How To Pick a Target Market For a B2B Startup: Part 2

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This is Part II in a three-part series about finding your ideal target market. Click here if you’d like to start from the beginning.

In part I of this series, I showed you how to use brainstorming and a bit of research to build a short list of potential target markets for your B2B startup.

Now it’s time to narrow that list even further.

To do that, we’re going to use surveys to ask polarizing questions and find out even more about our targets.

Why Mess With Surveys?

Pretend it’s 1993.

A since Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes haven’t been invented yet, we can safely say that finding a target market is a lot like buying a CD. An old-school, shrink-wrapped, don’t-scratch-it-or-you’re screwed compact disc. The kind you’d purchase for $16.99 + tax by having your mom drive you to Tower Records after mowing lawns all weekend.

At the store, do you simply buy the first album within reach? Oh no no. This is a major commitment, and there’s going to be some planning involved.

Having been impressed by the copious amounts of distortion and flannel displayed by the likes of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, you’re ready to go with an album from either band.

But you still have some work to do. Flipping through stacks of plastic jewel cases, you discover that Pearl Jam’s albums have cooler artwork, so you’ve narrowed it down to Ten and Vs. Oh, but which one?

With the 7 minutes you have left before your mom comes back from Sears, you nab of a set of headphones to preview each album. After listening to Alive again, you’re confident that Pearl Jam’s first release speaks to your teenage angst slightly more. Ten it is. Whew…

That may have been an overly dramatic illustration. But my point is this–picking a target market is a huge decision. Rush into it and you’re bound to make mistakes. Spend some time learning about your options and you’ll be much better off.

Yes, surveys are a bit time-consuming, but they are a key step in narrowing down your list of potential targets. Ultimately, you’ll want to do in-person interviews to make your final decision. But you probably don’t have the time to interviews dozens of people in multiple markets. Surveys help you narrow your list so that you only spend time interviewing the most promising opportunities.

Let’s get started, and I’ll share the process I’ve used to conduct surveys with my own team.

Start Looking For Your Target Market By Pre-Qualifying Your Audience

This may be the most important piece.

Pre-qualifying means asking a test question to see if a potential survey taker is actually someone you want a response from. Data from anyone else is a waste of your time. Pre-qualifying questions should ask for any information you think is relevant: industry, job responsibilities, use of certain software, or perhaps a ranking of Kenny G songs, from worst to most worst.

You can usually set up pre-qualifying questions so that anyone who gives a wrong response is removed from the survey.

Choose The Right Questions With These 3 Tips

I’ve written some good survey questions and plenty of bad ones. Here are four things I try to keep in mind that have helped me write better questions:

  1. Only ask questions that are actionable. Eliminate those that are merely interesting. If the response to the question won’t affect your decision to pursue a target market, then toss it.
  2. Your respondents can only handle so many questions. Ask too many, and they’ll start giving un-thoughtful answers just to finish the thing.
  3. Don’t shy away from open-ended questions. Sometimes it’s hard to know what response options to provide. Using open-ended questions can help solve this. While they can be a pain-in-the-ass to sort through, open-ended questions let your survey takers provide whatever information they think is most relevant.

Get Your Wording Right Or The Whole Thing Is A Waste

Frame your questions the wrong way and you’re better off not doing your survey at all. Leading questions or ambiguously worded ones can actually give you misleading information about your potential target market. Here’s an obvious example to help you get the idea:

What is your favorite Michael Bolton song?

Sounds innocuous right? But it implies that the survey taker enjoys listening to that bronze-skinned tenor in the first place. He may try to give you an answer (“I guess I sort of like them all…“) but you probably won’t find out what you really need to know–that you couldn’t pay her to listen to even a single one.

Here are three resources to help you write better questions:

– Qualtrics: 10 Commandments For Writing Outstanding Survey Questions
– Hubspot: How to Write Survey Questions: 7 Things NOT to Do
– Grammar Girl: How to Write Good Survey Questions

“I guess I sort of like ’em all…”. Whether you’re talking about Michael Bolton or your list of potential target markets, either way, it’s not the right response.

Two Easy Ways To Get People To Take Your Survey

Now the real crux of the process: finding the right people to take your survey. The more specific your audience, the more difficult it will be to find them.

You have two options.

  1. Use Facebook’s detailing targeting tools to build an audience that closely matches your target. Then set up a Facebook ad that links to your survey. Like all Facebook ads, you’ll have to pay to get those clicks.
  2. Use a third-party research service like TapResearch. Not only will a service like this help you find the right people, they’ll do it incredibly quickly. This is my preferred option; in fact, we use Tap Research so often that they even wrote a short case study about us.

What To Do With All That Data?

Now that you’ve amassed enough data to rival a burgeoning record collection, what do you do with it all? Outside of the obvious (read it), there are four things we always do with our own survey responses:

  1. Make sure data is statistically significant. That’s just a fancy way of saying “get enough data so that if you ran the survey again, there’s a very high chance you’d get the same outcome.” To figure out how many responses you need, check out this calculator from SurveyMonkey.
  2. Look at how responses vary based on answers to other questions. For example, let’s say you’ve asked for “years in business.” If you look at the responses from people who’ve been in business less than 5 years vs those who’ve been around longer, do you see a difference? This data might help you refine your target market further.
  3. Throw out the entire response of anyone who’s given bogus answers. You don’t have to get many people taking a survey to get responses like “asdfasdf” or the classic, “your mom.” Discard every answer from these survey takers as they probably weren’t taking your questions seriously.
  4. Read through every single open-ended answer. Some survey services will show you a word cloud that highlights the most commonly-used terms. But they’re not very useful. Instead, read each response individually and you’ll get a much better sense of what people are saying.

What’s The Next Step In Picking Your Target Market?

The purpose of this exercise was to help you narrow your list of potential target markets down even further.

To do that, compare data from each target market. Did each group provide relatively similar responses? If so, you probably didn’t ask the right questions or word them the right way. Time for a redo–this time with some more polarizing questions.

However, if you crafted your surveys well, then you should now be able to get a sense of the most promising three or four target markets to go after. You’ll learn about each of those further in part III, where I’ll share some tips for conducting in-person interviews.

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About the Author

John Rougeux

John Rougeux is a Partner at Category Design Advisors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Get the newsletter that will help you become a better category designer.

About the Author


John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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