Sean Campbell, CEO and Founder of Cascade Insights, is the latest guest to join Mike Maynard for the Marketing B2B Technology podcast. Sean discusses the benefits of using market research platforms, explores the pros and cons of qualitative versus quantitative data, and talks about the challenges of getting research responses within the B2B industry.

About Cascade Insights

Cascade Insights empowers B2B technology companies with customized market research and marketing services. For over a decade, we’ve served Fortune 500 enterprises like Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, Dell Technologies, AWS, and Google as well as mid-markets and startups.

In an industry that’s ever-changing, we deliver the tools and resources to help businesses navigate the market and seize opportunities for growth. Want to learn how well your brand resonates with buyers, or why your superior product keeps losing to a competitor? Maybe you need updated messaging to win more deals and generate more leads.

About Sean

Sean has been training, mentoring, and educating all his life. An exceptionally well-regarded conference speaker and author, Sean has delivered talks for Fortune 50 companies and top-tier conferences. He has also been the author of several books on technical and business topics.

Sean has also been a professional services firm owner for over 20 years. He is passionate about running a remote-first company, and has been doing so long before it was cool – dating back to the 20th century!

His professional services work has spanned consulting engagements with the Fortune 50 and startups you have heard of; the sale of his first professional services company, and the growth of delivery, sales, marketing, and operational practices inside professional services firms.

 Time Stamps

[00:41.5] – Sean discusses his career and what lead him to market research.

[03:54.0] – Sean talks about Cascade Insights, what it is and its capabilities.

[06:09.8] – Sean discusses why he chose to focus on the B2B industry.

[16.10.4] – What are the benefits of using a market research platform vs in-house research?

[19:39.7] – Sean shares how he thinks market research is going to change in the future.

[21.59.7] – What advice would you give to someone joining the profession?

[26:07.2] – Sean’s contact details.

Follow Sean:

Sean Campbell on LinkedIn:

Cascade Insights website:

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Transcript: Interview with Sean Campbell – Cascade Insights

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Sean Campbell

Mike: Thanks for listening to Marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today. Welcome to Marketing B2B Technology, the podcast from Napier. Today I’m joined by Sean Campbell. Sean is the CEO and founder of Cascade Insights. Welcome to the podcast, Sean.

Sean: Thanks for having me.

Mike: It’s great to have you on. I mean, what we’d like to do first off is just find a little bit about people’s background. So keep telling me a little bit about your career and how you ended up founding cascading sites.

Sean: Well, first thing is I didn’t, I didn’t want a business. I always thought the kids who went to business school classes at 8am for accounting were just boring. I don’t know why they would go do that. I was a liberal arts grad. My classes started at six at night. But no, I was actually going to go be a college professor. Then I met a girl that I was worried about being broke. She wasn’t God bless her. But like I said, Well, maybe I should go do some other form of teaching. At the time, I wasn’t sure if that was a temporary diversion or not. But I ended up teaching Windows for Workgroups in Microsoft Word when a mouse was a new thing when people would use it as a foot pedal. That’s a true story. By the way that actually happened in my classroom, somebody put it on the ground and tried to use it as a foot pedal, like it was a sewing machine or something. So I ended up becoming a technical trainer, teaching networking, databases, programming, and then I decided to go become an independent trainer, started a first company with two other guys, that company grew and eventually got sold. Then I started cascade with one of those two guys, he has now moved on to other things cascade solely owned by me. And I’ve owned cascade for 17 years now, first company out for about seven. So I’m on your 24 of self employment, basically, at this point.

Mike: Not a bad record for somebody who never wanted to do it.

