A New Organizational Model for Highly Effective Insights Organizations: Part 2

By Dr. Alexander Linder

Yesterday we looked at the drivers behind the new insights organization model. Today we look at new ways of working for insights departments and social/soft skills they need to develop:

First up: let’s look at ways of working and interacting:

  • Stakeholders want the insights professionals to be capable of deriving proper implementation recommendations, to be supportive during the implementation process as such and to contribute beyond the pure research expertise, e. having an own viewpoint and arguing on it. In many companies, the current collaboration process often ends with the insights department handing over the results after the final presentation. This can lead to frustration from insight teams if the subsequent implementation is lacking, or not executed in the way intended. Key future competences for future insight professionals encompass: holistic thinking, the ability to see the big picture, and connecting different insights from multiple sources.
  • It is equally important that the insights professional is able to work in cross-functional teams/projects, even more when talking about the implementation of insights findings. A request for a shopper segmentation typically comes from the Marketing department; however, the implementation team is invariably if not always cross-functional, including people working in e.g. Retail/Sales, CRM and Marcomms units. This requires the future insights professional to think broadly across functional units, acting as an interface to bring together the relevant target audiences working on implementation.
  • Insights professionals must speak more the language of the stakeholder, usually a marketing language. Very closely connected to this is the requirement that insights professionals must acquire business acumen and understand the stakeholder’s business to a very broad extent. Insights reports are currently very often written using terms, concepts and language specific to the market research discipline. Adopting insights reports more to stakeholders’ language is likely to be more effective in engaging internal customers and partners and heighten the likelihood of the results and recommendations being acted on. Future insights professionals will be constantly engaged with their stakeholders rather than points in time during the business cycle – being actively involved and participating in key meetings, workshops, allowing them to acquire a more in-depth business understanding, and being perceived as true business partners.
  • Interestingly, stakeholders still expect from insights professionals to give them the latest and most valid technologies/methods that help to become more efficient/effective in insights generation. This does not mean that the stakeholder wants to understand these technologies/ methods with all details. The expectations are that the insights professional is the person who is knowledgeable, understands and pro-actively suggests the application of these new technologies/ methods with the goal to get insights faster, for a lower price tag and without jeopardizing quality.
  • An insights organization generates many studies over time, but usually every topic is considered as an individual piece, answering a certain set of underlying questions. Connecting insights is a powerful method to combine different studies and to get new insights without commissioning additional primary research studies. To be successful in future, insights professionals will need to effectively merge both existing data and studies: e.g. consumer segmentation research with shopper tracker data and the brand tracker reports, fusing them to deliver reports for selected geographies or regions.

Moving on to the second point: social/soft skills, which are arguably necessary for insights professionals to become accepted and trusted business partners.

  • Insights professionals are expected to act as thought leaders/sparring partners: actively participating in business meetings, taking the role of the challenger and bringing in fresh and inspiring perspectives, whilst looking at topics from different angles. This begins when the research request from the stakeholder arrives on the table. Sitting down with the stakeholder to discuss, challenge and make suggestions, with the ultimate business goal in mind, is key for a successful insights manager: ensuring he/she has identified “the” burning questions to be answered, and shaping a response accordingly. Ensuring the research request is fully focused and informed up-front is a key milestone for future successful outcomes.
  • Moderation, storytelling- and communication-skills visualization are increasingly important. The goal behind this is to bring across the findings in the right format and the right language so that implementation can follow. Slides containing too many statistics, graphs and metrics are still common, but are boring, leading to a mental disconnect. The insights professional must understand the “so-what” of the research project, being able to wrap the details in nicely told stories in the stakeholder’s language to bring the right messages across.
  • The insights professional’s role includes connecting insights specialists respectively to become synthesis experts. To bring together traditional market researchers with data scientists, business intelligence professionals, CRM specialists etc. to discuss current findings and latest challenges and finally to bring together and to combine the different lenses looking at the consumer. The role of the insights professional changes from a reactive to a more proactive mode of collaboration, allowing him/her to become the driver of customer centered activities.

To summarize, relationship management skills are clearly an emerging requirement. The insights professional must become more and more a mid- to long-term partner and is no longer a simple data analyst or information provider.

Based on this perspective and understanding, it could be argued that a lot of existing client-side insights organizations are in danger of being old-fashioned. Do you agree? Tomorrow we look at a new setup for client-side insights organizations.

About the Author

Dr. Alexander Linder was the VP Corporate Brand, Consumer and Market Intelligence (CBCMI) at Swarovski, an area he built-up more than 13 years ago and further developed it over time. He was responsible for the global portfolio of insights management, insights training and knowledge sharing & activation. He is a speaker at many international conferences and publishes articles in different national and international journals. Alexander holds a PhD from the University of Zurich and a degree of business administration from the University of St.Gallen. Alexander calls himself an “Intelligence Professional aus Leidenschaft” and is currently looking for his next career step.