From the start: The Essential Guide to Building a Market Research Team
Building a market research team and the related market research team structure that works can be an essential part in building that customer-centric culture. But how do you build a market research team like that, and how do you make sure you have the right players?
We’ll dive into this topic in this article after compiling tips from experts around the market research, marketing and insights industry.
To get started, you want to make sure others in the company know what you are doing.
“You can sense there’s a lot of excitement coming from all parts of the company,” said Maher Beltaifa, a human insights manager, about building the insights team at Faurecia, on an episode of the market research podcast “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “And people have always wanted to do that and be intimate with their users and know what’s going through their mind whenever they are using the products and services and how they can improve on those experiences.”
Building market research teams that work together can help us understand our customers and continuously improve the customer experience.
“I will lean on my statement that I’m allergic to silos,” she said. “If you are a customer-driven business, customer insights needs to be sitting at the foundation of what you do.”
In some companies, that’s an insights team. In other companies, another team might be leading the charge, Tara said.
“That doesn’t mean you can do it in a silo,” she said. “There’s all that heavy lifting going on to make sure we are aligned with our customer experience team, our customer success team, the product team.”
The alignment is necessary so teams:
- Don’t recreate the wheel.
- Are aligned on the things they are asking for from customers in surveys.
- Get the insights from the internal team before anyone puts a survey out into the market
You can get more buy-in when other departments understand what’s going on and how it can benefit them, said Jenn Mancusi, CRO at conversational insights leader Voxpopme. “We are on this journey together instead of us saying, ‘Hey, we’ve done this research.’ “
Tara added: “I’ll even go so far and say that the customer experience becomes so much better.”
Working collaboratively helps you build something that every department can benefit from. Surveys and questions that are asked of customers at different touchpoints can be aligned when teams work together.
“We are doing a survey in marketing right now, and we will share feedback with product if we are getting feedback on the product,” Tara said. “We are going to want that and put it into our product roadmap.”
The same goes for customer experience.
“If we have an unhappy customer or a thrilled customer, we have that opportunity to create an even better experience,” Tara said.
Team communication is essential to make it work.
At PepsiCo, everyone should feel like they can give their opinion fearlessly, said Jennifer Saenz, global chief marketing officer at PepsiCo during her chat with Zappi President Ryan Barry, at the 2021 Virtual Insights Summit.
“When you see an outage you have to speak up,” she said. “I wouldn’t hold it in and let it fester because you can make an impact.”
Thinking like an owner can help with speaking up, Jennifer said. When there’s a problem or an idea owners certainly would speak up. Anyone should feel empowered to do that.
“There are things about an organization that implies,” she said. “One, are we willing to listen? Or are we so hierarchical? Our hope would be that those cultural values showcase that we want to listen and want you to state your opinions – act like an owner.”
But also voice your opinion with purpose.
“Saying something is a problem is a step, but I also think it’s important that people take the responsibility trying to solve things,” she said.
Jennifer’s teams focus on creative excellence to improve.
- How to manage the agency
- The way the team learns
- How to brand position
“Creative excellence is where we spend a lot of time and energy to make sure we have strong brands that resonate with consumers,” Jennifer said.
Testing is also important, but perhaps more important is why A won in an A/B test than that A won.
“So the next time you can do an even smarter version,” Jennifer said. “Make sure you are doing that reflective exercise. And that you go in there intelligently. Being constantly learning helps you.”
Understanding where your brand can go and where it shouldn’t is also is important to know when evaluating trends, strategies, and the next campaigns.
As you are experimenting make sure you understand the scope of what’s being tested. Also, make sure you are involving the right people in the company. Who is closest to the customer.
Consider which market is the best for a pilot.
“Figure out who is the best partner to start,” Jennifer said. “It’s a bit of shopping it around. There’s an aspect of change management.”
Kalil Vicioso, a board member at Insights in Color discussed the importance of diversity on insights teams on this “Reel Talk.” In a multicultural America, it’s important to reflect society in our research. In part, that can be accomplished by having the right team in place.
“The important piece in this is to identify and find talent,” he said.
There are many ways for people to become insights professionals or marketers. People can come from a variety of backgrounds and professional experiences.
Zoe Dowling, principal research program manager at Microsoft, said ” the richness of disciplines that we have really helps elevate the industry overall.”
