If you are embarking on a B2B research project, you’re likely to have a good idea of what it is you want to explore, or learn. Perhaps you want to better understand your target audience, or identify industry trends. You may have a more specific question in mind, like ‘What are the biggest challenges faced by businesses seeking to become more digital?’
So, you know what the goal of your research is, but have you laid down the foundations that will help you to achieve this goal?
In this blog, we maintain that setting clear research objectives is a central part of the process, and highlight four reasons why they are critical to success.
But first, what are research objectives?
Research objectives are set at the very start of a project to guide the research. Their main role is to ensure you gain insights that are relevant and useful.
First you should determine your primary research objective. This summarises the main aim of the research – what you want to find out. It should be a neutral statement, led by an infinitive verb such as ‘to explore’, ‘to understand’, or ‘to identify’.
Your primary objective could be ‘To determine the challenges manufacturers face in building a digital presence’, or ‘To explore the buyers’ journey when choosing a new service provider’.
You should then define several specific research objectives. These indicate the topics or issues the research plans to investigate to achieve the primary objective.
In the case of exploring the buyers’ journey, specific objectives may be ‘To explore the needs, behaviours and decisions made at each stage of the journey’, ‘To identify key tmoments of truth’ and ‘To understand what factors are important from a provider’.
Your objectives should be set with your business goal in mind; the reason that underlines why you are doing the research in the first place. You may be looking to explore the needs of your ideal target market because you want to win new business and increase your revenue. When setting your objectives, ask yourself, ‘What do I need to learn to help guide me to achieve my business goal?’
Why are research objectives so important?
You’d be forgiven for thinking setting research objectives is a quick and easy task. It sounds simple, right? But it’s important to invest appropriate time to think them through properly.
Here we outline the four main reasons why clearly defined objectives are vital to B2B research success.
1. Providing focus and direction
Carrying out research without setting objectives is like going on a journey with no knowledge of the destination or how to get there. You need to know where you are headed, and a map to get you there.
Having clear objectives will set you on a path to achieving your main aim and help you get the most useful insight possible. Most research projects that go wrong lead back to objectives not being clearly defined or understood. Unclear or cursory objectives can lead to irrelevant data, or insights that lack depth.
2. Informing survey and discussion guide design
Without objectives, how will you know what to ask your audience?Objectives provide you with clear direction for writing your survey or discussion guide. Think about the topics you need to cover and specific questions you need to ask that will allow you to meet your objectives.
3. Helping to engage and align stakeholders
Getting sign off to conduct research can be a hard task. Costs and a lack of understanding of the need for research can be potential barriers for your CFO or other senior team members.
You will need to convince them that it’s worthwhile. Having well-defined objectives that clearly illuminate what you are going to learn from the research, and how it will be useful to the business, will help you get them onboard.
4. Ensuring impartiality
You may have pre-conceived ideas of what the research will show, based on previous experience or personal beliefs. Or you could have a vested interest for the results to turn out a certain way; for instance, if you are testing appeal of two new product ideas and one is more financially viable. These biases may unwittingly (or not!), lead you to interpret the data in a way that fits with your expectations or best interests.
Unlike hypotheses which propose an explanation as a starting point for further investigation, research objectives are neutral statements. Therefore they help keep you on course for analysing data objectively, so that your findings are not affected by confirmation bias or other prejudices.
Having a clear goal and a clear path to reach that goal is vital to helping you deliver research that is useful and impactful. Your objectives need to be clearly defined at the outset of the project and kept top of mind at every stage; from survey design, through to analysis and outputs.