B2B SaaS competitor research is an important step to take to position yourself in the market. Use this template to get started.
Marketing surveys are a small piece of market research, but their impact is enormous.
When a B2B SaaS marketing agency or company is trying to understand the main pain points, fears or dreams of their target market, survey data can provide a road map to success (or at least the right direction) for marketers and the whole company.
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Why use a survey for B2B market research?
While face-to-face, in-depth interviews and focus groups yield productive results, it’s dependent on what your goals are for conducting the research and the problem you’re trying to solve.
Here are the general benefits of research when using surveys:
- Surveys yield primary data, which is the most efficient for discovering attitudes, opinions, beliefs and customer behavior.
- Surveys are cheap, scalable and quick. They’re easy to administer to a large volume of recipients, and can deliver data with just a few seconds.
However, surveys also have drawbacks.
- It’s not easy to incentivize the right people to take your survey. Not everyone can be motivated by an amazon gift card..you might have to offer product discounts or other services.
- There’s a greater likelihood that your data is inaccurate or less representative. People may lie or simply fill out the survey without reading it.
How to conduct B2B market research
1. Define your research problem.
Your research problems can be anything - How to improve customer experience, assess the brand associations, demand for a hypothetical product, buying patterns, self-image, internal drives, anything...but make sure you’re specific.
If you’re trying to understand the traits and qualities consumers think of with you and your competitors, your RQ might be “What associations do consumers have with primary competitors?”
Losing focus on the problem at hand leads to overspending on resources, poorly structured survey questions, the wrong sample size or population, or even ending the process empty-handed without the actionable results you were looking for.
When setting your research problem, follow these steps:
- Observe. Talk to different customers, teams and managers across your company, and listen to different perspectives about the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t just focus on the tip of the iceberg -- look at the underlying problems and systemic issues that are impacting other facets of your company’s progress. For example, if your company’s sales are down and churn is increasing, consider exploring the wider market and ask questions within the company.
- Identify key factors. Focus on different economic and environmental shifts that could be impacting your business. Figure out what the different independent variables are, and think about different ways to control or monitor those when doing research. When you’re studying why sales have gone down and churn has increased, explore other factors related like what your competitors are doing, how the global economy is, and what your company has changed (or hasn’t changed) in the time frame.
- Define your target market. Use segmentation from your business model and marketing strategy to target the right market. Identify your ideal customer profile (ICP) or target persona with company size, yearly revenue and industry. Make sure there are enough people in your target segment to generate representative responses. If you’re not sure who falls into your target market, you can use a set of screening questions at the beginning of your survey to identify who qualifies for your ideal persona, and who doesn’t. A screening question can be anything from “How large is your company” to “Where do you live,” and needs to narrow down (or exclude) certain data sets from your overall analysis.
- Prioritize and hone in. Now that you’ve identified the key factors that might impact your research problem, it’s time to narrow down your focus. Remember that you can have more than 1 research question or problem, just make sure they’re closely aligned and you can kill two birds with one stone. If you’re having a hard time narrowing down your factors, list out the who, what where, when and why. Who are your target segments, and what’s most important when they’re looking for a CRM? What solutions do you offer, and how do you compare to competitors?
When you follow these 3 steps you get a clearer overview of the problem’s larger environment at hand -- and just how complex it is. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s ok! By the end of this process, you’ll be surefooted and confident in your ability to conduct marketing research and get the answers you need to solve your problems.
Don't reinvent the wheel.
Always begin with secondary research to establish a solid understanding of what's been researched and what hasn't in your field. Secondary research could be anything on your topic or problem from market statistics, trend reports, competitor research and even sales data.
If your research question has already been answered by others and they’ve shared the data somewhere, you’ll be saving a lot of time, money and resources. If you don’t do your secondary research before conducting marketing research, you’ll come to kick yourself down the road.
Many B2C companies use market research and consumer data from Nielsen and Kantar, however those firms typically provide more value for B2C companies looking for demographic, psychographic and other segmentation insights into their consumer base.
2. Establish your research objectives and define your 'question.'
There are multiple types of marketing research -- exploratory, descriptive and causal -- and lead to different survey formats. Oftentimes, market research is used to answer the following questions:
- How big is our total market?
- What market share do our competitors own?
