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Episode 35

The Role Of Market Research In B2B Lead Generation

Lauren Schmidt
Senior Director of Client Services & Strategy at NSRC

“Whether your market is B2B or B2C, I think everyone should use market research to understand shifting customer mindsets and expectations to gain a competitive advantage.”

Market research helps marketers gain insights into consumer behavior, attitudes, opinions, and preferences.

But how important is it in B2B lead generation and marketing communication? Can market research help you develop more effective strategies and campaigns?

Explore this topic with an expert market researcher, Lauren Schmidt from the full-service marketing research and consulting company NSRC.


Highlights From This Episode:

  • The value of market research
  • The right time to conduct market research
  • Gathering valid, unbiased data
  • Applying insights and learnings
  • Keys to quality lead qualification
  • How market research can help companies evolve
  • Understanding changing customer expectations

Watch the Live Recording

Full Episode Transcripts

Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Lead(er) Generation, brought to you by Mod Op. As a reminder, Tenlo and our sister company, NSRC, were acquired by Mod Op, and we are still in the process of merging. We are so excited to continue to explore the different areas of expertise this partnership brings us.

Tessa Burg: Today, we have Lauren Schmidt from NSRC. She is our head of market research at our new Mod Op company. And we are going to dig into what is the role of market research, and how can it amplify your lead generation and communication activities. So, Lauren, thank you so much for joining us.

Lauren Schmidt: Thanks for having me, Tessa. I’m excited.

Tessa Burg: I’m excited too. I know this was a podcast and people can’t see me, but that light tapping in the background was clapping. And that’s because this is the first time Lauren is a guest on the show, and we have been now bringing market research into our digital marketing, into our website development, brand projects, lead gen projects for the last two years. And we’ve seen some exciting stuff, but we wanted to kind of start at the beginning of the story and get a lay of the land. So Lauren, tell us first, a little bit about yourself and the journey you’ve had at NSRC.

Lauren Schmidt: Sure. So I’ve been a market researcher for over 20 years, so you can tell just by that statement alone, that market research is definitely a passion of mine.

Lauren Schmidt: So my background is I have a liberal arts degree, and it really didn’t point me in any particular direction after college. So I did some soul searching and came up with market research. I initially thought I might be more drawn to consumer research, but I find that B2B research is actually really exciting. And I’m so glad that we do a lot of it here at NSRC.

Lauren Schmidt: So, NSRC was actually my first job right out of college. And I’ve been here ever since, which most people can’t say that, but it’s been a good fit for me.

Lauren Schmidt: And just a little bit about NSRC, we’re a full-service market research firm. And that means actually a couple things. So we can take projects from the design phase, where we pick a methodology, we develop the questionnaire, we do the data collection. And when everything is all said and done, we put together a reporting of results, which sometimes can include a recommendation or a prescribed action path. So we work on projects that are actually both B2B and B2C, but like I just mentioned, B2B is our primary focus.

Lauren Schmidt: We have a lot of experience with quantitative research, which is number-driven, number-crunching kind of situations. And we also do qualitative research, where we have the chance, like you and I were just talking about, to do that deeper dive and talk with a smaller number of people, and really get the answers in their own words, a little more off-the-cuff type stuff.

Lauren Schmidt: So we have a bunch of tools in our data collection toolbox. We do online research. We do email studies. We are, in many ways, very old school, meaning we still do a lot of telephone interviewing. And I really think that that’s something that distinguishes NSRC. We have a call center, we have call specialists that work directly for NSRC. And that’s just such a tremendous resource, especially when we started talking a little bit about the lead qualification work. It’s very easy for our interviewers to transition from market research, pure market research, over to more of the lead generation type lead qualification calls.

Tessa Burg: That is a very large toolbox.

Lauren Schmidt: It is.

Tessa Burg: Break it down. And talk about where that fits in the marketing process. So for marketers, including myself and our team, we do a lot of our own research. And so, we’ll take a look at what competitors are doing. We’ll take a look at how other similar industries are getting leads or getting traffic, and the type of data. I mean, we are inundated with data, from SEO and paid search and programmatic display campaign results.