Sean: Well, the funny thing is, I look back, right. And I still love teaching, like all my hobbies are teaching. I’m basically incapable of learning something and not wanting to teach it. Like I’ve just like, if I find a new thing, I want to go turn around and teach it. And there’s a lot of learning if you have the right orientation to a business, like I know. And I know people get into it for different reasons. It’s why I struggle with somebody’s like, so what are your growth plans? And I’m like, learning. And that’s worked for me. I mean, you know, our first business, we got up to like, 25 people, this business, I’ve got 15 people, so it’s not just like me learning. It’s like, I feel like I built an organisation that learns and then go figure. What do I end up doing? The first company did what we used to call technology evangelism work back in the day from Guy Kawasaki, but nobody calls it that anymore. And then this company was a market research firm, which is, oddly enough, something professors do, too. So I have this kind of weird circular thing, I think is kind of happened career wise. And at the same time I, I’ve had the opportunity to be an adjunct in an MBA programme. I still like teaching and volunteering. And so it’s it to me, it makes a lot of sense. And obviously, I should say this, I mean, so nobody thinks it’s Pollyanna have I had to learn things like what’s p&l? Have I had to learn accounting? Have I learned to learn business and operational processes? Have I learned all the vagaries of HR policies by state in the United States? Yes, I’ve either hired someone to do that. And or I’ve had to learn that myself. And if I read contracts long enough to put the most caffeinated person to sleep, yes, I’ve done that, too. But like, there’s plenty of running a business that I had to learn. But no, I didn’t even really think I was going to do it. At the start. No, I love it. I love everything about it, mostly. But if I said I loved everything about it, you shouldn’t believe me. But mostly, I love everything about it.

Mike: That’s great to hear. It’s worked out. Well. So you mentioned cascade, is the market research firm? Can you just unpack that and tell us a little bit more about what you do and who you work with?

Sean: Yeah, I say we get hired for pain or opportunity. So we either get hired because a competitor has done a better job selling or marketing or building products. Or you’ve done a poor job selling and a poor job marketing, and a poor job building product, or we get hired for opportunity. So somebody who wants to move into a new market, they’ve got a brand new products, that doesn’t really have a market yet, or there’s like, you know, industries they want to move into. And you go one layer below that. We do a lot of qualitative and quantitative research to answer the questions that fall out of those pain and opportunity buckets. Because clients will sit around a table or virtually or otherwise in their office and say, We really need some market insight to make this decision effectively. And so they’ll come to us. And I think of us is like great recommenders right. We’re certainly really good plumbers we understand how to conduct research really well. But fundamentally we get hired because we produce great recommendations. And the reason we do that to kind of bring the circle all the way Around, is we only work with B2B technology companies. So if you’re a business to business oriented company, and you have a technology based solution, and the reason there’s a little asterisk there is like, you know, we wouldn’t work with Merck, talking to surgeons about cancer drugs, but we might talk to Merck, about a life sciences oriented solution that is SAS based to manage clinical trials, right. So like, there has to be like a strong technical underpinning which in this era of cascade, you know, your 17 predominantly means cloud based solution. So if you’re a cloud based solution, kind of regardless of the vertical you’re in, that’s a great choice for us. On the other hand, if you were like, selling H back solutions to high rises, which we get a lead like that, every once in a while, they’ll say, Well, we’re technology. And I’m like, Yeah, but not the technology we work with. You know, you’re absolutely technology, and you’re absolutely B2B, but it’s not what we would work with.

Mike: And that’s interesting, you’ve got such a clear focus of what you do, because, I mean, there’s this view that B2C, you know, consumer does a lot more market research than B2B. So why did you pick B2B?

