How to do in-depth B2B market intelligence research: our guide

How to do in-depth B2B market intelligence research: our guide

Key takeaways: Market intelligence involves research into customers, competitors, and industry trends. Looking outside your business activities, it has an external focus – identifying opportunities in the market to capitalize on and threats needing attention. To succeed with B2B market intelligence, it’s important to choose the right research methods and recruit high-quality respondents.

What is market intelligence in B2B?

The goal of market intelligence is to help your business grow – taking advantage of new opportunities and mitigating the risk posed by threats.

It involves conducting research into your potential customers, competitors, and relevant industry trends.

Take the relatively nascent use cases for generative AI in B2B, for example. Leveraging generative AI can create a 50% rise in the conversion rate between leads and sales in B2B, according to Boston Consulting Group analysis.

For businesses looking to achieve that level of success with generative AI, market intelligence helps take the guesswork out of their strategy. The right insights into the target market, competitive landscape, and relevant trends can inform how they try to capitalize on the opportunity.

But there are several adjacent terms to market intelligence, often causing confusion – including marketing intelligence and market research. In short, you could argue that market intelligence has a greater ‘external’ focus compared to market research in its purest form.

However, in practice, B2B market research rarely studies a brand’s performance in isolation – you need to consider external factors for a complete picture. In other words, it’s rare to do a B2B research project without any market intelligence.

In reality, businesses and research agencies often use these terms interchangeably. To help achieve your growth goals, what matters most is ensuring you gain valuable insights into the key factors both in and out of your control.

Contents

B2B market intelligence – key principles

B2B marketing intelligence vs. market intelligence

How to do B2B market intelligence research

Best practices for market intelligence research in B2B

 

 

B2B market intelligence – key principles

To do that, broadly speaking, B2B market intelligence tends to cover three main areas. Most projects factor in all three aspects to provide a holistic view:

Taking each of these in turn:

#1 Target audience

Accurately defining, segmenting, and sizing the right audience for your products or services can result in:

  • Better lead generation
  • Improved conversion rates
  • Tailored products and services that meet buyers’ needs
  • Higher customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Improved ROI for marketing campaigns

Beyond that, you can use market intelligence to improve how you target this audience. For example, by exploring product usage and attitudes, or how to improve the customer experience.

#2 Competitive intelligence

Competitive intelligence in B2B involves analyzing your rivals’ performance and the market landscape in general.

Benefits of B2B competitive intelligence research include:

  • Finding newcomer challengers
  • Identifying threats
  • Evaluating rivals’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Benchmarking your performance
  • Finding white space

Competitive intelligence in B2B should not involve unethical practices, such as anything that could count as corporate spying or espionage. It should not seek out any confidential or insider information.

For example, B2C researchers have an ethical competitive intelligence tool, mystery shopping, but this is rarely appropriate in B2B.

That’s because B2B products or services tend to be higher value and involve purchase processes lasting many months. It’s not appropriate to waste highly skilled salespeople’s time by feigning an interest in their goods, with no intention of buying them.

#3 Trends

Many market intelligence projects also aim to identify and explore emerging market trends that could shape the insights.

These tend to be political, economic, social, technological, legal, or environmental factors – a PESTLE analysis.

Sometimes, one trend is the core focus of the project – such as sustainability research, for example.

B2B marketing intelligence vs. market intelligence

As with B2B market research and market intelligence, people often use the terms market intelligence and marketing intelligence interchangeably too.

Technically, you can distinguish between them in a few ways.

B2B marketing intelligence

Marketing communications research, or marcomms research, helps your messaging and channel strategy capitalize on buyers’ wants and needs.

These evolve over time. New campaigns, or adjustments to old ones, can take advantage of these, informed by insights from marcomms research.

You can evaluate which channels to use, which unmet needs to target, which marketing materials to refine, and then, monitor their impact.

The process tends to involve the three core principles mentioned above – seeking feedback from the target audience, assessing the competition, and factoring in relevant trends.

There are also thought leadership projects, designed to demonstrate your expertise and boost brand reputation.

B2B market intelligence

Market intelligence is broader. Whereas marketing intelligence is primarily for marketers – and by extension, sales teams – market intelligence efforts may impact broader business decision-making more consistently.

The broadest form of market intelligence involves market assessment research. In this study, you analyze whether to enter, stay in, or leave a market.

With a market assessment analysis, you can:

  • Inform go/no-go decisions
  • Forecast market size
  • Evaluate competitors and their market share
  • Identify the target market and ideal customers
  • Explore key PESTLE trends
  • Find opportunities with a high ROI potential
  • Test product concepts

Similar to a market assessment project, but more focused, is commercial due diligence – analyzing the attractiveness of an asset in its market.

Of course, these types of projects inform much more than your marketing strategy.

