How to conduct B2B new product development research

How to conduct B2B new product development research
Contents

Why B2B new product development research matters

What are the stages of B2B new product development research?

Best practices when conducting new product development research in B2B

 

 

Why B2B new product development research matters

The returns from new product development can be very rewarding. However, a flawed new product development process risks alienating buyers and wasting resources.

Understanding what your customers – and prospects – truly want, needs to be at the heart of B2B new product development. Otherwise, there’s a good chance it will fail.

According to Accenture, 80% of frequent B2B customers switch suppliers at least once in a two year period, primarily because their needs haven’t been met. Whether it’s for a one-off product or a full-range service, market research can support a new product development strategy. 

At the outset, it helps you see what your customers really need. It helps guide the new product development process and before launch, it can tell you if you’ve reached the right outcome. 

Benefits of new product development research in B2B are that it can:

  • Identify gaps in your current product portfolio that you should close
  • Find white space in the market that you can exploit
  • Get closer to what your customers and prospects want
  • Determine enhancements to product concepts
  • Explore different customer segments – how their needs differ, why and what to do about them 
  • Identify the best pricing strategy, in terms of the model and the price point, etc.
  • Forecast demand for the product
  • Develop the best sales and marketing strategy to support the product’s launch

What are the stages of B2B new product development research?

Most businesses factor in approximately seven stages of a new product development process. Some have more, some have fewer, but they’re typically variations around these themes: 

  • Idea generation
  • Idea screening
  • Concept development and testing
  • Market strategy
  • Development
  • Testing
  • Commercialization

Some companies only conduct market research during testing or commercialization, shortly before the big launch. The problem with this approach is that if the fundamental strategy behind the product is wrong, it’s probably too late to do anything about it by this point.

When thinking about market research for new product development, it helps to go a little more granular, beyond the seven themes above. Getting insights into what customers want, as early as possible in the process, helps to keep it all on track.

Here are nine main stages of new product development research in B2B. There can be some overlap between the different parts, as well as some reordering. For some of the stages, it’s certainly viable to include two or more in the same piece of research. 

  1. Market opportunity analysis
  2. Ideation / co-creation
  3. Concept generation and testing / screening
  4. Concept validation 
  5. Pricing 
  6. Demand forecasting 
  7. Prototype testing / UX research
  8. Sales and marcoms evaluation
  9. Post-launch

Some stages are better suited to qualitative research, while for others quantitative research is more relevant and in some cases, both are feasible. We’re methodology neutral and always advocate whichever approach is best for an individual project’s objectives. 

As a general rule, qualitative research tends to suit more exploratory research objectives, while quantitative studies are designed to validate findings. Here’s a run-through of the different stages of new product development research in B2B, what they’re for and some of the approaches.

#1. Market opportunity analysis

Also known as gap, or white space, analysis, before investing significant resources into any new product development process, it’s important to understand the extent of the opportunity.

The research aim is to identify and explore the potential of one, or several, of the following opportunities:

  • Closing gaps in the current product offering
  • Exploiting untapped white space in your core products’ marketplace
  • Growing existing products’ value, also called Edge strategy e.g. by developing variations of a product or monetizing it differently
  • Pivoting to create entirely new product(s) in a new vertical or marketplace

To find and analyze opportunities thoroughly, there are several steps worth considering:

  • Internal knowledge sharing across the business, by gathering existing market and customer intelligence, synthesizing the most relevant information and sharing it with key decision-makers
  • Conducting secondary research, also called desk research, to fill gaps in internal knowledge
  • Doing competitor research to reframe the competitive landscape, identify threats and – hopefully – confirm white space in the marketplace
  • Speaking to a few customers and prospects to get an initial read on their specific unmet, or imperfectly met, needs and build hypotheses
  • Carrying out this scoping research internationally to factor in any country or cultural differences in needs

The ‘Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework is a good guide for this stage. It focuses on the ‘job’ your customers and prospects need you to do, rather than on what specific product they might need.

Including prospects at this stage ensures you take into account the wider market’s views, in case your customer base isn’t fully representative of the new space you’re moving into. 

Using the JTBD framework at this stage makes sure your market analysis isn’t too narrow and should be future-proof. 

#2. Ideation / co-creation

Before inventing a new product, you need to know what ‘job’ or ‘jobs’ your customers want it to do. 

