Optimism and Loss Aversion in B2B Market Research


B2B Market Research can have a profound impact on any B2B business’s success, and it can provide solid feedback to help make more informed decisions that offset natural human instincts, or “gut” feelings.  In general, business people tend to make decisions based on the theory presented in “Thinking Fast and Slow”, This theory, referred to as “what you see is all there is,” deals with the fact that business people primarily make decisions based on phenomena that they have already been through, or witnessed - the concept that one focuses on existing evidence and ignores absent evidence.  Industries and marketplaces deal with high levels of complexity with circumstances both present and non-present, and to make decisions without taking the time to solicit feedback from a broad spectrum of industry professionals’ risks.

Another common trap is unwarranted optimism for time or resources needed to launch a new B2B product.  This bias again occurs when Marketing Managers, Product Managers, or VPs pull on their past knowledge of similar tasks to plan for the next one. This “planning fallacy” (presented in HBR here) shows how people tend to present optimism when planning for the future, underestimating time required, underestimating costs and investments required, and overestimating benefits.

Compellingly, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (authors of the planning fallacy) present a solution for “what you see is all there is” and the “planning fallacy”.  The bias has been observed to “only affect predictions about one’s own tasks”.  That is, when outside observers predict completion times, success rates, or viability, the outside observers actually tend to overshoot in the other direction, presenting significantly more pessimistic timelines, success rates, and product benefits.

When you conduct B2B market research, what you are doing is providing a reality check on your own organization’s optimism and loss aversion.  You are giving outside observers the chance to weigh in on your new product’s perceived benefits, or your brand’s perceived attributes, and using that feedback to offset any internal “gut feeling” biases that may exist.  You are reaching outside of the “what you see is all there is” blind spot, and pulling on a diverse, well informed target audience’s set of experiences as well. This provides a healthy cushion for what and how the industry perceives your brand or product.  Particularly encouraging is to know that outside observers will actually be a little harsh in their feedback, and this is a good thing, ensuring that the entire organization is aware of the worst possible outcome based on the B2B target audiences’ perceptions.

Taking the time to survey and research professionals in your industry is the way to avoid costly errors, and maximize opportunities, for your organization.