Sean: It’s more interesting. I mean, that’s part of it. I mean, for sure, part of it’s, it’s more interesting, it’s chewier. Now, I know there’s a B2C researcher out there, that’s like, but there’s so much into like, whether they pick the rose coloured phone or the gold phone? And I’m like, Yeah, but it also feels kind of manipulative. So like, I wouldn’t really get excited about that. And I’m not trying to be dismissive of the army of people to do consumer packaged research and like, what colour the Clorox box should be, I mean, I understand it’s valuable. But it’s just different. I also feel like it ends up being a lot more focused, you know, our audiences are very narrow and B2B that we go after, right? We don’t serve a, you know, the swath of millennials, right? You know, it’s very rare for us to do a study that would be based on like demographic characteristics, it’s a lot more like, what are you using? What is your day, like, you know, what is your title? Like? What are the business problems you’re trying to solve? That’s how we target people. So I just find there’s kind of a richness to it. And I think the other thing is, and this is honestly part of the entrepreneurial journey, so try to make this really short. But it’s, it’s fundamental to what happened to me, our first client in the first business was Microsoft, in 1999. And if somebody listening thinks of market dominance in tech, you don’t really understand what it was like, except if you worked with Microsoft. And when they own 97% of computing, that doesn’t exist. Now. There’s not 97% of iPhones, AWS doesn’t have 97% of cloud compute, you know, there’s nobody, there’s 97% of laptop sales, Microsoft and Intel, were something that’s just probably never going to be seen again, unless, like, open AI does it to us, right? You know, or something like that, where you got like, 97%, of something happening in one building. And I say only that for this one reason. We ended up working with their developer division at that time, a lot. And they were very business to business focus. And so I ended up getting I didn’t know it at the time, I didn’t even think about it that way. At the time, I got this incredible education, on what it meant to do business to business marketing and business to business product development, just because we lucked out is our first account as these guys. Right. And it’s it’s almost like a version of graduate school for me that I didn’t really think about it the time, but that’s what was happening. And again, that analogy would hold true even for B2C. I mean, I know those people who like, you know, hung around a big CPG company, and they’re like, as a vendor, they just ended up being educated in the world of that, and God bless them. That’s great. But for me, I just got drawn into it. And before I knew it, that was the space that I really felt like I could provide a lot of value. And there’s some fringe benefits. I’d say, too. I mean, I think the research is, well, I don’t want to say it’s monetized better, because that’s not really maybe the best way to put it. It’s not even really what I think it’s just really chewy and rich. And that creates one problem, I’d say it’s a huge one maybe that falls under the like when I send it like the job mostly is it can be very challenging for us to get feasibility on a study. I mean, one of our perennial problems is cmo wanders up to us of technology company and says, I want an n of 1000 survey. And we go nope. And they go, why not? And then there’s this like math problem, we have to explain to them and they’re like, I don’t understand. And you’re like, it’s hard to get B2B research respondents. It’s really hard. And it’s probably the biggest day to day challenge we face in our business at least. So

Mike: I’m going to ask you that because obviously, I think most B2B marketers have tried research at some point or another. And most of them have come across this, you know, situation where they go, we want you know, even if it’s a couple of 100 responses, that’s really tough and B2B. So how do you go about trying to get higher responses from B2B surveys? Or do you do market research a different way for B2B? Well,

Sean: Well, so that’s interesting. So a couple of things in that one underlying that question, you’re getting at something that I want to pull out which is that me Many marketers in B2B have to recognise that they might not get a quant study, they might end up with a call study. Just because of the math, right? Even things like a brand study that you would really traditionally want as quant, you might just not have enough people at the top of the funnel. Another classic example of that is competitive studies. You know, somebody says, I would really like a quantitative survey of XYZ competitor customers, and it’s like, okay, we’ll just do the math, right? I mean, if you want an end of 200, and your response rates are in the low single digits, you need a lot of people at the top of the funnel, and somebody has to have that whole list of competitor customers, that’s going to be hard to find. And if you try to organically sourced that list, well, now that’s nowhere near the cost that you thought that study would be right, which is a lot of times why the CPI, you know, the cost per respondent can be like, really, really high. And that creates some challenges for client. Basically, I’ll give you a short version of how we find people, we could dig into it more if you want, because it’s it’s definitely an area we could do a whole show on. But like, the short version is don’t use a panel, use an expert network, or somebody that is preferably which expert networks do but they don’t do always sourcing participants organically, like they’re actually going out and looking at LinkedIn and their or some other tool. And they’re trying to find people who have exactly the right profile. And then they screen those individuals. Because the problem with the panels are there may be all right for B2C. But they tend to break down very quickly for B2B for one simple reason that I can give you a short analogy on that is absolutely true, and is the heart of the problem. We even have a short video on the website that somebody on the team here did wants that we call B2B Brian, that’s kind of a cute way of putting it together. But like so B2B, Brian is 53. And he likes baseball and pasta equally. And at 54. He likes baseball a little more and pasta a little less, you can track that somewhat in a panel of a bazillion consumers and send out surveys. The challenge is the timeliness of it breaks down with business because you are in a study this year, because you work for big Corp, Microsoft, and you are an HR benefits leader. And in a week from now you’re going to quit and go be an HR benefits leader in a startup, you’re not even in the same study anymore, you’re solving completely different problems. And the reality is we do have a database, it’s live and out there all the time. It’s called LinkedIn the tracks that for us, but that’s not the same thing as having a proprietary database. And then you have the the one factor that the barbarians are at the gate, meaning you know, if you can get 50 bucks or 75 bucks as a research participant to fill out a 15 minute survey, you will try desperately to fake and be whoever that person is, there’s just a massive amount of challenges there. And whereas in B2C, they get paid a lot less. So there’s kind of this like Cold War always going on with like professional survey takers. And you solve a lot of that by recruiting organically because you’re going to someone who is most likely to they are they have the background, all that stuff anyway. So wait a little longer on that than I intended. But that’s that’s basically it. And we just have to constantly be staring at the vendors we work with for recruit and figure out you know, you’re good with this audience. You’re good with that audience, you’re great with this audience. And that’s how it plays out. But the short answer is just for the love of God, don’t use panel, because you will end up with a survey that you may not even know you shouldn’t trust, but you shouldn’t trust.