Jason Wright, president of the Washington Commanders, said that he hires with diversity in mind and that includes backgrounds and ways of thinking as well.
“I don’t want everyone who has been in the NFL their entire career – you get the same old recycled ideas,” Jason said. “We are trying to rebuild a historic fan base and need different ideas.”
Consumer insights executive Brett Townsend said that it can be beneficial to bring people from outside market research onto the team – for example former sales people.
“It gives us a different perspective on our own industry,” he said. “And you are dealing with people who are end users of what we are offering.”
Tasks that teams need to consider in their analysis
Tara said in a clip played on the show that teams should analyze the right amount of answers from surveys.
“You have to understand how many responses you actually have to read to get to some form of significance,” she said. “Reading and digging into those answers is what creates empathy.”
That takes a team approach: Who is doing what, what information gets shared, and when, to drive the best results, while keeping the team on the right forward path together.
For example, one team member can take the analysis in the Voxpopme video survey platform. They can read the automatic transcripts of responses and find answers by topic or sentiment. With the click of a button, a highlight reel can be created to share with your team and executives.
From there, you can use what was learned and add it into your campaigns, talk tracks, and product updates to create value for the customer.
What does it mean to drive value?
“My belief is that marketers shouldn’t just create demand, but create value,” Tara said. “Yes, I do have to care about the demand funnel, acquisition, and growth. And everything in between. But what I care the most about is that value.”
Think of value as something that is useful to the customer.
“What is it that people are hiring us for?” Tara said. “They have a pain, and they need to solve that pain. So when we think about value, we need to think about how do we make this person’s life better?”
Demand rooted in value creates lifetime value.
“That’s where I think customer research becomes so important,” Tara said.
In addition, this is where qualitative methods — like video surveys — become essential. Data can tell teams a certain level of information, but data can’t tell why a customer feels a certain way.
Companies will be most successful when they understand:
- the customer’s problem.
- what the customer’s motivation is to buy.
- what the customer’s dreamer state is.
Understanding customers’ personal problems can help us create more personalized experiences.
“Personalizing is a huge challenge,” Jenn said. But it’s one that can be overcome by understanding your customer through surveys that tell you the “why.”
You also can personalize experiences by thinking about how personas are alike. Which ones overlap? In essence, you are personalizing for a group of similar people.
“Where are the similarities in the problems they are trying to solve?” Jenn said. “And then work from there to personalize.”
Mimi Swain, Ring’s Chief Revenue Officer sits right at the center of marketing, sales, and customer teams, and said teams can be successful when they see things from the customer perspective.
“Try to understand the levers of the customer,” she said during an interview with Jenn during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit. “What’s a motivator for them?”
When customer preferences change
Some consumer behavior changes are knee-jerk reactions to a current, time-limited situation. Others are more long-term and evolving. The trick is to figure out what’s what, which can be done by staying connected with your customers.
“I’m definitely a fan that a survey isn’t one and done — you get the results and then you go and build,” Tara said. “Customer insights should be an always-on thing. It should be something you are constantly looking at, improving on, and iterating on.”
To have insights always on, ask customers at the moment or right after an experience. James Dodkins discussed this concept in this article.
Also, look at changes in your NPS score, but not just to be able to say you got a certain score. Look at it to see who the happy and unhappy customers are, Tara said. You can reach out to each for different reasons:
- Happy customers: Perhaps they’d leave a review or would let you create a case study.
- Unhappy customers: Find out what they would like to see improved.
You also can think of the NPS as the quantitative (the what) piece of your insights analysis. Then you’ll have to figure out the qualitative piece (the why customers are feeling one way or another).
With an always-on approach, there should be little to no surprises in customer behavior, Tara said.
Where does customer research fit in terms of priorities?
“It’s probably one of the most important priorities,” Tara said about where it fits in her first 90 days in a new CMO role. “I can’t make an impact on the organization if I don’t understand what I need to be looking for, and that means getting on the phone with customers, looking at the customer journey, understanding our drop-off points”
And sometimes you just have to listen and let the customer feedback and thoughts sink in.
“That can be hard. … I’m a very action-oriented person,” Tara said.
What skills and what mindset should market research teams have?
It starts with hiring people that are curious about understanding and continuing to understand the market, said Dennis Devlin, author of “Three Wise Monkeys.”