Tessa Burg: So what value above and beyond sort of that data that’s coming at digital marketers from their tool set, does market research provide, and when would I wanna access that value? Like, is there a right time to do a market research project?

Lauren Schmidt: Yeah, those are all really interesting questions. And I think the thing that makes bespoke market research different than a lot of the data streams that are out there is you get to customize everything. You customize the audience that you’re approaching. You decide who comes through the door and who gets excluded. You decide your questions. Everything can be highly specific and highly actionable, and relating directly to you as the sponsor of the research. So that’s what I would say really differentiates market research, especially custom market research, like NSRC does, from off-the-shelf reports, or Google Analytics, or anything else that’s out there in general to digital marketers. This is just a lot more focused, a lot more personalized, I guess, is the best way to put it.

Lauren Schmidt: And to answer your other question, when is the right time to do market research? Maybe you see this coming, I’m gonna say there’s really never a wrong time to do market research.

Lauren Schmidt: So if you are developing a new product, that’s an excellent time to do market research. We actually have a study going on right now for software as a service company. They’re targeting medical practices, and they are having us do a survey with their target market, which is practice managers for medical practices. And they wanna know everything from the needs of those practice managers, especially when it comes to billing. They wanna know pain points. They wanna know name recognition. How aware are they of competing products? They wanna know price expectations. They wanna know decision-making criteria.

Lauren Schmidt: So we’re gonna do such a deep dive for them that when it’s time for them to make some decisions with marketing, whether it’s their webpage or training their sales people, whatever it is, the answers that they have, the survey data that they’re about to have over the next month or two, that’s really gonna give them a huge competitive advantage over companies that don’t do market research. It’s like, they’re no longer driving blind. They’re gonna have a really nice data set with the answers that they need. So that’s an example of doing research before a product launches.

Lauren Schmidt: We do a lot of voice of the customer research. It’s always a great idea to check in with your customers, take their pulse. There’s really nothing more powerful than talking with your customers and getting candid feedback. And any time NSRC does voice of the customer, we always make sure the questions are highly, highly specific, so that if negative feedback comes back, the customer really knows a clear path forward. So, you always have the opportunity as you’re going along to do voice of the customer research.

Lauren Schmidt: Trying to think of another example. Sometimes if a product has failed to sell, we can help people do a post-mortem, then they can go back to the drawing board, whether it’s with marketing materials or with the product itself.

Lauren Schmidt: So I think those are just three great situations where market research definitely can be folded into the mix and really help the customer sponsoring the study.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. I love that answer, ’cause you hit on two things that are constantly changing and that marketers always need to know, which is what is our target audience needs? What are their pain points? Where are they struggling to meet those needs? How can you be sure that when you’re going into that deep exploration that you’re getting, I guess, valid data, that it’s not biased, that you’re not kind of directing or skewing the information? ‘Cause I feel like that’d be kind of easy. Like, if I have an intention, I have products, or about to launch a product, I feel like I might be making some assumptions about your needs. So how do you address that challenge?

Lauren Schmidt: Yeah, there’s a couple ways to do that. First and foremost, you really have to be confident in your sample. So if you’re not asking the right people the questions, that’s gonna create bias right off the bat. So you can’t just skip over that first step of picking who you’re gonna call, or who you’re gonna engage with by email or with an online panel. You can’t just skip over that step. You have to be really confident that you’re bringing the right people to the table. That’s pretty huge.

Lauren Schmidt: Another thing is the questionnaire itself. So it’s so easy to ask leading questions, or just plain old bad questions, or question that aren’t put in the language of the respondent. So I was looking at a questionnaire just today about a healthcare situation, and the questionnaire is written where they asked a question about something specific, and everyone that works for that hospital knows what the question means ’cause they are in healthcare. But the average person hearing that question, I think they’re gonna be scratching their head. Like, what the heck do you mean by that? So we always wanna take a look at the questionnaire, make sure it’s written in a way that’s language friendly for respondents.

