Don’t get left in the dust – a guide to B2B competitive research


After spending the last 12 years working in ecommerce, lead generation and conversion optimization, I have seen countless B2B ventures crash and burn. Many had strong leaders, great websites and good business offerings and yet they failed. One of my worst consulting experiences was for a company that produced a very nice piece of educational software. It was something they figured many educators would be interested to have in their classroom. Unfortunately for this company, the sales were far and few and unless something could be done they would have to close their doors. I was asked to see if I could increase their website conversion rate.

Like I said, it was a great site and should have done well, so the first thing I did was to look closely at the available online market – basic competitive research that should have been done before they built a website, hired programmers and blew the budget on PPC.

Basic online research

There are two steps in basic B2B competitive research:

  1. Keyword research
  2. Confirming the market really exists

Certainly, there are other things to research and other techniques, but in the beginning the above two steps should be a must do before going forward. Why? They are fast, accurate when done together and best of all – free. So, let’s begin.

Keyword research

If you were building a product or service for Chicago chiropractors, knowing if there was an active market should be your first step. Keyword research can give you a very good idea of market activity. There are hundreds of articles across the web explaining how to do keyword research and several paid tools that can help dig up keyword diamonds. Despite all the information available on keyword research I keep seeing one issue come up time and time again. It has to do with the most popular keyword tool – Google’s keyword tool for Adwords.

The Google keyword tool defaults to Broad Matching. This means the first numbers you will see include not only the term you are researching but also, “Singular or plural forms, synonyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), related searches and other relevant variations.” Sometimes, the ‘other relevant variations’ that Google mentions can include keywords that are NOT related to your business and will dramatically skew your research in the wrong direction. This is the most common mistake when people do traffic research – they quote a number that may be off by a factor of 10, or more.

Make sure you change the match type
The match type settings are currently on the left column of the Google keyword tool. You must click the exact match option to see traffic numbers that are closer to reality.
Here I have done a search for Chicago chiropractor. After changing the match type to Exact,

This is much different and also much closer to reality. This does not mean there are only 880 searches done for Chicago chiropractors each month – there are far more. What it does show is an estimate of how often someone uses the exact phrase when looking for a chiropractor. There are some good reasons to use Broad or Phrase matching, but getting a traffic estimate for a specific keyword is not one.

The other thing to pay attention to is the Global Searches versus Local Searches. Once again, the Local Monthly Searches number is going to be closer to reality.

So, there are two things to remember when using this tool for specific keyword traffic research:

  1. Make sure you choose the exact match type
  2. Make sure you look at Local Monthly Searches

Confirming the market

Once you have traffic data it’s always a good idea to confirm that your market really exists. To do this I turn to direct mail companies. They have been targeting ads and products to specific industries and geographies since the early 20th century and have a pretty good handle on the location and number of brick and mortar businesses. A few mailing companies even have free online tools to help you build a mailing campaign. These tools are extremely useful when doing B2B research.

Recently, KD Mailing launched a new tool that allows you to build (and price) a mailing list. By searching for chiropractors in the Chicago area we can find the number of Chiropractors in business. Just like the Google tool you need to make sure you are looking at the right data. In this case, make sure you click the Business tab:

Just follow the steps – Geography, I found it easy to use the radius option and just entered a Chicago zip code and put a radius of 30 miles. Next, click Selects and enter the kind of business you are researching. I found it easiest to use the SIC code for Chiropractors (I just looked it up on Google – 8041). Click update – 1,319 leads:

There you have it – an easy way to identify the size of your market. Just out of curiosity I clicked the Review button and was given a price of $65 to purchase the mailing list for a one time use.

Had the education company I mentioned at the beginning of this article done more research and less programming, they would have discovered, as I unfortunately did, that their market was very small. In fact, it was several years ahead of it’s time – if they could have only hung on they may have done well. In the end, I presented them my research and never had the chance to work on their website conversion rate as they halted further product development after confirming my report with another source.

Joe Bennett is a lead generation and conversion optimization expert in the Chicago area.


Persona Targeting for Industrial Companies

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

How SEO Works for Industrial Companies

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

How to Measure ROI from Industrial Marketing Efforts​

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Download PDF

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.