Ask any b2b decision maker how they make a buying decision and they are likely to rattle off a list of key product or service specifications they need, followed by a formal shortlisting process and obtaining feedback from other stakeholders, before a final decision is made. The process described is a purely rational and logical one.
Unfortunately for researchers, this does not tell the whole story. It is merely the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve spoken about the role emotions play in b2b decision making in many blogs, white papers and articles here at B2B International. What we haven’t touched on quite as much perhaps are the methods we can use to reveal these underlying emotions and gain a greater understanding of how decisions are really made.
By simply asking questions we are unable to understand why decision makers buy what they buy. We need to dive below the surface to truly understand the underlying thought processes and motivations that define decision-making.
The way to dig deeper into the subconscious mind, where almost all thinking takes place, is asking the respondent to take part through non-verbal methods.
Drawing, using metaphors and telling stories are all examples of this. They are effective because they use “the language” of the subconscious mind.
One particular technique is using thought bubbles. This can be done in both focus groups and one-to-one interviews.
Hand the respondent a large piece of paper with the research topic in a bubble in the middle.
Ask the respondent to write or draw whatever thought or feeling springs to mind in a new bubble, connecting the two with a line.
Encourage the respondent to continue to write or draw everything that pops into their head, creating new bubbles and links with additional thoughts and feelings until the page is full.
Next, get the respondent to present their thoughts back to the group or to the researcher. This is a crucial step in the process. Hearing them explain the connections between thoughts and why they chose the bubbles they did gives the researcher a much deeper understanding of how they really think.
Asking business decision makers to illustrate their thoughts in this way helps the researcher to access visceral-level responses and reveal the structure of their thought process.
So next time – you might want to consider ditching the questions. A pen and paper are all the tools the brain needs to express itself and reveal to researchers the respondent’s deepest thoughts and feelings.