Lauren Schmidt: And we also have little tricks of the trade. Like if there’s a list within a questionnaire, and again, this could be for anything, telephone interviewing, an email survey, you wanna randomize or rotate the way the list appears, because that way, if there’s some kind of inherent bias where the first choice gets a little priority, this way all different things appear first, all different things appear last. So randomizing is important.

Lauren Schmidt: And if you are using telephone interviewers, you wanna make sure that they’re all reading the questions the exact same way, sticking to the script, and not interpreting the questions for respondents. So those are just a few ways where, if you give it some thought ahead of time, then you can really work to avoid bias. And if you’re avoiding bias, in turn, you can feel good about the results coming through the door.

Tessa Burg: I like that. You really highlighted how all businesses have the challenge of pulling themselves out of their own skin. I think a lot of where sometimes we as marketers might make assumptions, ’cause we’re kind of living in these roles, and with the customers in our business though. We’re not outside the business looking in. And so, you’re really bringing that external lens to help organize the questions in a way that help reveal, as we like to say, some of those aha moments. Like , I wouldn’t have known that otherwise.

Lauren Schmidt: Yep.

Tessa Burg: Oh, go ahead.

Lauren Schmidt: As you’re doing digital marketing, you’re all about user experience. User experience also applies to questionnaires. You want the respondents to have a good experience, and you can do that by controlling the length, or order of the questionnaires, or not making it confusing. So yeah, we definitely keep in mind UX as we create questionnaires and gather data.

Tessa Burg: So we’ve definitely jumped into sort of this art and science of how of the questionnaire is created. Tell me a little bit about some of the outcomes that your clients have experienced after the market research is complete, and how are they then applying those insights and learnings to their business?

Lauren Schmidt: Yeah, that’s a really fun question because we have such a variety of clients, and they all bring different questions to the table that they’re hoping that we can solve.

Lauren Schmidt: So we just finished up a naming study. And we had a client who is an optical chain, and for whatever reason, because of acquisitions or just co-branding, they have optical stores across the US, but all different names. So they’re like, hold up, we really should roll out one name. There’s gonna be a lot of synergies that would come with that.

Lauren Schmidt: So internally, they put together a list of names, a group of names. And I just think they were so smart to turn to market research, to answer the question, which name is best? ‘Cause that just eliminated the infighting or the politics. It took the decision out of the hands of the people that work for the company, and it put it in the right people’s hands, which is the target market. And the target market made a decision.

Lauren Schmidt: And it was so interesting. We wanted to find out which of, I think it was like five or six names, which name resonated most with the target audience. And we were hoping, also, that the winner would be disliked the least, ’cause we measured both. We’re like, which name do you like best? Oh and by the way, which name do you dislike? So we were really hoping that there’d be a clear favorite in terms of liked most. And that that name would also be disliked by the least amount of people.

Lauren Schmidt: And the good news was there was a clear-cut winner, and they can now move forward with getting rid of these different regional names. They can roll out, and they can have consistent name. And even better than that, they can have the confidence that they didn’t just pick a name at random. They didn’t go with what they liked best. They went with what the target market wanted, and there’s nothing better than having that confidence.

Tessa Burg: That probably prevents was a lot of infighting, too. A lot of subjective opinions.

Lauren Schmidt: I felt bad because when we presented the results, I felt like I had a sense of like, who thought of what name. And they’re like, what do you mean people didn’t like it? Oh. And you hate to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the data is the data in the end. Trying to think what else.

Lauren Schmidt: We recently did some branding work for a company who wanted to just move forward with new everything. So new name, new marketing, new logo. And so, for them we created a B2B survey that just captured information about the company’s image, the company’s strengths, and the same thing for the competitor set.

Lauren Schmidt: And in the end, we came up with a really specific roadmap through just combining all of that information. And the client was able to figure out what would be their best ownable brand identity, OBI. And so, this was another aha moment, where the research was very decisive and helped them know which direction to go in based on what competitors were doing. There was a really great space for them to move into with that OBI.

