Recently, I attended the Corporate Researcher’s Conference in Orlando. Throughout many of the sessions, including Brett Townsend’s keynote, speakers frequently challenged the Insights Professionals in the audience to measure and own the contribution that they have on the bottom line. To quote Brett, “If we are doing our jobs right, everyone should want us in the room.” He goes on to say that the two most important roles in a company should be the person who knows the most about the consumer (that’s us) and the person who knows the most about the money. And, yet, Insights Professionals have not historically understood, much less conveyed the impact of our work on the bottom line.
In the market research world, we spend too much time and energy talking about things that don’t matter to our end clients. We want to talk about research methods, statistical confidence, and rigor – the how of what we do. Whereas, research buyers and users care about sales and why insights and market research will drive business results. We want to talk about EVERYTHING that we learned in a study; whereas the buyers and users want us to tell them only what they need to know in order to make decisions.
If those of us in the Insights profession believe that our work is important, (and I hope that we do) we had better figure out how our research is moving sales. As Brett pointed out, we have one job, “to sell more stuff.” Our work should directly impact the bottom line, we should measure that impact and report the impact to leadership and clients.
This, however, means that we must understand the goals of the company and where research can help achieve those goals. As researchers, we can get so focused on the details that we fail to understand the big picture. And, then we wonder why research budgets are the first to get cut in hard financial times. At MDRG, we always start with the question “What is the decision that you are trying to make and how will research help you answer that question?” Based on Brett’s talk, we are reframing that question and starting with an internal discussion around how this research can push the business forward and ultimately increase sales – same question, bigger picture.
It also means that we must boldly advise clients on next steps by advising them on how to proceed and interpret the research in the context of sales and business results. That can only happen when we immerse ourselves in our client’s businesses – understanding how they work and where they fit into the competitive landscape. It means speaking the language of clients and research buyers. That is where we truly become invaluable Insights partners and not merely data reporters.
In his talk, Brett challenged the traditional assumptions of what it takes to be great in this field. He suggested that we must broaden who we hire to include charismatic people who are great presenters, people who aren’t afraid to speak up. People who know how to lead, persuade and influence. People who have worked in marketing, sales, and product development We need people who have worked in other parts of the business, who will push us to uncover sales-generating insights, who understand the importance of tying our efforts and work to the bottom line and tracking KPI’s. But most importantly, an insane curiosity.
At MDRG, in addition to bringing on amazing market research and insights talent, we’ve begun hiring team members with marketing and advertising backgrounds who can help us understand the greater context and application of our work. We’ve also added people with consulting backgrounds who can help us ask the right questions and ensure that the research we conduct is part of the branding, advertising and product development decisions at our clients’ organizations. What we need to do, however, is to track the KPI’s of our work, so we can boldly claim our impact on the bottom line.
Our 2020 challenge? Show our value, demonstrate our impact on sales, earn a seat at the table, and become irreplaceable.