Mike: I think that’s that’s really interesting advice. I’m gonna have to ask, What about focus groups in B2B? Do they work? Or are they hard to be effective?

Sean: They work? I think they work honestly. Great. We try to steer clients slightly away from them. Because like, I really tried to ask why are you asking for a focus group is it preference that you come from B to C, here because there’s some dynamics, maybe this is what you’re alluding to, in B2B focus groups that you have to kind of watch for right and things that are harder to create dynamic wise, because people might be a little more reluctant to share, especially on certain topics, because they don’t really know who else is in the focus group, it can be a little harder to just collect the focus group participants at the same date and time. And it’s also one of the reasons that, at least in our experience, we have a lot more success with virtual focus groups in B2B, that if we tried to do it in person, the only exception to that is like when we run them at a conference. Like for example, we’ve run focus groups for AWS at reinvent, but there’s 10s of 1000s of people already there for you to grab. So that’s not a really fair test that you know, in person focus groups work all the time. It’s just the nature of a conference draws them in in a different way. But yeah, we don’t really have a huge issue running them in short, I think you just have to factor in a little different dynamic that plays out and the places we would use them. Message testings a call Number one, that’s probably the most common. I would say it’s sometimes shows up in crossover studies, maybe like an ICP study, you know, and I’d say one of the thing about it one thing, just and this is probably more personal preference, I tend to steer people away from them a little bit, because I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best bang for your buck, because I think people over index on the popcorn thing that will happen in the focus group, which all happens in like 90 minutes. And they don’t think about, well, if I turned all that cost of running a focus group, and I did X number of interviews that I could listen to, I could read the transcript, I get a much more longitudinal feel. And I can tune the study as it goes along in a different way, for roughly the same amount that you might have run a single focus group. But that’s maybe more personal preference than anything else. I’d

Mike: I’d sounds like good advice, though. I mean, it sounds like a very sensible approach. I mean, one of the things a lot of companies do is they try and do I mean, what they see as being very informal market research, but try and do something in house, maybe ask the sales team to go talk to a couple of customers. I mean, what do you see as the issues behind companies running market research in house?

