A qualitative approach allows us to explore issues in-depth, yielding insight into how people really think, behave and – more importantly – why. Emotions, beliefs, intentions and perceptions are just a few examples of things that only qualitative methods can reveal.
Cause the number of respondents is small and only partially representative of the target population, in B2B research qualitative approaches are typically used to:
- provide the researcher with insight into an unfamiliar environment: needs, satisfaction, usage situations and problems
- explore and define issues in more detail
- suggest hypotheses to be tested
- generate problem solutions, lists of product features
- get reactions to stimulus materials (new product concepts, slogan, visuals etc.)
This is the most effective method of interviewing high level corporate executives, industry experts and opinion leaders, or of gathering information of a more sensitive nature.
Target respondents are often both busy and hard to reach or geographically dispersed in the business environment. Personal interviews, whether face-to-face or via telephone, are easier to schedule and thus frequently used in B2B research. Using a relatively unstructured topic guide, the interviewer can spend more time exploring a particular individual’s thoughts and opinions with no risk of influence from others.
The dyad or triad offers some of the same advantages as the depth interview, but with added stimulation from interchange between two or three participants. This approach provides some of the interpersonal stimulation afforded by groups, yet allows the interviewer to cover topics in some depth. The dyadic or triadic design lends itself to “confrontation” techniques, users can be paired with nonusers, believers with nonbelievers, to uncover underlying feelings and motives.
Group discussions have a particular advantage in terms of observing non-verbal communication; often facial expressions, gestures and body language. Respondents in a group typically have something in common – similar demographic profiles or a shared problem – and the discussions often provoke more spontaneity than in a one-to-one interview.
One disadvantage of conventional focus groups is the difficulty of getting large groups of busy business executives together in the same place at the same time. Smaller groups of 3 to 4 participants overcome this problem to some extent. They are also more easily administered by telephone and video link, thereby eliminating the need to travel to a central location.