“I take functional skills off the table for this,” Tara said. “If you are hiring somebody for a job, you have to assume that they can do the job at a functional level.”
Then soft skills come to the table:
- Do they have a growth mindset?
- Is there empathy and the ability to listen?
- Are they customer-driven?
- Do they leave their ego at the door?
- Will they contribute to team camaraderie? Chemistry matters.
On the hard skill side: Are they analytical, which doesn’t mean they have to be an analyst but they do need to understand the data.
When a market research team can look at the data it helps us understand whether an effort is worth it.
“I think it’s the mix of functional expertise, soft skills, analytical and willingness to learn,” Tara said.
But you also don’t want to be too robotic in your decision-making, Tara said.
“I still do believe that those risks are grounded in insights,” she said.
Insights executive Khary Campbell stressed the importance of a high-performing market research team on this episode of Reel Talk.
Performance comes out in the metrics, but also the behaviors of market research team members, Khary said.
“Where it came out to me was when I joined a disruptive innovation team at General Mills. They said we are going to give you a different business model,” Khary said. “We don’t want you to bring us another cereal in a box. Other than that you are free to create new approaches, new methods and new ways for us to assess it.”
And the market research team realized they had to operate outside of their titles.
“We kind of forgot our titles and we started operating as a team with one shared consciousness,” Khary said.
“We realized we had to assume each other’s responsibilities in some places,” he said. “So our behaviors changed. It was no longer a conversation of ‘I don’t know. I have to wait for our finance person.’ And it goes to ‘I know they are busy and why don’t you and I get together and take our best shot at it.'”
Of course, still double-check it with that person, but give it your best shot.
“And what happened was we kind of forgot our titles,” he said. “And we started operating as a team with one shared consciousness.”
Jorge Calvachi, a global thought leader, director of insights at La-Z-Boy, and member of the Voxpopme advisory board, reminded us on “Reel Talk” that anyone – including individual contributors can act as leaders.
Also, consider the setup of the team – especially for global teams. For example, Jo Munton, global insights leader formerly of Avon, said on “Reel Talk” that the team runs global studies from a centralized location for categories, but also has teams in different markets.
“Avon has a number of top markets and we have research personnel in all of our top markets,” she said. “And that gives us that extra level of detail to those markets.”
Having strategic local representation can give teams a good starting point. For example, somebody in the UK might ask the insights lead in Poland if they think a certain idea might be of interest there. The team can then take it together from there.
Clarity of roles
Khary’s team had a very clear understanding of their combined goals and how they would operate together to reach them.
When it comes to having the right people in the right seats on a team, it’s important to communicate why a seat exists. What problem is that particular seat solving?
“It’s important to give people clear alignment on what their role is,” Tara said. “And what is the role clarity that they need to be successful? That’s equal responsibility for the manager and the employee, working together and defining Key Performance Indicators.”
The KPIs for some roles can be soft, and for some roles, they are more direct.
“Regardless of role, I’m a believer in putting a number around what people are responsible for,” Tara said. “And then building in the right performance review cycles. I don’t think once or twice a year is enough.”
When something isn’t going great, bring it up right away. And when they do something well, “shout it from the rooftop,” she said.
“Are we getting better at servicing our customers?” he said. “Are they happier? And we are seeing that in them buying more over time. Then we can give more autonomy.”
Working on making customers happier can also be achieved by reinventing processes when it helps be more customer-centric.
“That’s simple but it’s not easy,” David said. “It’s simple conceptually but it’s not easy to do because most of the processes we are taught are company-centric.”
This can also include finding new opportunities in existing markets.
“You always want competition, you want demand,” said David. “That means that there are customers. That means there’s money there.”
“Autonomy comes with equal parts accountability toward doing what’s best for customers,” David said.
Having a mentor who has similar experiences to yours and has been a member of a market research team can also be helpful, said Shannon Danzy, a research consultant.
“There’s something that is unique about being able to talk to somebody who has had similar experience as you,” she said.
Understanding the history
Everyone wants to make their mark, but learning the company history is important before jumping in, said Vice President of Global Insights at McDonald’s Michelle Gansle on an episode of “Reel Talk.”