Sean: Well, first thing is, I think it’s great. I think if you have a mindset that you want to learn about your market, whether you hire a firm or not, I will just say you’re probably ahead of half the people you’re competing with, right at that moment of you making that decision, whether you hire a research firm or not to do it. The second thing is it has a lot to do with how you staff, the team that’s going to do that research. Have you given them actual time to do it? Do you as a leader understand some of the dynamics we’ve already discussed? You know, if you go say, go run a survey with our current customers, do you understand response rates? Do you understand that you can’t just like say, Oh, they’re our valued customers, I’m sure they’ll respond to our survey, you have to understand some dynamics that are just like, everyday realities for somebody that runs a research firm. And some companies are good at that, you know, and I think that’s great. As far as the specific example of talking to customers, or talking to the sales team, I’d split the two a little bit, I think it’s great to talk to you to our customers, I don’t think you necessarily need a research firm as an agnostic intermediary. I don’t think you’d need it, I think that it can be very helpful because the discussion guide and some of the things that you’re going to develop might be canted to meet the needs of a particular stakeholder group and might not necessarily be as balanced as it could be. And that’s definitely a rule that we take on. And I would say from the, you know, salesperson standpoint, I actually love it. When we talk to sales books, I say that they are running a never ending qualitative research project. And they need to be interacted with as such. Now on the other hand, they can sometimes be a poor research participant, because they might generalise a lot from a specific or the last deal they closed. But you contrast that with they’re sending messaging downrange all day long in a complex B2B sale. And they are understanding where where it comes from, and where it lands a perfect example of that. And I should emphasise this a complex sale, I’m not talking about somebody like selling selling e signature solutions and waiting for the next lead to show up on their screen. And they’re just reading a script. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the more complex side of B2B. But like there was a stakeholder meeting, we were in one time with a recognisable fortune 100 tech company and the sales guy pops off when one of the marketers said I think we should test digital transformation is a phrase and the long standing sales guy, probably comfortable poking everyone in the eye, because he probably kept selling a lot. Said, I think there should be a swear jar around here every single time somebody utters the phrase digital transformation, and they’re forced to put $100 in it, because it just drives people batty when you say it in a sales conversation. And I was like, oh, yeah, you’re here, right? I mean, and I like I said, I think there’s this misplaced notion that sometimes talking to the sales team is invaluable. And I think done right? It’s, it’s a goldmine. It’s an absolute goldmine. So I think we provide a lot of value. And I could get into that. But that’s probably not the best use of a listeners time to hear a commercial where our value is, but I would inspire people to say, yeah, go learn back to what I said earlier. Like, if you’re learning about your market and your competitors, you’re way ahead of probably half the companies out there just by making that decision alone. That’s

Mike: That’s a really positive view of what people can do, Sean. So I really appreciate that. You know, one thing I’m interested in about market research is, obviously today it’s quite a labour intensive activity. How do you see market research changing in the future? Do you see technology really affecting what you do? Yeah,

Sean: Yeah, I think in terms of the future market research, there’s probably two things I would point to, although there’s a tonne of things, one is synthetic respondents, which hold a lot of promise and certain amount of risks, but I’m excited about it. I think, you know, if you’re a craftsman of any sort, you shouldn’t be worried about new technology. Right, you know, the analogy I’ve used with a lot of the AI tools around here is that it’s more like it’s a supersuit, right, or it’s like a nail gun versus a hammer, you know, houses were built with hammers for millennia. And then some guy came around with a compressed air tank and a big hefty nail gun, and somebody was dismissive of it. And somebody else said, I think my customer just wants a well built house, and they’d like it a little sooner. And now it’s rare to go to any job site and not see guys like putting the house together with nail guns doesn’t mean that it’s a worse house. So synthetic respondents are a big one. There are some risks and rewards to that, like I said, but I think they’re going to be a really interesting adjunct to the the more kind of human centred research that I think we’re still going to continue to do. The other thing is AI tools for qualitative analysis, we’ve always had tools that can help go through quantitative results. But I think the place where it’s more interesting is around analysis of qualitative survey, qualitative data where you have a tonne of transcripts and textual data that for all of the vendors who build solutions that would analyse that pilot tax, they weren’t nearly as good as some of the tools I see that are AI based now. And that takes a lot of manual labour out of the equation that takes a lot of the time out of the equation, that leads to some consistency when it comes to coding and analysis. You know, back to what I said earlier, I ultimately, nobody’s working with us, because they care what tools we use. As long as those tools are appropriate. They want to buy the house, they want to have great recommendations, they want to have a way to change their business. And if we can get to that quicker through some of these AI based tools, I think that’s fantastic.