If you’ve identified a need or opportunity for developing a new product or service, but it’s unclear how to differentiate it, then ideation sessions will help.

An internal workshop is a great way to do this, to discuss the key insights gathered so far and come up with solutions.

Beyond standard brainstorming, there are many ideation techniques out there to help boost creativity. An experienced external moderator knows which ones are right to use depending on the objectives. Some examples include:

  • SCAMPER: Progressing an initial good idea by asking and answering questions around themes of: Substituting; Combining; Adapting; Magnifying or Minifying; Putting to another use; Eliminating; Rearranging  
  • Six Thinking Hats: Interrogating an idea from the perspectives of: Blue – big picture; White – facts and data; Red – emotions; Black – caution and risks; Yellow – optimism; Green – creative thinking

It’s also well worth ideating with some customers at this stage. They have the most relevant experience of using current products and could have great suggestions for improvements.

#3. Concept generation and testing / screening

Taking the best ideas or themes from the ideation sessions, it’s time to turn these into concepts, ready for testing and screening.

As before, an internal workshop and customer interviews can support concept generation if needed. 

Once a product concept, or several with clear points of differentiation, has been fleshed out and shortlisted then qualitative feedback from customers and prospects is a common next step.  

The research should be designed to answer questions including:

  • Is the concept clear to understand? Why / why not?
  • What needs would the product meet / fail to meet?
  • How and when would the product be used / not be used?
  • What are the product’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What recommendations for improvement are there?
  • How likely are customers and prospects to use the product?
  • How likely are they to buy the product? (We’ll also look at pricing research shortly)

Getting insightful reasons why, behind their answers, is critical. Armed with this information, you can refine and improve the concepts. You could also eliminate poorly performing concepts at this stage. Alternatively, the feedback might unveil scope for new concepts.

If you do make major changes based on the initial feedback, then iterative research allows for further rounds of testing before moving onto the concept validation stage. 

#4. Concept validation 

When ready, you can then aim to validate the viability of the product in the eyes of your customers and prospects.

Quantitative research will statistically assess market interest in the concept so far. What percentage of your customer base says they’re likely to use it or buy it?

Here an online survey is the most common methodology. Just remember that you usually need to be comfortable with smaller sample sizes in B2B compared to B2C research, since the key decision-makers are hard to reach.

If the concept testing stage produced several candidates, you can also use this validation stage to see which one(s) should be taken further and which to reject.

#5. Pricing 

Many companies often focus so much on the new product development process that they overlook the need to price their products effectively. 

This research element could be conducted earlier in the process, for example as early as, or as part of, the concept testing stage. B2B pricing studies reveal how much customers are willing to pay for a service or product.

It provides crucial information when designing a pricing strategy by providing insights around three core components

  • Models e.g. flat rate, tiered, usage-based or per-user pricing
  • Approaches e.g. cost plus, marginal cost or tailored pricing
  • Tactics e.g. anchoring and decoy, prestige, trial or bundling pricing 

#6. Demand forecasting

If you’ve already conducted opportunity research by this point, then you may already know the size of the total addressable market (TAM). If not, now’s the time to discover it. 

Moreover, with the new product concept now clear, it should also be possible to estimate which proportion of the TAM is within the product’s scope – the serviceable addressable market (SAM).

You can forecast demand by researching the likelihood to buy amongst SAM customers and prospects, revealing the serviceable obtainable market (SOM).

Next, you can research the size of the opportunity by factoring in the intended price point and model information – while also deducting your costs – from the previous stage.

#7. Prototype testing / UX research

It’s important to get customer feedback on an early or beta version of the product before too much time and money has been spent on it. 

There are many factors worth researching in prototype testing. Of course, it’s critical to test and get feedback on the UX and A/B testing is one way to do this. 

For SaaS companies in particular, iterative research can work alongside design sprints, providing multiple feedback loops throughout the new product development process.

It allows you to test, see how customers respond, make adjustments and test again until you get the desired results.

#8. Sales and marcoms evaluation

Before launching the product, you should also identify the best sales messages and marketing channels to promote it. Similar to concept testing, qualitative research gives you insights into the reasons why different sales and marketing strategies will or won’t work, so you can make changes. 

As before, after this you can then use quantitative research to validate:

  • Whether or not your intended sales and marketing strategy will resonate  
  • If you still have several, which sales and marketing messages will likely perform best 

Depending on how many core markets you have, it may be wise to conduct this research internationally too.

