“How Do We Get A Seat At The Table?” The Research Consultant’s Dilemma
by Felicia Rogers
Lots of people who specialize in consumer insights ask, “How can we get a seat at the table?” Of course, they’re referring to the boardroom table where high-level management-team discussions happen. So I think the hidden question is, “How can we gain the respect of the organizations we work with so that they include us in those discussions?” These are important questions that we, especially my colleagues on the corporate side, often struggle with. What we have to offer is critically important. The information we provide and insights we glean from great research routinely save companies money—big money. But I fear there are still few who see it that way.
Research, customer insights, consumer planning—whatever the moniker—is often seen as a cost instead of a profit generator. But the fact is that research has saved companies from spending millions to launch products that were doomed to fail, airing TV commercials that viewers would have seen as offensive rather than funny, adopting package designs that were too cumbersome for the average consumer to use, and so on. And on the other end of the spectrum, great research helps organizations to build stronger brands, develop outstanding new products, improve communications, and enhance customer loyalty. So rather than costing companies money, we’re in the business of both saving money and helping to generate revenue. That’s a perspective we should embrace.
So how can we get a seat at the proverbial table? How can we get higher-level attention and support—even create a desire—for what we’re doing? Maybe we should be looking at this question from a different angle. What if, instead, we asked this question: “Why don’t we have a seat at the table?” Well, here are a few thoughts on what may be holding some of us back.
- Too much focus on the research methods. We know methodology is important and I believe our audiences know that, too. But they typically trust us to do our thing and don’t need to be bothered with the details. Especially in reports and presentations, we’re often guilty of spending too much time explaining the science behind what we’ve done, which shifts the focus away from explaining how what we’ve learned will help the business. Let’s be careful not to bore the audience with what may matter more to us than to them.
- Staring at the trees. Especially during the analytical and reporting phases, we often find ourselves chasing trails of numbers that really don’t produce any meaningful learning. We’re focused on the results of statistical tests and what differences between groups are “significant.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s necessary to at least peek under every rock; it helps us discover the various elements of the overarching story. However, in the process of all this digging, we need to be sure we’re looking for the themes and key learnings—the big picture. What is all this data really telling us? What does the company need to do to succeed? The analyst’s job is to make sure she examines all the details and takes the time to step back to see the big picture and understand what those details mean. Only then can she develop the key insights, conclusions, and recommendations. Let’s make sure we’re really seeing the forest so that we’re able to deliver the real value of the research we’re conducting.
- Lackluster presentations. Oh, how we’re all guilty of this. In today’s fast-paced, very visual world, research results have to be delivered in an engaging way. And since our attention spans are now shorter than ever, each presentation needs get to the point quickly. Show them the highlights, the key takeaways, and get to the “so whats?” A presentation that goes on ad nauseam with too many details and not enough direction will certainly fall short of everyone’s expectations. Admittedly, most of us are not Hollywood- or Madison Avenue-trained storytellers, so this can be a struggle. But there are some great tools available to create attractive and useful charts, graphs, other visuals, and even video. And we’re adept at thinking at a high level, asking the tough questions that help us zero in on the right content to produce concise, engaging presentations packed with actionable insights. Let’s put ourselves in the CMO’s chair and deliver presentations he will appreciate and remember.
- The time conundrum. This is often the elephant in the room. In order to do great work, we need time to design, execute, analyze, and report. But business is moving at the speed of light in so many cases that research is seen as a drag on schedules. Or worse, it’s cut from the process because the stakeholders feel they just can’t wait. There are often ways to get very quick feedback, and we can use those tools when appropriate. But many times, the fastest solution is not the right way to go. When big, expensive decisions will be made based on the results, we can’t short-circuit the process. We need to lobby for the right amount of time, or at least to be met in the middle, in order to do the job well. None of our stakeholders want to fail; they would prefer to be superstars by making the right decisions—profitable decisions. We can help them achieve star status with solid information, given enough time to plan, execute, and think. Let’s move quickly, but within reason. Not every business question has an overnight answer. Choose carefully.
- Lack of confidence. Nothing can kill our chances of getting that coveted seat at the table faster than an obvious shortage of confidence. You are never “just the insights guy” or “just an analyst.” You are a partner who can help prevent big mistakes and identify tremendous opportunity. Go in and take that seat at the table. You deserve it!
My hope is that these thoughts will push each of us to stretch ourselves, our departments, and our organizations. We can deliver creative thinking and outstanding insight into what our companies and our clients can and should do to be successful. We’re capable. Let’s go out and do it.
About the Author
Felicia Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Executive Vice President of Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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