Our approach to primary research

by Tom Ehrbar

We do a lot of primary research for our clients to get information about innovative companies and current business conditions. Primary research is one of the best ways of understanding market perceptions and sentiments, among business leaders as well as consumers. Collation of secondary data, macro indicators, and prior research can help assess the past, but when it comes to gathering the currentviews of business leaders, secondary information is too static. Primary research, especially by fielding surveys and conducting interviews, can be customized to test out a hypothesis about an industry or region, or perhaps explore the thinking of current practitioners in the HR department, for example. Because these kinds of interviews are exploratory in nature they can tap into the minds of an audience and explore the views that are emerging from present-day thought leaders.

Our initial step in conducting this kind of research involves agreeing on the overall themes to explore and crafting an interesting hypothesis with our partners. Our process then shifts to investigating different ways of querying these assumptions. One of the most important tools we use for this kind of evidence-gathering (or “discovery” as a lawyer might say) is a thought-provoking questionnaire targeted to the proper audience and programmed using an advanced survey tool.

We start by developing a respondent sample geared to the appropriate audience—typically by concentrating on specific locations, industries, titles, company sizes, and other relevant demographics. Because we work with a range of survey companies and panel providers around the world, we can guarantee that we will meet all targets as agreed.

In fact, I recently had the good fortune to travel to India to meet a number of our survey partners in order to review their procedures when it comes to putting a survey into the field. We work with companies that manage sizable full-time staffs of interviewers (rather than market research “aggregators” who hire and train staff only as needed). As a result, we have access to skilled, veteran interviewers with domain-specific expertise in talking to C-level executives about the core industries and business issues we cover, including technology, financial services, healthcare, and enterprise organization. In fact, our survey partners have specific groups that specialize in just these areas, so they are trained on current issues and ready to move when we are.

These partner audits were an important step for us, since we believe strongly in gaining a full understanding of the entire value chain when it comes to doing primary research. Our survey partners feel the same way, and were more than happy to share the standards and processes by which they operate.

I’ll present a lot of what I learned about B2B survey research in some upcoming posts.

Tom Ehrbar is Senior Editor with the Thought Leadership group and manages much of its survey research.