B2B Panels are passé: NewtonX and the future of B2B market research

| July 9, 2021

The future of B2B market research is not a better B2B panel, but a vast network of professionals that expands and evolves to meet the demands of a business world marked by radical change and innovation.

Every business needs market research

Whether bringing a new product to market or strengthening the market positioning of an existing one, companies need to know who their market is, what customers want, and how to meet those demands better than their competitors. But valid, data-driven answers are rarely at the ready, especially when companies rely on B2B panels.

We live in the age of information, but how do we separate true signals from the noise?

Marketing research companies attempt to create data samples that accurately represent the population as a whole. These traditional B2B marketing research methods start with panels—predetermined, “closed” subsets of the population—and filter them to find answers to important B2B company questions. The problem is that currently labeled B2B panels don’t effectively serve the market research needs of businesses. In fact, panel companies compile B2C audiences that are repurposed for B2B studies with very little verification of the B2B expertise.

Though panels remain ubiquitous, they were never intended to answer B2B market research questions. In a global marketplace, information should be able to flow freely. But “closed” pools of potential B2B survey respondents have grown stagnant, leaving B2B market research stuck in the twentieth century.

 

What are market research panels, anyway?

In the Western world, B2B market research has been around since at least the end of the Gilded Age. The trust busting of the early twentieth century meant more business competition for consumers. Improved standards of living also meant consumers had more money to spend.

Old fashioned advertisements that simply informed consumers about a product simply didn’t cut it in a marketplace rife with competition; advertisements had to create need in the consumer. Serious market research became necessary if a company wanted to understand how best to manufacture that sense of need.

During the mid-twentieth century, researchers continued to refine their methods. They wanted to capture their share of the post-World War II pent up demand for consumer goods. They began integrating discoveries from the social sciences and taking advantage of technological advancements in media and telecommunication. 

Market research companies created large pools of opted-in individuals that were willing to participate in surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Market research companies had an incentive to grow the group of people as large as possible so that they could handle a more diverse array of industries without sacrificing the turn-around time of results. Selected members of the group constituted a market research panel. The panel would then give feedback that researchers could tie to demographic information, household details, shopping habits, etc.

 

Example 1: How do B2B panels look in practice?

Say the X Corporation is considering changing the packaging of their popular X Brand Snack Cakes from cellophane to something paper based, rolling out the changes first in big-box retailers in the midwest and later across the US. Before spending the money on manufacturing the new materials in bulk, they may first wish to take a litmus test of consumer attitudes. To do this, they conduct a survey.

This is where a panel comes in. The X Corporation hires a market research company and feeds them criteria for potential respondents in their survey. In this case, the criteria might be something like “buyers of X Brand Snack Cakes living in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.” They may also consider including people who don’t buy their snack cakes, perhaps hoping that a more environmentally responsible packaging method could sway Hostess loyalists toward X Cakes. 

The market research company then uses these criteria to select members of their panel for inclusion in X Corporation’s survey. Remember, the panel members provide information about where they live, their shopping habits, etc. when they sign up for the panel. This makes identifying the ideal sample of survey respondents reliably simple. With the help of the market research company’s panel, X Corporation can gather useful data that can inform if and how they go about rolling out their packaging change.

 

Market research panels and B2B market research

For B2C research, panels have long been and remain valuable. Assuming a panel is well-constructed, it offers researchers a statistically sound way to learn about the needs, desires, and habits of consumers. Unfortunately, they don’t reliably produce useful results for B2B research purposes. 

According to Experian, 98% of professionals see having high-quality data as either “extremely important” or “important” in achieving their business objectives. Yet today, only 51% of professionals consider the current state of their data to be clean and fully leverageable. Experian also found that companies throw out 30-40% of data sold today. In some cases, 73% of it goes unused in analytics.

But what, exactly, is B2B market research? Put simply, B2B market research is conducted to inform decisions about transactions between businesses. The customers are other companies. When a company performs B2B research, they’re usually looking to accomplish one or more of the following:

  • Learn about the experiences of their customers.
  • Understand what their competitors are doing and how they’re doing it.
  • Gain informed feedback on a given product or service.