As before, people often use both terms interchangeably. It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you’re getting the insights you need to achieve your goals.

How to do B2B market intelligence research

Not every project involves such a broad scope as a market assessment though. Usually, the approach is more targeted, with businesses doing projects focusing on one or more of the following objectives:

#1 Market segmentation

A market segmentation in B2B involves categorizing your target audience into different groups of clients with comparable traits.

These can include industry, firm size, geographic location, purchasing behaviour, and demographics. And in B2B, more specifically, this often involves segmenting by decision-maker type, profitability potential, psychographics, and jobs-to-be-done.

Segmentations help businesses to better understand their target audience and tailor marketing or sales tactics to each group’s specific demands. A more marketing-focused segmentation project type involves creating buyer personas.

#2 Brand development

This is about building a strong brand that’s differentiated from competitors and conveys the benefits you want the target audience to recognise in your business.

It requires an analysis of the wider market, looking for gaps, but also plenty of introspective research – identifying what makes your brand tick and how to communicate it.

There are several different aspects to B2B brand research including brand architecture decisions, product naming, visual identity considerations, and more.

#3 Buying process

The typical buying process is more complex in B2B than B2C, so it’s crucial to understand how your target audience makes purchases.

Getting market intelligence on the B2B buying process involves analyzing decision-making units and the stages they go through during the buyers’ journey.

You can also conduct a win-loss analysis to find out why you’re missing out on sales and the part played by competitors’ performance.

#4 Perception tracking

Next, brand tracking research:

  • Measures overall brand health
  • Monitors change over time
  • Identifies brand health issues and how to correct them
  • Benchmarks brand health against competitors

It also explores customer satisfaction among your target audience and competitors.

Brand tracking measures this using metrics such as CSAT, NPS, customer effort score, bespoke North Star metrics, and other key performance indicators (KPIs).

#5 Product development

Lastly, new product development research can:

For these types of market intelligence projects, here is some guidance for getting insights into your target audience, competitor set, and relevant trends:

Best practices for market intelligence research in B2B

#1 Leverage the expertise of internal stakeholders from the outset

Your colleagues will likely have some market intelligence that can’t be found elsewhere. But too often, silos in large companies are a barrier to knowledge-sharing.

Internal interviews or virtual workshops with key stakeholders can save you a lot of time during the initial stages of projects.

Overlooking this often leads to duplicated efforts, wasted resources, and results that won’t answer stakeholders’ remaining questions.

#2 Use secondary research sources

Also known as desk research, secondary research is a straightforward and cost-effective way to get market intelligence via online and offline sources.

It’s particularly useful for exploring market trends, learning about competitor perceptions, and getting information for risk analysis studies.

Sources include government datasets, company annual reports, trade press, industry publications, independent associations, and much more.

#3 Choose the right primary research method for your objectives

Comparing secondary research and primary research, for unique market data that’s tailored to your company objectives and isn’t available elsewhere, you’ll need the latter too.

Depending on your objectives, choose between quantitative and qualitative research – for some studies, it’s preferable to use both.

Quantitative research validates your findings with numerical data and statistics, often using online surveys.

Qualitative research explains the reasons behind results – e.g. why the target audience needs a service, why they go to competitors, or why a new trend will have an impact. The methods include in-depth interviews and online focus groups.

#4 Include relevant international markets in your projects

If your business goals cover several countries, don’t assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. Customer preferences can vary significantly in different markets.

That’s the importance of B2B market research. Budget permitting, try to include all your key markets in a project.

Factors to consider with international B2B research include:

  • Picking appropriate dates and times
  • Accounting for cultural differences
  • Localizing the research materials
  • Using native moderators for interviews

Lastly:

#5 Take the time to recruit high-quality B2B respondents

Including the wrong respondents in market intelligence studies can ruin your results. It takes time to do sampling in B2B market research properly, but it’s worth it to get customer data you can trust and rely on.

Usually, that means looking beyond so-called B2B research panels, as many do not have genuine business decision-makers taking part. Often, they’re selling consumer data – respondents with jobs, but with the seniority or industry expertise you’re looking for.

Viable options include building a proprietary contact database, recruiting via LinkedIn, and considering hiring a market research agency that prioritizes B2B respondent quality.

Summary

B2B market intelligence – key principles

Broadly speaking, B2B market intelligence covers three main areas: the target audience, competitive intelligence, and trends.

How to do B2B market intelligence research

The approach is targeted, with businesses running projects focusing on one or more of the following: market segmentation; brand development; buying process; perception tracking; and product development.

Best practices for market intelligence research in B2B

For market intelligence studies in B2B, we recommend that you: leverage the expertise of internal stakeholders from the outset; use secondary research sources; choose the right primary research method for your objectives; include relevant international markets in your projects; and take the time to recruit high-quality B2B respondents.

Chris Wells
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