Market research is a key element for just about any b-to-b publisher and developing a research program accomplishes several key strategies all at once: You get an unparalleled understanding of your marketplace, both readers and vendors; you get solid editorial products; and you can achieve significant revenue gains by selling research products back into the market. But what’s the best way to pull a program together? Sharon Valencik, director of research and marketing/PR for TelecomWeb, Access Intelligence’s Internet hub for the telecom industry, heads up a research group that produces over 20 reports annually and accounts for $3 million to $5 million, or roughly 50 percent, of the telecom group’s revenue.

At its most fundamental, a research program, says Valencik, mainlines you directly into your market. "It will help you understand your customers," she says. "You can find out what people are looking for and if they’re getting their needs met, plus what they’ll be looking for in the future. You’ll really understand their demands and be able to forecast them."

An In-House Approach
Valencik manages a team that produces its own research in-house. An in-house research expert, says Valencik, should be someone with a background in qualitative and quantitative research methods, and experience in a couple different industries. "The experience doesn’t have to be in the same industry, but the person should be able to apply a traditional market research approach to any industry. Expertise in questionnaire development, marketing and overall business/media experience is key," she says.

However, AI outsources a Web-based platform for conducting surveys, which allows for efficient data collection. There are a number of vendors that offer Web-based survey applications that range in complexity and price. Pricing can range from $20 to $20,000 per month. Valencik spends about $4,000 per month on TelecomWeb’s platform. Anchoring the program is a panel of readers that are collected via registration for content on the site. "When I started here, we built a research panel of 4,000 IT decision makers worldwide. These are CIOs," says Valencik. "These are people we can go to anytime that we need to do a survey on what’s going on in the industry."

Valencik uses the survey tool to monitor how well samples are pulling. "We keep close tabs on our survey tool and we look at how we’re doing in terms of what kind of demographic reach we’re getting-whether it’s per country, per region, per size of company, or per industry vertical. And we look at what we want to present in that specific study and how many people have completed the survey," she says.

Developing Content
The surveys are kept open for a minimum of two weeks, sometimes longer if more responses are needed. Important for Valencik and her market are questions designed to reveal product use and services sought. Also important are demographic questions to make sure they have a good understanding of the audience. "We want to get a pretty good understanding of what they’re using. We want to understand who they are, so we ask a lot of demographic questions. And then what they’re doing in relation to what we need to know so what kind of products and services are they using? And then everything from rating scales to information on which vendors they’re choosing and their satisfaction with that, what’s missing and what direction they want to go in. And we just make sure to leave room for them to really report on what’s going on."

Those verbatim comments are important, says Valencik. They’ll provide true insight into issues you might not have thought of for the survey. And always provide a feedback mechanism-if there’s an error or better questions, your survey respondents can tell you about it.

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