Make the right business decisions with actionable insights

Many insights and marketing teams talk about getting actionable insights. But how do we get those insights and ensure they are acted on? It certainly involves building relationships, communication, and understanding what actions the research led to.

In this article, I will discuss the following:

What is an actionable insight look like?

Of course, an actionable insight is a piece of information that we can do something with. But, that definition is also vague – or dare I say not actionable? So, Barry Jennings, director of cloud and commercial business planning insights at Microsoft and member of the Voxpopme advisory board, offered an additional definition:

“Giving sufficient reason to take action and ‘sufficient reason’ really stuck with me,” Barry said. “Because at Microsoft, we know that those actions lead to impact. And that’s how I pay my team – more or less.”

How do you get an actionable insight?

Barry said it starts with the framing of what needs to be learned. That includes a research brief and making sure to have a good understanding of the business question.

“Understanding what we are trying to solve for is critical,” he said. “And you can’t spend too much time there. You really can’t.”

Next, look at what you already know and how that addresses pieces of the problem, Barry said.

“Not all of these questions are novel, so sometimes you can present data to the person who needs it,” Barry said. “It may be new to them but is not new to you.”

After that step, determine what new data is needed to complete the research. But before starting, determine: Whatever is being created, how can it be acted upon?

"If we do it right, actionable insights bring possibilities for making an impact in a discussion."

The best actionable insights are presented within the context of the current trends and situations. For example, what do consumers already believe about the situation? Are there pieces we need to explain differently – for example, when it comes to a new product?

Steps to take

Ultimately, to deliver actionable insights, we have to understand the business. What is the company trying to accomplish, what’s its mission and vision, and how is this research fitting into that? Then, when all those align, we have a chance to deliver actionable insights.

Next, partner with stakeholders.

“Figure out what’s behind what we are being asked so we can figure out what’s needed,” Barry said.

Remember that actionable insights can be but don’t always come out of the expected places.

“Sometimes it’s a straightforward, simple, and boring question,” Barry said.

Know when is the right time to bring up specific insights. There’s a time and place when stakeholders might be more receptive to certain ideas.

How realistic is it that the actionable insights will be used?

To even have a chance for them to get used, we have to present them in an actionable way, said Insights Executive Brett Townsend of Quester.

He said there are a lot of presentations that share data but aren’t as clear about the recommendations. And then we wonder why the “recommendations” weren’t implemented. Because people didn’t realize what they were.

Be realistic about the implementation

Indeed, who doesn’t want all their research to be used? That might be an unrealistic expectation. Just like not all ideas ever mentioned in meetings, move forward.

“I think of it as a batting average – like in the .400 range as opposed to Steph Curry’s free throw percentage, which is like 91 percent,” said Barry. “At the end of the day, research is part of the answer along with competition, costs, COGS, and financial goals.”

Barry added that the research brings the customer voice to the table as part of the overall decision-making.

“And then figuring out how we can move the needle and understand how the business operates and what constraints it operates under,” Barry said.

For example, the actionable insights might be the correct answer but don’t align with current financial strategies or goals.

“Let’s say I have an answer for more profitability, but the business right now requires a lot more growth and a little less profitability; that is what it is,” he said. “The research can say ‘this is the best message,’ but it may not always win.”

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Also, keep in mind that when executives have a question, many people will try to answer that question for them. The insights team is just one of those sources.

“Those executives have to balance all that,” Barry said. “And we have to figure out how we bring the customer voice in when it’s relevant. Sometimes that’s a long game.”

"Actionable doesn't necessarily mean actionable right now."

The importance of timing of actionable insights

The timing and even how actionable insights are communicated also matter.

“Our research doesn’t necessarily lead to ‘oh yes, research gave us the answer,'” Barry said. “For us, how do we get into these right conversations. How can we move the needle and change hearts and minds?”

It’s also good to know if we are talking to the person who can make that change. As we said in our article on creating surveys, why talk about packaging if we cannot and will not change the packaging?

The total situation

As we discussed in our article on how to be innovative, we also have to consider the totality of the situation.

“The research may say that Message A is the best for the customer; sometimes we may go with Message B for other business reasons,” Barry said. “It’s really about understanding what we can and cannot control.”

Other times, it may not be the right time for a specific change.

“But it might be down the line, and it’s more of finding the right moments,” Barry said.

Sometimes that means that the team pulls out research from six months ago that is now relevant again. As a result, some actionable insights take a while to develop.

“It’s still relevant, it’s still fresh, it’s just in a different moment,” Barry said. “Something that wasn’t relevant at that time now becomes the thing we are pushing right now.”

"The data might not be new to you but it's new to that particular person or department."

And do keep in mind that – especially at first in a relationship – you may have to sell the value of your work a bit.

“Our job isn’t to take the horse to the river and drink the water,” said Jorge Calvachi, a global thought leader, director of insights at La-Z-Boy, and member of the Voxpopme advisory board, on “Reel Talk.” “Our job from the beginning is to make the horse thirsty. Then they will find their way to the river and drink water.”

Actionable insights help with future projects, too

Teams recognized for creating value for their company and stakeholders may also have an easier time in a future project. As they say, trust is earned. The same is true here, and once teams can build that relationship and show how valuable their actionable insights are, they are more likely to be asked back to the table.

“I’ve been in situations where we were begging people to use us – begging someone to listen,” Barry said. “And that’s not fun. It’s much more fun when we are asked to show up and deliver this answer in an important meeting.”

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What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?