- What share is available for us to own/take?
- Will this market expand or shrink in the future?
- What other products and services are similar to ours?
- Who are our top competitors?
Let’s break these down even more:
Exploratory Market Research
This can help companies identify new options or action plans you’ve never considered before and is best for exploring new product ideas, listening to customer preferences and identifying areas of growth.
For many B2B SaaS companies, exploratory market research provides insights into problems many of your customers (or potential customers face) and provide you with new ideas, solutions or tools to develop.
Descriptive Market Research
If you’re attempting to understand the size or complexity of a marketing variable you identified in step 1, use descriptive research to identify how much it’s impacting your company, where new areas of opportunity are for your market or business and how to understand the needs of your target customers.
For B2B SaaS companies, descriptive market research can test the presence of external relationships between your market’s satisfaction level and product features, or internal relationships like employee income and job performance. It’s important to understand that this kind of research tests the presence of a relationship, not the relationship itself.
Causal Market Research
When you’re trying to understand the relationship between different variables, you can conduct causal market research in 2 different ways: experimental and statistical. For most of you, statistical research is where you’ll focus your time on.
Determining the cause-and-effect relationship between your research problem and the variable(s) it’s impacted by are the next step into solving your problem. Causal market research in B2B SaaS companies can test the relationship between price and product, the impact of certain variables on the buyer’s decision-making process or even negative experiences that led your respondent to another solution.
All of these marketing types provide insight into how to improve, grow and beat competitors.
3. Build your survey and questions.
Depending on what you’re trying to figure out, your survey will look very different. There’s a big difference between testing favorability toward different logos and uncovering subconscious buying patterns that influence a customer.
To create your survey, follow these steps:
Pick your platform.
If you don’t currently have a survey platform, consider the user-friendliness, scalability and data-processing needs you have. If you’re going to be dealing with large sample sizes, you need a survey platform that can handle and store such a large amount of data.
Depending on if you’re going to manipulate data outside of your survey platform (with SPSS or another data analytics program) or within the software, identify the competency of potential survey platforms.
Write your survey questions.
Best practices for creating survey questions are using plain language, writing unbiased and straightforward questions and carefully planning the question formats you provide based on what you’re asking and trying to understand.
If you’ve never designed survey questions before, research what question types are best for your data. When asking questions about preference or satisfaction levels, use a sliding scale with an odd number of choices (scale of 1-5).
It’s also a good idea to chunk parts of your survey based on goal function -- include a section of screening questions to assess who your surveyor is, then follow up with the main section of questions. Finally, make sure you conclude the survey clearly that gives your respondents closure.
Break your market research questions up into different categories. Below are examples of market research questions you may include in your B2B research survey:
- Screening [Usually firmographic for B2B research]
- What title best describes your position?
- What industry best categorizes where you work?
- Approximately how many employees are in your organization?
- Approximately much yearly income does your organization have?
- Products and Services
- What factors of your current position or solution can be changed? Why?
- How are you most likely to learn about a new product or solution?
- How much of your company's process relies on automation?
- What are your primary goals?
- What is most important to you?
- Where do you go to research and gather information?
- How do you like to make purchases?
- What problem does [product/service] solve for you?
- How does the [product/service] fit into your daily workflow?
- How well does [product/service] meet your needs?
- What do you wish the [product/service] had that it currently does not?
- What do you like [most/least] about [product/service]?
- Customer Experience
- What made you choose us over a competitor?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied are you with [product/service]?
- Were you satisfied with our promptness and speed?
- Would you be willing to tell friends, family, or colleagues about us?
- How do you rate your experience with us?
- Why have you decided to leave us / not renew your subscription?
User testing, user testing, user testing.
After you’ve edited your survey, conduct a little user testing and send it out to some of your coworkers for feedback. It’s hard to edit your own work, so try to get as many other eyes on your survey as possible before you finalize it and hit “Send.”
Send this to your coworkers in slack or email and just ask for feedback or thoughts on a google doc or spreadsheet. Some survey platforms let you generate test responses, so you can look at the fake data and change questions as needed. Rinse and repeat until your survey is as perfect as it can be.
4. Send the survey!
Depending on your platform, you can send the survey to your target market or contacts through your survey platform, your CRM or share the URL to your survey on different social channels.
