Virtually all of the chatter across the industry these last three years or so about panel data quality has been focused on consumer sample. Those of us who don't do a whole lot of online consumer work have now begun to wonder, what about B2B? Is there a data quality problem there as well and, if so, is it being addressed by the plethora of quality initiatives around the industry? The answer seems to be both yes and no.
Brad Bortner at Forrester has been paying attention to the B2B issue and overviews some of the concerns in this post, but I'm not sure he has hit the key one which, to my mind comes down to whether these respondents have the jobs and the responsibilities that they claim to have. It is becoming increasingly common for panels to validate their members by bumping their member info up against big databases like Acxiom, but that only confirms that a person with this name lives at this address and maybe has this SSN. It doesn't confirm, for example, that she also is general manager of a manufacturing company employing 750 employees and the person responsible for making decisions about the company's energy supplier. No doubt some panel companies will disagree with this, but it's not at all clear to me that respondents in B2B surveys always are who they say they are and have the responsibilities they say they have. And given the generally higher incentives for B2B, the temptation to overstate one's qualifications may be too compelling to resist.
One notable exception is physicians where the price of admission for any panel company is a rigorous validation process. Of course, that's one reason that it will cost you around $75 before incentive to get an oncologist into your survey but maybe only $15 to get a CFO at a small business.
Inside Research tells us that just over 15 percent of US online is B2B. That, along with the CPG focus of the major client company players in the panel data quality debate, may explain why the issue has been getting so little attention. But you have to believe that its day is coming and it may prove to be a tougher nut to crack than consumer has been. Many people believe that professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn are an important part of the solution, but at the moment these folks seem a bit lost as to how to leverage the resource they're sitting on.