Mike: That’s great. And that’s a super optimistic view of the future, which I love. As we come to closer podcasts, it’s always a couple of questions we’d like to ask, and the first one is around people thinking of entering marketing, or in your case, maybe market research. What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering the profession?

Sean: Well, if I was to give very specific advice to market research, I would say spend time looking at qualitative research. You know, I think it’s a real common misstep and mistake to kind of look at market research as surveys. And I think schools sometimes do an injustice there, too. I think when I even taught in the MBA programme, it felt like every student assumed that what I did all day was right, and send out quantitative surveys. And they miss the richness and understanding that comes from qualitative. So I would say that’s a big piece. And it also sometimes inhibits somebody who’s looking at a market research as a career, right? Because if they see themselves as somewhat of a behind the scenes person, or someone who wants to look at the data, and analysing qualitative research puts you right in touch with the customer. And I think that’s going to be ever more important. As we get more and more data from AI based solutions, right? That we have this kind of ability to talk to customers in their element human to human. I think that’s like really, really going to be critical. I’ve even seen some organisations start to emphasise a lot more qualitative research, even technology organisations, because they see the same gaps starting to develop, you know, mountains of data, but not a lot of qualitative research being done. So that’s being and a more meta level, I would say read stuff you disagree with. It’s it’s a general piece of advice. If somebody asked me like, what’s the major piece of advice I’d give anybody, business or otherwise read stuff you disagree with? You don’t have to agree with it when you’re done. But if you really ask yourself, How much do I read that I disagree with? Do I watch the news channel that I don’t like? Do I read the articles that I don’t like? Do I read books from business authors that just based on the cover, I might not necessarily agree with? One of two things is going to happen. Either you’re going to have your own views kind of positively reinforced by engaging with something that’s different, or they’re going to be changed somewhat. And that’s good. So those are the two big things. That’s

Mike: That’s awesome advice, Sean, I think not just for people new to the industry or thinking about the industry, but also people who’ve been in the industry a while. So really appreciate that. Thank you so much for your time and all your insight, Sean, is there anything you’d like to sum up with or anything you feel we’ve missed?

Sean: I know, I think we hit a lot of things. I mean, I would just say, you know, my career has been blessed by just an emphasis on wanting to learn approach problems from that mindset. And I’ll leave you with one personal example. Let’s just say people are watching the US presidential election, this time around with a certain degree of interest, perhaps not just in the United States, much like they did on the last few elections. And I saw that I’m a citizen here in the States. And the last election happened and I said, you know, I want to learn more about US presidents. I want to learn more about the process around electing presidents and all that and I said, you know, one of the coolest things I think I could do is I’m going to go read a biography on every single US President. So alongside of us bunch of other reading over the last three years. I did that. And I just finished it up a couple months ago. And I can tell you I learned a tonne, I was at times surprised by how our own electoral processes changed. I was somewhat surprised also why things are the way they are. And that led to all kinds of interesting thoughts around, you know, what presidents were good, which presidents were bad, what made a good president? You know, what was the typical characteristics of a president? Well, I don’t think everybody needs to do that to vote. I think having a lien to learning more about the process than just talking about it. I think he’s the biggest piece of advice I could give anybody, both personally and professionally.

Mike: That’s amazing, even if the thought of reading a biography of every American President seems just a little challenging at the moment.

Sean: Well, it was it was actually pretty fun. But I’m a history buff, so but not everybody has. Anyway, anyway.

Mike: Also, Sean, thank you so much. It’s been such an interesting conversation. I mean, you’ve talked a lot about loading if people want to learn more, or maybe even get you to help them do their next market research project. How can they get in contact with you?

Sean:  Just check out cascade You know, thankfully, to the heart efforts of our marketing team, if you just type cascade Insights in Google, I think you’re gonna find this pretty quick. So that’s, that’s the fastest way.

Mike: That’s, that’s amazing and nice and simple. Sean, thanks so much for being a guest on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed our chat. Thanks

Sean: Thanks for being here, man. Take care.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to Marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.