As a final step before launch, implementation workshops can be used to share and embed the insights and optimum launch strategy across the business. 

That way, everyone should be aligned and working from the same playbook to sell and market the new product.

#9. Post-launch

Lastly, after the process of developing a new product is complete, you can also conduct research shortly after the launch – it helps you identify any emerging threats or opportunities quickly, then address them.

If there are any unexpected post-launch issues, research amongst early adopters will shed light on these. If there’s anything major, then updating or modifying the product to fix the problem as soon as possible will reduce the risk of churn.

Post-launch research could also reveal new opportunities e.g. some appetite for a value-add service that could be quickly incorporated and monetized.

For the marketing campaign, testing ad recall lets you review its effectiveness on different channels and if necessary, revise the content or strategy swiftly. 

Best practices when conducting new product development research in B2B

#1. Move beyond the status quo by pinpointing the target audience’s unmet needs

A new product should aim to meet an unmet need. Alternatively, if the need is met but imperfectly, the new product should create a better experience, outcome, or both.

Well-designed research, set up to explore the conscious and subconscious, provides a detailed understanding of customers’ and prospects’ unmet and imperfectly met needs. Research providing insights into their behaviors, rather than their claims, is key to this principle. 

It identifies their underlying objectives and evaluates the extent to which existing solutions achieve these or create pain points. That way, it helps show the path to a new product that will move beyond the status quo.

#2. Innovate by collaborating with customers to generate and iterate ideas 

It’s often said that innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. Excluding customers from the ideation stage runs the risk of coming up with the wrong answers. 

Collaborating with customers is a highly valuable approach when innovating. They’ll have their own perspective of existing products’ limitations and could have some unique ideas about what the ideal solution looks like.

Also, true innovation comes from trying to answer the right question. The JTBD framework helps make sure that attempts to innovate have a fighting chance.

#3. Uncover different perceptions of value for each group within the target market

To find the right product price point, you need to know the spectrum of views on value for money. Different people have different perceptions of value.

It’s important to understand these for each customer group. If you haven’t done it already then segmentation research identifies the high priority groups to speak to.

Pricing research conducted with several segments lets you identify the price point at which you can maximize market share, revenue, and other success metrics. 

To get the most accurate information here it also helps to understand the buyer process, particularly in case any key customer segments’ process deviates from the norm.

#4. Ensure any new innovation is also an attractive commercial proposition 

It’s not just enough for a new product to fill a gap in the market. The business case needs to be strong and research will provide some of the key information needed to put one together.

Whether or not the product is an attractive commercial proposition can be determined via a range of techniques, including a market sizing exercise and SWOT analysis. The research needs to identify the strategic benefits of launching the product and forecast the likely demand.

Crucially this information, combined with the expected costs, can be used to model how much profit can be expected.

#5. Identify the go-to-market strategy that will maximize adoption

Even a new product that meets unmet needs and is an attractive commercial proposition, isn’t too big to fail after launch. A good product isn’t enough.

To reach its full potential, it needs to go to market with a well-developed and well-tested combined sales and marketing strategy. Research can help identify the right sales messages and marketing channels, informing the overall playbook for launching a successful product and maximizing adoption.

To find out more about B2B new product development research, please contact us.

Summary

Why B2B new product development research is important

There are many benefits to conducting B2B research throughout the new product development process. It enables you to: identify gaps in your current product portfolio; find white space in the market; get closer to what your customers and prospects want; determine enhancements to product concepts; explore different customer segments; identify the best pricing strategy; forecast demand; develop the best sales and marketing strategy to support the product’s launch.

What are the stages of B2B new product development research?

Studies can support: market opportunity analysis; ideation / co-creation; concept generation and testing / screening; concept validation; pricing; demand forecasting; prototype testing / UX research; sales and marcomms evaluation; post-launch.

Best practices for B2B new product development research

When carrying out research as part of any new product development process, we recommend keeping in mind the following: move beyond the status quo by pinpointing the target audience’s unmet needs; innovate by collaborating with customers to generate and iterate ideas; uncover different perceptions of value for each group within the target market; ensure any new innovation is also an attractive commercial proposition; identify the go-to-market strategy that will maximize adoption.

Chris Wells
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