Editor's note: Doug Berdie is president of Consumer Review Systems, a Minneapolis research firm.

Imagine you work at the fictional company TechniNano Inc. and your VP of marketing asked you to design a system allowing the company to conduct periodic B2B surveys so it can determine: criteria and processes customers/prospective customers use to make purchase decisions; product/service strengths to be leveraged and areas needing improvement; evolving marketplace needs; and whether/how customers should be segmented for marketing.

You’ve been involved with consumer surveys but realize B2B surveys might be different. What do you need to know?

The most fundamental difference between B2B and consumer surveys is that most B2B surveys are conducted to draw conclusions about organizations, whereas almost all consumer surveys wish to draw conclusions about individual people. Dealing effectively with this critical difference can result in highly effective B2B surveys, whereas failure to deal with it can result in sub-optimal surveys.

Companies conduct B2B surveys to understand the perspectives/experiences of: clients to whom they sell direct; companies who buy their products/services indirectly – through dealers, distributors and others in the channel; and channel partners who buy to resell to end users.

Surveys of each type present their own challenges. For example, TechniNano is more likely to know the identities of clients to whom it sells direct than it is the identities of companies who deal with TechniNano channel partners. Hence, it is easier to know whom to survey in the former than the latter. And, when assessing the experiences of its own channel partners, in addition to asking about product/service issues, TechniNano must include questioning that addresses partner fears of channel conflict and other business issues unique to the channel relationship. Failure to do so undercuts credibility ...