Tessa Burg: That is fantastic. These are great ways, again, to avoid that infighting, to take the mystery away from these big questions. You hinted at this earlier. And something I think is super interesting is how this does translate into one, generating leads, but then two, also qualifying those leads, so that we know when we are doing these digital marketing tactics, we’re handing over people who are in line, who are our customer, who our sales team should invest the time in. Tell me a little bit about that process, and what are the keys to success to having a good lead qualification program?

Lauren Schmidt: Yeah. So, like I mentioned earlier, we’ve really had a good transition from doing market research to doing things that fall more under lead qualification. And it’s just so interesting to me that, in the end, it’s having conversations with people. It’s asking questions. It’s getting data, but in this case, it’s more that the data drives sales activities directly, as opposed to maybe some of the more broader marketing activities that we’ve talked about.

Lauren Schmidt: So we find a lot of times that NSRC, our call team, they’re acting as an extension of the client sales team. So we can really follow up on any type of lead. So it could be something as simple as someone’s come through the door with a contact us form. It could be leads that have requested either something physical, like a product sample, or even something virtual, like a white paper.

Lauren Schmidt: And we can work with lists that come from a variety of sources. Like, maybe your sales reps went to a trade show and they collected a bunch of names. And you wanna start down that path of figuring out who’s who, who’s qualified, who should be sidelined. So we work with all different scenarios basically.

Lauren Schmidt: And before we even pick up the phone to make that first call, we go through a really rigorous process of figuring out, what should we talk about during that call? What makes a qualified lead? How do we determine who should be sidelined? So it’s just really important to have that knowledge as you develop the script and as you onboard the call team, and then, and they in turn pick up the phone and start making those calls. So it’s exciting. We’ve done it for a variety of different types of companies, and everyone has different criteria for what makes a good lead. It’s interesting.

Tessa Burg: One of the things that I found fascinating when looking at the results is how much time it saves, not just making sure the sales team knows where to focus, but also in the follow-up. So I feel like a lot of, especially we have a really successful demand gen or lead gen program running, you’re getting in what looks like just a bunch of email addresses, and this really humanizes those numbers and says, we’re not just gonna throw ’em into a nurture series and just send ’em some email, is really all about, hey, you interacted with our brand, you interacted with an asset on our site or a piece of content you were curious in. Let’s find out where you are in the journey.

Tessa Burg: When you’re in this process, are you finding out anything else about the customers that could become a feedback loop for marketers as well, around like maybe where they could do a better job of delivering what customers really want, even in those early kind of discovery stages?

Lauren Schmidt: Yes, absolutely. So some of the work we do is calling existing customers that maybe have done something like purchased a new machine that’s now part of their business, or just done something that is a milestone basically. And as we make those calls, we come across cross-selling opportunities. We come across accounts at risk. So all of those are communicated directly to the client, and they can take action. So if it’s a positive thing, like a cross-sell opportunity, then they can have their sales team immediately reach out and get more information and close the sale.

Lauren Schmidt: And we do ask for a feedback loop there, because we just wanna make sure if we think we’ve come across a cross-sell opportunity, is it real? Did we use the right criteria to call that out as a cross-sell opportunity?

Lauren Schmidt: And then same thing with accounts at risk. If we hear that an account is really unhappy, then we can speak up and flag them. And again, the sales rep who is more knowledgeable and better to take action, they can immediately reach out and do what it takes to get that customer back on track.

Tessa Burg: So we’ve covered a lot of ground. I feel like before we jump into what are the other opportunities, I wanna recap that, for marketers, when we’re looking at, before we launch a product, before we launch a campaign, market research is a great opportunity to align our content strategy, our messaging, and how we’re going to treat that customer when they engage with us right up at the front.

Tessa Burg: And then when we’re looking at, now that we’ve got this engagement and we wanna support the sales team, what you’re talking about is expediting that identification of ready-to-buy customers right to the sales team, and then starting to chunk out, here are people who might need a little bit more engagement, a little bit more love depending on where they are in the journey.

Tessa Burg: So it really takes, instead of just looking at the numbers and who’s doing what, and what did they score? It’s about layering on a greater detail of understanding on, are we aligned with what they actually want and where they are in the buying process?

Lauren Schmidt: Mm-hmm.

