Competitive Intelligence in the B2B Arena
(Dealing with the Challenges of a Vital Research Sector)
Conducting Competitive Intelligence research in the B2B arena brings challenges that are unique to this important type of research.
In this brief analysis, we will look at some of the factors that both researchers and clients must take into account to ensure not only that the project achieves the objective of the research, but also that it is conducted ethically and professionally.
Defining the Research Objectives
Precision in defining the research objectives is obviously necessary for all research projects, but especially so for competitor research in the B2B arena. The importance is for precision is especially paramount in situations where the researcher has only one opportunity to access the information, with no second opportunity.
Other reasons for clearly defining research objectives are:
- It allows the researcher(s) to focus on gathering information within predetermined parameters, and
- It allows both the research company and the client to manage expectations or, in other words, it controls the tendency toward mission creep – a situation where the objectives of the research are enlarged far beyond the original intent of the client.
It must also be recognized, however, that there are occasions where findings are made that are so completely outside expectations that further research is both justified and necessary. On these occasions it makes sense to enlarge the scope of the project on terms that mutually agreed upon by the researcher and client.
Defining the “Public”
B2B products (and services) are available to a “public” – individuals within a client company who make the decision to buy a product or service on behalf of their employer. The definition of the specific “public” that are the target for B2B products plays an important role when mystery shoppers are being recruited to gather information.
For example, when conducting competitor research within the pharmaceutical sector, the public can be either a medical professional (physician or nurse, for example) or an end user (for example, a patient who uses a specific drug to treat a disease or disorder).
In other business sectors, for example Software as a Service (SaaS), the public could be a senior executive in the IT department (e.g. CIO) or a senior executive in the finance department (e.g. CFO).
When recruiting for a project involving mystery shops, the research company must ensure that the hired individuals match the personas/profiles/backgrounds of personnel who would normally make, or influence, the decision to purchase the B2B products and services in that business sector.
Technical terminology normally used in a business sector must be identified and defined for the benefit of the research company, its researchers and the client company.
Finally, the research company must also make sure that there are no conflicts of interest among any of the recruited mystery shoppers, so that the quality of the research is not compromised.
Competitive Intelligence in the B2B arena brings its own unique set of challenges that cannot adequately be addressed in a short article.
Nonetheless, we have brought to the reader’s attention two of the most important elements for research success: clearly defined research objectives and the characteristics of the “public” that makes or influences the purchasing decision.