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In my article, Social Buyerology: Understanding Buyers in the Social Age, I offered perspectives on the need for a new discipline in B2B Sales and Marketing related to understanding new buyer behaviors and interactions in the social age. This is a follow up article that looks at the methods for helping B2B to research and gain valuable insights about the social buyer. Coincidently, my thoughts come at a time when the LinkedIn IPO and valuation has sent a ripple effect in the B2B business community. Undoubtedly bringing a heightened awareness to understanding the social buyer today. Whether the LinkedIn IPO impact is short lived or creates yet unforeseen outcomes, buyers have been impacted and will continue to be so by the advent of social technologies and social connection. Gaining insights into the social buyer will become an increasing imperative for B2B businesses in the global marketplaces of the Social Age.
Understanding the social buyer involves utilizing social research methods to gain deep insights into how buyer dynamics associated with networking, affiliations, influence, and decision-making are being impacted by the influx of social technologies and multiple channels. Multi-disciplinary approaches yielding new understandings will inform B2B organizations on adapting to as well as aligning with the evolving networked behaviors of social buyers. Such approaches guiding B2B businesses to develop business models and strategies that social buyers welcome. This welcoming very much opposed to what is fast becoming a worrisome fire hose of non-insight based content and 140 characters messaging inundating social buyers. This fire hose trend indicates that there has been an overemphasis on the technology versus a balanced view that looks at the social behaviors of buyers that are changing.
Social Buyerography: Multiple Qualitative Approaches
What we do know today is that traditional methods of structured customer, buyer, and market research that are quantitative based cannot address the social and cultural changes taking place in our business society. This includes the severely hindering structured methods typically associated with focus groups and surveys. It is not to say that quantitative structured approaches are worse but to say that qualitative approaches are specifically needed to understand behavioral and interaction changes in situational settings. Such situational as well as social settings involve group participation, networking, and decision-making. A social research strategy for understanding buyers can be described as well as housed under the term Social Buyerography. There are several qualitative approaches, both traditional as well as new, that can be considered when deploying Social Buyerography:
Field Buyer Research: there is no substitute for going out to the field to talk with buyers directly and using qualitative data gathering methods to understand buyer behaviors and interactions. Much of this is centered on unstructured qualitative interviewing as well as observations.
Ethnographic Immersion: when the situation calls for an in-depth “day in the life” perspective, immersion into the business culture of potential buyers can provide a very enriching picture of insights that is unmatched.
Contextual Buyer Interviews: this qualitative approach is used to help understand specific situational and behavioral contexts in which buyers are engaged in group and individual decision-making.
Grounded Theory Interviews: this can be used when there is a need to test and validate hypotheses on specific “grounded” observations or data. For example, a hypothesis can be formed on why an organization is experiencing year-over-year declining revenues. This type of qualitative interviewing method, while still unstructured, can be used to validate theoretical reasons that may come from observations and customer data.
As we look to the future of understanding the social buyer persona, new forms of social research methods are forming. These include webnography, digital ethnography, virtual ethnography, and others related directly to social media and social networking. The commonality amongst these and other evolving methods is that they are based on the foundation of qualitative research. These new methods augmenting sound core qualitative approaches and methods.
What is becoming more and more evident is the need to understand the social buyer of today. Again reiterating that the emphasis be gaining insight into how B2B buyers today are becoming more “social” than ever before in their behavior. Social technologies impacting the way buyers interact, network, and reach decisions. Social Buyerology and the multiple social research methods that could be enveloped under the term Social Buyerography can go a long way in helping companies to stay relevant with buyers in the social age.