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Fishing in a small pond: The drawbacks of using expert networks in market research

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By Eli Diament
Managing Director & Founder,
Azurite Consulting



Today’s investment decisions are driven by data. From signals like market share and industry growth to more detailed information about buyer sentiment and brand or product positioning, the right data can provide a crucial source of competitive advantage. In the current environment of vast and volatile economic pressure, the need for quality insight is critical.

Unfortunately, data won’t deliver insight unless it’s intelligently gathered. By now, most companies have heard pitch after pitch from research providers that promise ‘better networks’ or more reliable answers. Yet the underwhelming ‘insights’ they receive leave many feeling like they must either learn to live with subpar results or stop using market research or surveys altogether.

To understand why bad data is harmful and what to do about it, we need to think about the sources behind B2B research – in particular, the networks and their so-called “experts” whose opinions underpin findings. To better understand the dynamics at play, we can think about these experts like fish. When we try to “catch” them and analyse their opinions, we need to make sure they are as fresh as possible and much more. Here’s why.

Fishing in a small pond

The goal of any B2B research project is to get real insights from real decision makers. What drives their purchases? How much are they willing to spend? What is the size of a potential market? Where are the new sources of growth?  

To answer these and other market research questions you may have, you’ll need market-shaped answers to your questions. That means casting a wide net across the entire market to ensure you find enough respondents (to inform statistically significant results) as well as all types of respondents (to consider and understand the full view of the market).

For example, a PE firm looking to invest in project management software for the residential construction market needs to understand the perspective of the full range of decision makers, users, and influencers, including all relevant roles from property managers, builders, engineers, contractors, installers, subcontractors, and more.

If this firm goes to an expert network or panel to recruit their study, they might be able to locate property managers or finance managers. But personae like the contractors, builders and installers are unlikely to belong to such a network. That means a subset of the market is going to be left out of the study – and there’s no way of even telling the size of their impact because they weren’t included at all. 

It’s very likely that the PE firm will end up with incomplete, skewed data at the end of their study – exactly what you don’t want while making an investment decision. 

Why is using an expert network like fishing in a pond?

  • The selection is incomplete. Expert networks and panels use artificially stocked databases that contain the same group of pre-selected “decision-makers.” If that selection doesn’t include the full range of profiles you need to talk to, you’re out of luck.
  • The volume is limited. When you fish in an expert network, your response volume is limited by the volume of their database, which is rarely enough to achieve statistical significance or generate reliable results.
  • The “experts” aren’t fresh. Many expert network respondents are often retired or years out of the roles they are speaking to in research.
  • The insights are repetitive. The experts in an expert network have been “fished” and recycled over and over and over – they are inundated with offers, and the answers they provide are repetitive and stale. In other words, they are saying the same things to your competitors, which is hardly a good way to drive distinctive insight!
  • The results are skewed. Simply put, you’re sampling the pond and learning about the pond – not the market. Your results will be shaped like the network’s shape and your respondents will be biased based on how they were added to the network and the type of people who tend to participate in a network.

 

To generate results that are both reliable, distinctive and give your firm an edge, you need to be fishing in the ocean—and uncovering respondents who offer new perspectives.

Casting a wider net

Expert networks may promise to deliver any audience you ask them to research, but because they fish in the same small pond, their respondent pool will never exceed their limited networks. The good news? You don’t have to settle – in fact, you can expect much more! At Azurite, we’ve pioneered a new approach that addresses these issues by recruiting every respondent for each study from scratch—from the entire market, not just a small portion. 

We call this “fishing in the ocean,” and the idea is deceptively simple: recruit respondents from anywhere and everywhere (except from panels or expert network ponds). This enables you to source large volumes of market-shaped data to precise, customized research specifications—and the results are far superior.

Here are some of the benefits of fishing for B2B & B2B2C respondents in the ocean:

  • Volume: Recruiting from the entire market gives you exponentially more data and, as a result, a much more accurate and detailed view of all corners of the market. 
  • Reach: Fishing in the ocean enables you to gain insight from the wide range of relevant professions and personae, for any given survey.
  • Quality: Casting a wide net, outside of panels and expert networks, enables you to be more precise and survey only relevant and current decision makers.
  • Market share and shape: Collecting responses from the market reveals the shape of the market (i.e. market shares) versus the shape of an expert network or panel.

 

Reset your research expectations

At their inception, expert networks addressed a real need in the market: gaining access to real professionals gave companies deeper insight into their perspectives. But the world has changed and over time, these networks were overfished – leading companies to lower their expectations of what’s possible.

In the intervening years, several firms tried to address the problem by building bigger networks or aggregating networks – but this can only get you so far.

Decision makers behind B2B research data are individuals, not commodities. Shortchange your efforts in how you find the right individuals, and you undercut the utility of your study. Ultimately, you’ll be stuck with an impossible task—trying to wrangle disparate and nonsensical noisy data points into an executive, big picture story. 

While fishing in the ocean—and recruiting for each study from scratch – is pretty difficult, it is possible. Moreover, it’s worth it because the results are vastly superior to what alternatives deliver. Fishing in the ocean enables you to generate relevant, statistically significant insights that connect your research to your broader business questions and goals, make confident investment decisions, and maximise both the power and the reliability of your data.



Eli Diament, Managing Director & Founder, Azurite Consulting – Azurite Consulting is the only full-service research firm that recruits every respondent from scratch using our in-house team and machine learning methods. Our unique methodology and unparalleled data quality sets us apart from other providers. Founded in 2017 by ex-McKinsey & Company consultants, Azurite’s mission is to transform the value of primary research. Now Azurite is one of the most trusted, fastest-growing B2B research firms, delivering impeccable quality studies that underpin any business decision.

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