What Is a B2B Focus Group?

What Is a B2B Focus Group?

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A business-to-business (B2B) focus group is a small panel of experts whose reactions, thoughts, and opinions are studied to gain insight about a product, marketplace, or strategic area of focus. An experienced qualitative moderator prepares the content for these sessions and leads the participants through a series of topics and questions using a discussion guide to ensure all key research objectives are met.

B2B focus groups are designed to gauge business decision makers’ attitudes, opinions, needs, and purchasing processes. They are well suited to gathering qualitative insight around product development or product marketing. Such insight can help dictate a new direction for a new idea, a product feature, or even packaging and marketing messages. A common goal of a B2B focus group is to understand how to create the product or message that resonates most with your target audience, at times identifying unmet needs in the market and translating this into a product idea to meet those needs.

Where a business-to-consumer (B2C) group consists of a wide variety of individuals who can comment about their personal use of a service/product, a B2B focus group consists of specialized professionals who share feedback and viewpoints from the perspective of using a product or service as a solution to a business need.

In-Person Focus Group

A face-to-face focus group is very helpful when you’re dealing with physical stimuli, such as a prototype that needs to be passed around. You can observe the population interacting with it, holding it, or using it. What’s more, in-person B2B focus groups give you the ability to safely test proprietary product designs not yet on the market, as the participants can’t take the items home and are restricted from taking pictures.

Virtual Focus Group

For a geographically dispersed population, a virtual B2B focus group might be your best bet. For example, if you’re seeking a population of HR/IT decision makers to review a software company’s marketing campaign, you don’t want to confine your panel to a specific geography. You need a broad swath of panelists across geographies who reflect your national audience. Often, B2B focus groups require a population that is difficult to reach, and a virtual format improves the feasibility of reaching these high-value experts.

Virtual focus groups also tend to be more cost-effective than their in-person counterparts in terms of both time and money spent. Because it puts less demand on the panel members, a research manager can spend less time sourcing and recruiting them. The honorarium paid to panelists may be less and there are no built-in travel costs that must be reimbursed.

Virtual vs. In-Person Focus Groups

When to Conduct a B2B Focus Group

While a standalone focus group can provide important insights, it is beneficial to conduct more than one focus group so you can compare findings across them. You would not want the company’s marketing campaign to be decided by hosting only one focus group with five people. Moreover, you may be shorting yourself on insights by conducting only one B2B focus group.

Depending on your research goals, a B2B focus group could be conducted during a few stages of the project life cycle. It will help you uncover the “why” behind decisions made surrounding a product or service. Focus groups are most useful during the ideation stage of your research process and will allow you to gather a consensus of opinions before moving into validation (survey). This cycle is not linear and could constantly be looped to ensure iteration and updated/relevant insights for your company.

One key to running a successful B2B focus group is blinding the background of the research sponsor, which is important to maintain anonymity to avoid any biasing behaviors due to past experience or perceptions. A participant who knows that company X is the sponsor of the focus group may be reluctant to speak critically about company X, but when company X is obscured, a respondent can speak more openly and think more objectively about the topic. An unblinded focus group, where the panel knows what company they are speaking about, may not provide unbiased insights.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is essential to have a skilled and experienced focus group moderator who can not only effectively guide the discussion and keep participants on topic but can also be impartial and unbiased, allowing for the insight to emerge naturally.

Focus Group Case Study

Do I Need a B2B Focus Group?

B2B focus groups are ideal for companies developing products or services for highly specialized audiences. Whether virtual or in person, they allow researchers to make a direct and personal connection with a panel that ultimately represents the decision makers and influencers in a given market. Well-run focus groups can provide essential insights for any product development or product messaging road map.

Read more in our article, Focusing on Focus Groups.

Or, download a copy of our ebook,
Diving Deeper: GLG’s Guide to Effective Qualitative Research.

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