Tessa Burg: When you look ahead to the opportunities we have, I guess we’re still in a pandemic, but coming out of the pandemic, people are buying more online. They’re doing more virtually. Do you have any clients where they’ve really had to take a step back and say, hey, do we have to go to market differently? Do we have to message differently? And where can market research sort of help companies continue to evolve and pivot as we’re getting into this next phase of 2022?

Lauren Schmidt: Yeah. And I think that’s absolutely the case, that so many things are different for people. So I think the pandemic is a game changer for how companies deliver services and the expectations of the customers who are buying the services.

Lauren Schmidt: So one quick example, we worked with a jewelry appraisal company, and pre-pandemic, they were thinking about basically a mail order appraisal service. And it was for high-value jewelry. And what that meant is they were expecting their potential customers to take an item off their finger, typically an engagement ring, ’cause it had to be valued at $5,000 or more, put it in a box and mail it away. And pre-pandemic, that was so foreign.

Lauren Schmidt: So when we did the market research to find out, is this a viable concept and will people actually do it? And in this particular survey, there was a big education component, because believe it or not, there are downfalls to using your local jewelry for an appraisal, and it could be everything from, they’re just not knowledgeable. They sold the ring to you. So they have kind of a horse in the race, so to speak, or another dark side to getting an appraisal is stone switching can take place. So jewelers that are unethical can take out your diamond and replace it, ’cause usually you leave the ring behind when you do an appraisal.

Lauren Schmidt: So once you educate people, and then you ask ’em again, now that you know the dark, the potential darker side to in-person jewelry appraisal. Now, how do you feel about FedExing your ring to our highly-qualified appraisers and everything is reassured every step of the way? So that comes to mind as an example that, I think post-pandemic or as we’re emerging from the pandemic, a lot of people would feel a lot less weird about getting a service from someone who’s not around the corner from you.

Lauren Schmidt: Whether your market is B2B or B2C, I think everyone should be thinking along those lines, like, how has my customer’s expectations changed? And how can market research, help understand those changes and help, you can get a competitive advantage if you understand that mindset shift basically.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. Yeah, you can get a competitive advantage and deliver a better experience.

Lauren Schmidt: Yes, for sure.

Tessa Burg: Especially if people are stealing your stinkin’ ring. So market research is truly your life’s work. Do you have any recommended resources or books that people can read if they wanna start learning more about market research and help them start selling in this concept of, hey, if our mission is to improve customer experience and continue to align with our audience’s evolving needs and wants and how they buy, where can people get started?

Lauren Schmidt: Yeah. And I actually had something I wanted to recommend, a book. Because NSRC has been doing so much lead generation lately, a book that I had on my mind that I wanted to share with everyone is, it’s called “The New Rules of Lead Generation”. And it’s authored by David T. Scott. And what I love about this is it touches on linking lead gen activities directly to ROI.

Tessa Burg: Oh, perfect.

Lauren Schmidt: That to me is just so exciting that it’s not just doing it to do it. It can really end up fueling ROI. And so, who doesn’t like that? So that’s a resource that I wanted to share. And anyone who has any questions about market research, whether it’s a general question or something more specific, if you have a question in mind or a potential project in mind, I’m always happy to weigh in. And the best way to reach me is my email is Lauren, L-A-U-R-E-N, S as in Schmidt @nsrc.com. So in other words, National Survey Research Center, but just the initials, .com.

Tessa Burg: Thank you, Lauren, so much for being our guest. And as always, if you wanna hear more Lead Generation episodes, you can visit tenlo.com and click podcast. Feel free to submit questions and ideas there via the direct app. And until next time, we will see you soon.

Lauren Schmidt: Thanks, Tessa. This was great.

Lauren Schmidt

Senior Director of Client Services & Strategy at NSRC

Lauren Schmidt is the Senior Director of Client Services & Strategy at NSRC. She has 20+ years of quantitative research experience with clients in a wide range of industries. While Lauren has an extensive skillset, she’s most passionate about B2B and Voice of Customer (VoC) research as well as driving ROI. Lauren’s philosophy is that market research is a necessity—not a luxury.