Ultimately, the most important difference between B2C research and B2B research is that while B2C research focuses primarily on the tastes or preferences of consumers, B2B research focuses on the knowledge and experiences of professionals.

Example 2:

Say X Corporation lacks the facilities to manufacture and package their cakes. As a result, they have to outsource production to a factory owned by another company. The question of which factory manufactures the cakes is just as essential to X Corporation’s success as the question of whether or not consumers like the packaging.

The route to establishing which factory X Corporation ought to have produce their cakes is a little less clear than the route to establishing which packaging works best for consumers. While panels can be reliably counted on to provide broadly applicable data about things that matter to consumers, a question like “what factory will produce our cakes best?” – and the more specific questions it implies, like “what are the manufacturing methodologies used by different factories?” and “what factors beyond efficiency of production should we consider?” – are largely outside the purview of a typical market research panel. Panels don’t capture professional information of this nature; the forms people fill out when joining a panel can’t accommodate specific questions about the inner workings of many industries. By their nature, these questions can only be answered adequately by people with industry-specific experience.

 

Why there is no such thing as a B2B panel

So why not simply create a better B2B panel, one composed of industry professionals rather than consumers? The problem is that it’s impossible. Wide reach, the broadness of their selection criteria: these are the things that make panels good for B2C research. But they make them ill-equipped to answer the kinds of questions B2B research marketing clients ask.

Producing good results from a panel is only possible because the panel consists of a sample from a pre-selected group of people who’ve agreed to contribute to future research in advance; business marketing research needs are too specific to anticipate; the profile of the required professional respondent precludes the ability to pre-screen them ahead of time. Say you could perfectly anticipate whom to add to your pool of experts. It’s still unlikely they would be the perfect match for a future client. The whole approach is flawed from the start.  

Imagine a harried market researcher slapping a new B2B panel together to answer the unique demands of every industry. It’s Kafkaesque. Our ways of doing business can and should match the innovation we’ve come to expect in our technology. Even if generating one solid B2B panel were possible in the first place, business needs evolve rapidly. Even a “good” B2B panel would soon become outdated.

In short, it’s evident that traditional panel-based market research can’t meet the needs of B2B research. There’s no such thing as a good B2B panel.

 

NewtonX: The future of B2B market research

NewtonX is redefining B2B market research. Other market research companies try to force B2B pegs into B2C holes. We designed our methods with B2B-specific needs in mind. We’re the only market research company that connects forward-thinking companies with the exact professionals they need to answer their questions and solve their problems.

While other market research companies use preselected panels of potential candidates for studies, NewtonX inverts the traditional market research model with Custom Recruiting: our artificial intelligence-driven platform is equipped to find the handful of professionals whose experience and knowledge make them the ideal people to answer industry-specific questions.

 

Our methods

At the heart of our custom recruiting method is the NewtonX Knowledge Graph. It taps into an open network of over 1.1 billion professionals across 140 industries globally, taking advantage of Elasticsearch and innovations in natural language processing to target the best qualified professionals to meet our clients’ needs. Too often when using a traditional panel, businesses have to settle on the insights of whomever’s on hand. Using the Knowledge Graph is like running 40 Google searches at once. All the results are pre-reviewed and vetted for accuracy, and all are aimed at tracking down the knowledge of professionals. It allows us to aim hyper-specific queries directly at the people best qualified to answer them. The professional world is full of qualified people eager to share their knowledge; before the NewtonX Knowledge Graph, there just wasn’t the infrastructure required to connect them with the right people.

This is the future of B2B market research.  Not a better B2B panel, but a vast network of professionals that expands and evolves to meet the demands of a business world marked by radical change and innovation. Put simply, NewtonX is the ideal partner for B2B research. We find the audience who meets the specific needs of our clients anywhere in the world, at scale. We’re not bound by a panel. We can reach out to 1.1 billion experts, all of whom are 100% verified. This results in high quality professionals who can deliver high quality data to answer the most pressing business questions.

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