If you’re sharing your survey with an email campaign, try setting up an email sequence with 3-4 touchpoints. Not everyone will fill out the survey, but a few nudges won’t hurt anyone. And, if the recipients really want, they can unsubscribe at any time.
When you’re drafting the emails, make sure your emails are straightforward and clear about your intentions. If you’re asking someone for time, make sure you’re offering something in return -- whether it’s a discount code, a mention in the acknowledgments or a whitepaper with your analysis when it’s all said and done.
Not getting enough survey participants? Don't worry!
If you were expecting more participation, don’t get too down -- there are plenty of ways to get buy-in from your survey recipients.
A/B test with subject lines and email copy.
When trying to generate responses, send the email or survey link with a few different messages, subject lines of “asks,” and make sure that you’re offering something in exchange for their precious time and focus. Make sure you’re using A/B testing to identify the more successful strategies, and eliminate the messaging that isn’t performing.
David Ogilvy, Father of Advertising, once said "When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar." When you're writing emails, think of your subject line as the "Headline" -- it's got to be good.
Pro Tip: You can test out different headlines with subjectline.com and see what's considered a "good" headline. Try to aim for a score between 80-100.
It’s also worth noting that in some industries, the more personalized and simple, the better. Some of the most successful email campaigns are simply 1-2 sentences asking for participation in the survey for research, and ending with a survey link. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, but know your audience and try a few different methods out to optimize survey responses.
This incentive can come in many different forms -- submitting someone for an amazon raffle, giving everyone a $5 Starbucks gift card, providing a product or service discount, or even a backlink on their website. Or, you can create more tangible industry knowledge with your survey responses like industry whitepapers, an analysis of findings, a webinar series or an infographic that represents the data you’ve collected.
If you’re still not getting any responses after trying different messaging strategies, consider shortening your survey, changing the answer format of your questions or even picking a different list of contacts you’re sending to. Make sure this audience understands the added value you’ll return with their support, and emphasize your appreciation for their time.
5. Collect and analyze your survey data.
Your data is powerful - but also powerless without the right analysis. Whether you use machine learning, hand this off to your IT department or hire a third-party data analytics firm. Remember that everything you’re doing is to answer the initial research question -- stay focused on pulling data that support an answer.
Export the data into SPSS or conduct analysis within the platform. When you’re analyzing the data, try not to feel overwhelmed -- just take it one step at a time! Above anything, remember the question you’re trying to solve, the driver of your research and the problem you need to overcome.
There are different ways to make sense of survey results, and they range from simple to complex. From frequency to cross-tab analysis, analyzing your data might take a long time (longer than you expected).
6. Answer your research question.
Now that you’ve completed steps 1-5, the only thing left to do is communicate and translate your findings into actionable items. Sum up your processes for building, administering and analyzing the results, and summarize with key findings and limitations.
When presenting data like this, consider using data visualization tools to explain your findings and then clearly connect the significance back to your original research problem. This could be anything from using a pie chart or bar charts to display quantitative findings, or a word cloud to showcase your open-ended qualitative questions!
It’s also a research best practice to note any shortcomings of your research, unexpected results or data you haven’t made sense of.
By identifying areas of weakness and potential growth, you’re both validating the legitimacy of findings by giving your audience a well-rounded picture of your process and reminding your audience that while it’s impossible to conduct a 100% perfect survey, you’re trying your very best to find meaningful and truthful data.
Above all, though, your research findings should provide 3-5 actionable insights for your company based on the initial research problem. These action items are the driving factor behind your survey research, and make the future roadmap of your company and strategy data-backed to optimize your inputs for outputs.
Access your free market research template
Put your survey data to work
Once you've done the hard work of building your market research survey, getting participants and analyzing your survey results, make sure that doesn't go to waste.
Even if your initial research question wasn't backed by participant data, it's not a waste. Analyze and save this information for future product development, customer success, sales and marketing initiatives.
To learn more about market research and surveys, check out these blogs:
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A content marketing specialist at Kalungi, Liz enjoys writing and learning about anything and everything. Since obtaining her BA in English and her BS in Marketing at NC State, she's carved a path educating, engaging and exciting B2B SaaS markets through powerful content and messaging.