Moving into a new market to launch an enterprise product can be daunting, particularly in niche or high-level B2B industries, where accessing precise market information is a challenging feat. Traditionally, companies handle this difficulty either through hiring a consulting service or through buying a report from market research companies like Nielsen, IDC or Gartner. The problem with market research companies is that they offer a one-size-fits-all approach to market feedback, so 90% of the time these off-the-shelf market reports aren’t tailored to specific client needs and do not provide the specific insights required. When this occurs, executives often turn to consulting firms. But here they run into a different problem: insights may be tailored, but they’re the product of the expertise of only a handful of experts. In other words, they’re overly qualitative. This has created an urgent need in enterprise for primary market research strategies that offer robust and tailored qualitative and quantitative insights.
There are two sides to the coin when conducting primary market research: qualitative opinions from market participants (pain points, opinions on brands or products etc.) and quantitative insights (price points of competitors, customer budgets etc.). Rather than take an outside-in approach (as a company like Gartner would) or an inside-out approach (as a consulting firm would), I’ve learned that the most effective way to conduct robust primary market research for enterprise product launches is through the “sandwich approach,” wherein you precisely target hundreds of people who are likely to have insights about your product, and then follow a “Quant-Qual-Quant” approach to conducting surveys and interviews.
The Sandwich Method: A Qual-Quant-Qual Approach to Market Feedback
The first step to getting actionable, in-depth market feedback is defining who the market is. If you’re selling a B2B product precisely targeting Senior VPs of Tier 1 financial institutions, then you need to ensure that you’re getting feedback exclusively from this cohort of people and their related decision makers – not just anyone from any bank, as this would pollute your data set. Define the ideal title, employers, number of years of experience, and other defining features that your customer should have (such as whether or not they’ve used a competitor product), and then target only these people.
Then, employ the sandwich method.
Step 1: Conduct a set of qualitative one-on-one interviews with 10 experts in the space to gain a framework for how your target customers think about the survey questions at hand. These qualitative, open-ended questions inform the vocabulary and approach that you can then take in designing the final quantitative survey. For instance, you could ask: what feature would you like to see in [Competitor Product]?
Step 2: Design and deploy the survey. Use the information gained from the sample mini qualitative survey to inform vocabulary and questions in the large scale survey. For instance, you could use the responses to the features question above to ask respondents to rank the features sourced in the mini survey in order of what they’d be willing to pay more for. Once the survey is designed, you can deploy it to hundreds of experts to gain a wide comprehensive quantitative view of the market.
Step 3: Within the results of the large quantitative survey, there will typically be around ten respondents who have outlier responses (price sensitivity, etc) or an unusual answer to a question. The final layer in the quant-qual-quant process is to hone in on these outliers and do a qualitative deep-dive to understand their behavior. This deep dive will typically happen in interview format so that you can gather insights in the form of opinions and experience, rather than pure facts.
The breakdown of the sandwich should typically be 5-10% of the total number of experts surveyed for steps one and two. This sandwich approach combines the best of the two traditional approaches to gaining market feedback: qualitative feedback from real customers as well as broad market insights from the survey.
The New Primary Market Research For Enterprise: Talk to the Right People in the Right Way
Traditional market research strategies rely too heavily either on a few opinions or on building a narrative around publicly available information (like forecasts for the market or competitor spend). To truly understand what your customer values, how much they are willing to pay, and what they like and dislike about your product and your competitor’s products, you need to go beyond a few interviews and published reports. Companies don’t need research or analysis from consulting companies for go-to-market strategies; they need unadulterated quantitative and qualitative data and insights from the people who will be using the product. After all, understanding the customer is the key to any successful product launch.