Questioning for outbound B2B marketing research

Most of us assume our customers are happy by virtue of the fact that they’re not complaining. The fact is, on many occasions, we have seen this to not be the case. By the time the organisation has identified an issue, it is often too late with the customer who may already be in discussions with competitors or have signed contracts elsewhere.

Probe information that is delivered unwittingly

By asking the right questions, and listening carefully for information that is delivered unwittingly, as well as that which is freely offered, companies can really get to the bottom of how their business or their products and services are perceived by their client base. For example, asking customers if they are happy might generate a yes answer, but if you gently probe that information, it’s quite possible that the customer is happy enough to pay your next invoice, but not happy enough to stay with the business at contract renewal time. So asking the question ‘are you happy with the service’, and following that with ‘tell me a bit more about your experience as a customer’, might in fact generate an entirely different picture, and possibly one that helps you avoid losing that customer to a competitor.

A mixture of open and closed questions

This might sound like the very basics, but it is always the first area where organisations can become too comfortable. It is not unheard of for Customer Success Managers/Account Managers or whoever the main customer contact is, to fall into less than desirable practices.

This is where outsourced market research comes into its own… Effective market research can be a costly component to the marketing budget if the questioning methods used are not carefully managed. Closed questions will help generate answers that can be easily analysed and understood by the use of a graph or table. However, closed questions are not great for probing the information that might be lying below the surface of the answer.

Open questions usually begin with the words ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ as they give broader, more expansive answers. But too many open questions can lead to a huge amount of analysis work because the only way to extrapolate data is to tag certain keywords and build the anecdotal answers into a picture that is representative of what all the different respondents are saying. Using a mixture of open and closed questions offers the ideal opportunity to get a more complete picture that can be presented in the form of a simple report.


A piece of market research using mainly closed questions, (these are the questions that generate a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer), or a piece of concrete data such as age groups, can be pulled together into a series of graphs, charts, or tables. The answers will be easy to understand and concisely represented numerically. Usually, the number of people researched for this kind of exercise will be high, and typically a piece of research using these methods will be referred to as quantitative market research.

Market research using open questions tends to have lower numbers of respondents involved, with the idea that with each one you’re getting more insight and deep diving on a particular subject matter, which is then analysed in order to produce a report containing more textual, anecdotal or non-numerical information. This information will be called qualitative market research.

Ideally, a combination of the two will be used, in particular for business to business market research, as it offers the advantage that you can drill down on areas where a customer might have more to say.

Companies that take the time to conduct regular market research will identify opportunities and problems as well as understanding competitive behaviour, much more quickly than those that don’t.

In summary, analysing all aspects of your business and the markets that you are working in or wanting to expand into, can make the difference between growth, and at best, standing still.


Written in partnership with Marketscan, the B2B data specialists

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