Research expert Tyler Kettle knows what it takes to thrive in a fast-paced, insight-hungry marketplace. As a Research Team Lead in Market Development and Insights at IBM, Tyler is at the forefront of one of the most competitive and fastest-moving industries today.
We recently sat down with Tyler to ask him about the role of market research in B2B high-tech companies. He also shared some highlights from his presentation at the 2017 SiriusDecisions Summit and his advice for market researchers who aspire to build a long career in tech.
What would you say are the top challenges facing the B2B tech industry, and why?
The first challenge is staying up-to-date with the B2B buying process and the roles involved in the process. Companies and roles change over time, and to remain relevant to buyers, tech companies need to make sure they understand the IT purchasing process and how it evolves.
Detecting the signal from the noise is also important. In tech, we hear about so many trends. Companies need to validate with their customers that those trends are relevant to their business.
You have a great track record in driving efficiency and agility. At IBM, you reduced project timelines by 75 percent. What are the processes you’ve employed to make that happen?
Accelerating research requires recognizing when good enough is good enough. The ultimate goal of market research is to reduce risk, and often research with 70 percent or 80 percent certainty is better than being late in the market. Research teams need to educate themselves that for certain business decisions, traditional research—those that take five to eight weeks to field, for instance—may not be appropriate as stakeholders don’t always have that amount of time to wait for that decision.
I’ve embraced what I like to call “directional” research. We have an insight community that allows us to quickly go out and get customer feedback within a week, or in some cases even two to three days. Having a community of deeply profiled customers allows us to get a quick pulse on how B2B buyers think and feel. It allows us to get a good qualitative, directional read on buyer opinions and attitudes.
"Having a community of deeply profiled customers allows us to get a quick pulse on how B2B buyers think and feel."
That said, there are times when “good enough” won’t cut it. Some risky, strategic decisions do require 95 percent certainty. In our business, something like market sizing or product pricing requires a deep dive.
Accepting the concept of “good enough” is something I had to learn outside of my formal education. This approach has been based on my past experience conducting research in organizations that are focused on being agile in decision making. Adopting what is good enough for certain projects allows you to make research more relevant and to influence decisions in an agile organization.
At the 2017 SiriusDecisions Summit, you talked about the role of agile insight to accelerate decision-making. How do you balance being fast with being right?
When I start working with stakeholders, I start with their business objectives. I uncover how they plan to use the research to inform decisions.
When you begin by understanding people’s business goals, it allows you as a researcher to determine if the project fits the “good enough” model, or if it’s something that requires a six- or eight-week study to fully validate.
In many companies, research budget has either flatlined or dropped. What are the best ways for researchers to do more with less?
Many researchers tend to only stick to things that have worked well in the past. But we need to take risks and uncover new methodologies or approaches. Challenge your team to think differently. Embrace new ideas and continue looking for new ways to improve your processes.
Prior to joining IBM, you worked at Johnson & Johnson. What are the biggest differences between working for a consumer packaged good (CPG) company and a high tech company?
The biggest difference isn’t really about the products we're selling. Rather, the biggest difference is in understanding the end decision maker.
With CPG products, there's usually only one person making the decision; in high-tech B2B, the buying process involves multiple individuals who play various roles in the final decision. In B2B tech, you need to consider how insight can help your company influence a group of individuals rather than just one person.
How does market research differ in B2B versus B2C?
The main difference is the people we’re engaging with. In my role at IBM, I’m talking to people who are buying products not just for themselves, but for their company. I’m not really asking them just about what they want, but about what other people in their companies want.
One challenge in doing market research in B2B is finding the right customers to engage with, especially people in specific roles. In B2B, we have a smaller population of customers to work with.
Despite the smaller pool of people, however, I enjoy that B2B customers are very invested in their participation. These people want to engage in the topics we ask them about. They enjoy participating in research activities because the topics are relevant to them.
When you engage B2B buyers, do you find that they have higher expectations from you?
Yes, B2B buyers expect us to do something with their feedback. That’s why sharing back what we did with our buyer’s feedback is important. Sometimes closing the feedback loop can be as simple as showing buyers how their peers responded to the same subject. B2B buyers are curious what people like them are saying or doing within their own roles.
"Sometimes closing the feedback loop can be as simple as showing buyers how their peers responded to the same subject."
We make it a point to share back to our insight community members. So we help bring them by up to speed on what is going on in the market by sharing topics on new technologies and upcoming trends that they may not have heard of yet. And in fact, many of our community members have told us that that they appreciate getting information that will help them become more relevant in their roles.
What are the most influential books that you’ve read or that have shaped your career?
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People comes to mind, in particular the updated version released in 2012. It’s very relevant to the digital age. The new edition covers how to engage with people within your company on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
"I don’t see myself simply as market researcher, but a marketer of research."
Thriving as a marketer or researcher today isn't about producing the best report or the most sophisticated insights from a research study. Success requires influencing people within your own department and groups that you support. How to Win Friends and Influence People was one of the first books that helped me learn best practices on how to do that and build authentic relationships with colleagues.
I don’t see myself simply as market researcher, but a marketer of research. I promote my insights to get decision-makers to act differently based on my research. In that sense, my role is similar to what our marketers are trying on a daily basis. They're creating content that can compel somebody to consider one of our products or solutions. In my role, I'm developing content that can get our marketers to adopt a strategy or decision based on our research.
What advice do you have for young researchers who want to build a career in tech?
If you want to go into high-tech B2B business, you have to understand the individuals making decisions: the CIOs and CTOs. Read a lot of content that speaks to the challenges of these roles.
Also, be open to change. Things move quickly in tech, and within a few years, buyer behaviors, needs and challenges evolve significantly. To add value to your company and thrive in tech, you need to identify changes in the marketplace early and be able to adapt to them.
Thanks to Tyler for his informative insights into making the market research process more effective. Don’t forget to visit our other Q&As with experts and influencers to learn more about current trends in market research and customer engagement.