Marketing professional meets with a B2B market research agency team about an upcoming project for her business.
July 18, 2023

How (and When) to Hire a B2B Market Research Agency

by Michael Brenner

B2B market research plays a crucial role in informing business strategies and enhancing market positioning—and hiring a B2B market research agency is the best way to do it. Outsourcing market research has become an increasingly popular choice for companies as it offers valuable benefits like specialized knowledge, cost effectiveness, time savings, and objectivity.

Most importantly, when you perform quality market research with the help of a professional agency, you gain insight to help you move your business ahead of competitors, better serve your customers, and drive winning strategies.

In this guide, we’ll explore how to know when you need a B2B market research agency and 6 essential traits to look for in the one you hire.

Quick Takeaways

  • B2B market research gathers and analyzes a specific business environment. It includes data on markets, customers, competitors, and trends.
  • Most of the time, outsourcing to a B2B market research agency is more cost effective and yields higher ROI than trying to execute projects in-house.
  • Important traits to look for in an agency include a proven track record, industry-specific expertise, clear processes, top technology tools, and cultural fit.

What is B2B Market Research?

B2B market research is the systematic gathering and analysis of data on a specific B2B business environment. Its goal is to inform strategy and help an organization improve their market

position. When executed well, it involves the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data that is organized, categorized, and translated to insights using data-focused software tools.

Key areas of focus in B2B research include:

  • Market Trends — What’s happening in your niche? What trends are impacting demand, sales, and customer behavior?
  • Customer Segments and Needs — Who are the target buyers for your solutions? What problems are they trying to solve? What goals are they trying to accomplish?
  • Competitors — Who are the top competitors in your space? Are there any newly emerging?
  • Emerging Technologies — What technology tools are changing the game?
  • Economic Conditions — What external economic factors are impacting your markets?

Understanding these focus areas, how they impact each other, and ultimately how they impact your business enables your teams to make smarter decisions and develop informed strategies.

In other words, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to move your business ahead of competitors and stay resilient amidst external factors you can’t control. You’ll be more agile, responsive to market changes and customer needs, and on the pulse of timely trends.

When Should You Outsource Market Research?

Effective B2B market research requires very specific experience and expertise and the use of sophisticated analytics tools—resources most companies don’t have in-house. Hiring research teams and implementing technology tools is expensive and not cost effective. 

In nearly all cases, the best option is to outsource your research to a B2B market research agency. If you’re not convinced, consider these outsourcing benefits:

  • Specialized knowledge — Most B2B market research firms have teams that specialize in particular industries and niches.
  • Cost effectiveness — By outsourcing, you eliminate overhead costs and get access to bundled pricing for research, reporting, and even post-research consulting.
  • Time savings — Your internal teams can stay focused on mission-critical projects while your research is being conducted.
  • Objectivity — A third-party research team won’t be swayed by a desired outcome.

B2B companies are recognizing the value of these benefits and taking advantage—in 2022, 90% of companies either maintained or increased their levels of  investment in outsourcing research and other key business processes.

In 2022, 90% of companies either maintained or increased their investment in outsourcing research and other key business processes.

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The question, then, isn’t whether to outsource your market research, but how to know when you need to perform it. Here are a few scenarios when B2B market research could be beneficial for your organization:

  • It’s been awhile — If it’s been a few years since you last did market research, it’s time to do it again. Some companies (especially startups) make the mistake of doing lots of research during the launch period, then not as much as they mature. You always need market insight, so if it’s been awhile, consider a new research initiative.
  • Not hitting targets — If sales aren’t performing as expected, you might be experiencing a product/market fit or other issue that requires further exploration.
  • Launching new projects — Most new products and businesses fail due to lack of market need. Don’t launch based on assumptions. Do your research before you go to market.
  • Entering new markets — Same applies here. Don’t assume a new market will want or need your solutions. Research and confirm.
  • Getting negative feedback — If you’re receiving negative feedback but can’t solve the problem (or get to the root of it), B2B market research can be helpful for finding insight.
  • Need competitive insights — Competitive landscapes are always changing. If you feel like you don’t have a good sense of your current competitors, research is probably in order.

But choosing to outsource is only the first step. To earn maximum ROI on your research, you need to know what to look for in a B2B market research agency, and how to decide which one is best for your project and business.

Let’s look at 6 qualities to look for in agencies you consider.

What to Look For in Your Market Research Agency

Proven Track Record

As with any agency you hire, you want to be sure your B2B market research agency has a proven track record and stellar reputation with past clients and peers. Look for reviews and testimonials or case studies published on the agency’s website. If you can’t find these materials, ask directly for their marketing/sales team to share examples of previous client success.

Industry Expertise

Most industries require some level of specialized knowledge and expertise. Not every agency will have expertise in every industry, but it’s a good idea to look for one that does have experience in yours. For the best idea of how well a company knows your industry, ask if you can speak to their subject matter experts (SMEs) about the topics you plan to research.

Clear Research Processes

No two research processes are exactly the same, but B2B market research agencies should have best practices in place that they apply to all of their work with clients. Don’t hesitate to ask about these processes, and look for an agency that can describe them confidently and in detail, from initial research to data collection and analysis to final reporting.

BI and Analytics Tools

The size and scope of datasets used in modern B2B market research demands the use of BI and data analytics tools. Any agency you consider should be using top technology tools to execute market research and be able to walk you through how they’re used to enhance results.

You can also ask about specific tools used and review them to get your own sense of their strategic value and/or compare the tools used by different agencies.

Strong Reporting Processes

How will your B2B market research agency deliver final insights? This is important because the final report your agency delivers will be what you use to drive strategy. In many cases, agencies also include raw data. If that’s something you want included, be sure to ask about it. Other key reporting considerations include format, design, and time to delivery.

Cultural Fit with Your Business

Ultimately, performing B2B market research is a collaborative process with whichever agency you choose to hire. The agency may be doing much of the heavy lifting, but you’re providing the initial goals and context around the research project.

Your teams will need to meet periodically to go over progress and collaborate to ensure the final deliverables are what your business expected and needs.

Be sure to choose an agency that shows good cultural fit with your business from the start—for example, one that shares the same communication style, uses tools that can easily integrate with your own, and can meet your preferences around collaboration processes.

Hiring a B2B Market Research Agency: The Key Takeaway

When you have an important research initiative on the horizon, hiring a B2B market research agency is more than just an option—it’s almost always the best approach for executing a project with confidence and getting the results you need.

Fortunately, researching potential agencies is easier than ever. And by looking for one that has a proven track record, expertise in your industry, the right tools in place, and cultural and process alignment, you can perform research that delivers new insight and drives your strategy forward.

Michael Brenner is a keynote speaker, author and CEO of Marketing Insider Group. Michael has written hundreds of articles on sites such as Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Guardian and he speaks at dozens of leadership conferences each year covering topics such as marketing, leadership, technology and business strategy.