say that the work can’t be done.

ICM Unlimited has invested quite a lot of time and effort in finding ways of overcoming the challenges presented by this status quo.  Here are some of the solutions and workarounds that we have developed:

Firstly, consider the consumer route.  We find that the average ICM Unlimited GB omnibus sample includes more than 200 people who are self-employed or run their own business, which is absolutely fine if you’re looking for SoHos, but not if you want a representative spread of bigger companies.  Similarly, if we are looking for office workers who use company mobile phones or computers, consumer sample is also a viable and cheaper option than going via a business panel.

Second option: look further afield.  The big sample providers often haven’t invested significantly in B2B or have only really committed to one or two markets. Other ‘challenger’ providers are leaner, hungrier and more imaginative. They may well have invested in niche audiences in a way that the big providers wouldn’t. It also can be the case that their panelists are more responsive because they are researched less often.

And refreshingly, they may also not be wedded to an online methodology and may be able to propose a solution such as phone-to-web to reach those more elusive profiles or to ensure a good outcome in a particular geography. 

But don’t rule out CATI. Yes, its old school and yes, it’s more expensive. But in many cases it is the only option or the only serious option. Ultimately we should be encouraging our clients to make decisions about methodology that ensure we obtain meaningful and usable data.  

This is the route we have taken for the Business Banking Insight survey which we run on behalf of the British Chambers of Commerce, which interviews 20,000 SMEs each year about their experience with banking providers, across a representative mix of business sizes, industries and regions.

And finally, try and think like a business decision-maker when you are formulating your approach. To me this always feels like something we should do anyway, given that a lot of us are actually business decision-makers. Shorter, punchier surveys that can be completed on mobile will win through, while for CATI, we should also think about offering call backs outside office hours, allowing the people we want to reach to find time to speak to us when they aren’t busy running their businesses.

Maurice Fyles is research director at ICM Unlimited