The B2B research community needs to change the way it thinks

The research community talks about innovation all the time, but it needs to change the way it thinks, argues Andrew Dalglish, director of Circle Research

B2B marketing has changed a lot in the last few years. However, one fundamental constant remains – even the most sophisticated armoury of marketing tools is impotent without a deep understanding of the target market. High-quality market research remains essential.

Every year the research profession devours the GRIT Report which, based on a survey of around 1500 research professionals globally, reviews emerging trends.  And every year the report reveals an industry on the cusp of a new era. But I’m not convinced. If the research industry’s past behaviour is anything to go by, then there might be pockets of innovation, but on the whole change will be slow.

In 2015 the most widely used qualitative research techniques were focus groups and in-depth interviews (both face-to-face and telephone). In 2011 the situation was identical, with the ‘big three’ dominant. The only real change has been the rise of online communities and mobile diaries, whose usage has grown slightly from 22 per cent to 25 per cent and 17 per cent to 24 per cent respectively.  What about quantitative research? Again there’s been a shift, but not a particularly dramatic one. In 2015 the most widely used technique was the online survey followed by mobile, telephone and face-to-face surveys. In 2011 the situation was pretty much identical with the exception that mobile surveys were niche.

So yes, there has been some change, but the pace has been relatively slow and it’s certainly not transformative with the same ‘traditional’ techniques still dominant. 

It strikes me that there’s a lot of noise about radical change, but little action. I also think it’s a bit of a distraction. I’m a firm believer that we should embrace innovative new techniques if they can provide a deeper insight. However, let’s not forget that ultimately every technique is simply a means to an end, informing better marketing decisions. It is here the research industry really needs to focus. Let me share another stat from the report. When asked to name their biggest challenges, top of the clients’ list of pain points is ‘getting actionable reports that relate directly to business needs’. So perhaps the research industry’s focus in 2016 should be on developing a new mindset rather than a new toolkit.