“One of the first tips and advise I was given is that McDonald’s has been around for a long time so respect the culture and history,” Michelle said. “Before you make your mark learn what’s working and what’s great in the system already.”
Michelle said that at the beginning of her tenure at McDonald’s she talked to hundreds of people to understand the current situation, which can also help with prioritization.
“Where should I focus my energies?” she said. “It’s been fun. McDonald’s calls themselves McFamily and it really has been a family.”
Nick Graham, global head of insights and analytics at Mondelez International, joined us on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” about nine months into his new job at Mondelez.
“The biggest thing is to get used to the culture of the company,” he said. “Get to know the people and the culture and how things operate in reality versus on paper. There’s often the unspoken rules of the road that you don’t know when you come into a company.”
As strategies and tactics that work evolve and change in markets, it’s also important to understand what works currently and with that what should be focused on today!
Sometimes a market research team has to unlearn tactics and practices. And sometimes a team has to relearn them in a different context, David said. Keep in mind that many product features and offerings can be easily copied so you have to build a brand to stand out.
“Now as we are scaling the company, we are re-learning some of those things slightly differently,” he said. “It’s all about applying the context of when to apply lessons.”
Many people have experiences throughout their careers that were applied to specific situations in specific companies. But can they be applied to similar but not identical situations in other companies? Not always. Plus, customer behavior may have changed since the first experience.
“It may have been a different time, different size company and things like that,” Dave said. “The only thing that’s universal is how you treat people and lead people. That part is pretty universal because we are all humans and have the same basic needs.”
Culture as a market research team grows
Unlearning and re-learning also include the right culture. Admittedly, it’s hard work – especially as companies grow. Drift, which launched in 2015, currently had around 500 employees in early 2021 and was already looking to grow to 750, Dave said.
“That’s where I spend all of my time,” Dave said. “We’ve had a culture of teaching from the very beginning.”
As new employees of the market research team come in make sure you share how the company thinks about:
- Building a brand
“It paid off for us as we scaled pretty quickly,” he said.
Also, consider how you empower the market research team to share successes with the wider company. For example, Drift has a weekly game-show type even every Friday where different teams can share successes.
Voxpopme has a Slack channel called #boom where employees give high fives to others to highlight internal successes.
That does happen and culture is built and maintained on many levels of an organization.
“I believe most people are inherently good and sometimes our environments change the way we behave,” Ryan said.
It’s also good for leaders to ask for feedback. And to understand that leadership isn’t a license to disregard feedback.
“When you are put into a leadership role there’s a natural inclination to double down on that your decisions are correct,” said Rand Fishkin, CEO of SparkToro, on an episode of “Reel Talk.” “So you seek out information, data, and stories that put you in the best possible light.”
It’s okay and necessary for leaders as well to own up to mistakes, but some leaders double down on mistakes and claim it was intentional.
“A lot of this also comes back to those soft skills,” Tara said. “I want people to feel comfortable failing, and failing forward is so critically important.”
And sometimes a situation doesn’t work out, which can be for a variety of reasons, like a bad hire, the person isn’t a good fit with the team and so on.
But make sure there are no surprises and that communication channels are open and transparent, Tara said.
While we mostly discuss customer feedback on the blog, getting feedback from employees is also important.
“Use these same approaches with your team and follow-through,” Tara said.
“We are all just human and want to work for companies or buy from companies that listen to us,” Jenn said.
Good teams also prioritize well together. Not everything has to be a full-blown project. And not everything has to be scrappy. It’s OK to find the right level of effort for any project.
“At the end of the day, there’s only so many people on the team and only so many resources to put against a project,” Jenn said. “So it’s important to identify efforts that have a high impact and low effort. Let’s do those first.”
To be truly customer-centric and do what’s best for our customers, we need high-performing teams. Building teams around functional and soft skills can help them work better together and constantly improve the customer experience.
Khary on his podcast episode talked about risk versus rigor. How much risk is involved in a project and how much effort do we truly have to put into it.
“That’s a nice way to frame it up,” he said. “You need to look at the priorities of your business and the priorities of your team and see what realistically can get done. And you need to look at what can potentially move the needle.”
Be clear about what your north star is and then have that ongoing conversation of what can make an impact and how you can tackle those projects in a realistic order.
“What can we control today and how much value is that going to add?” Khary said. “My team can deliver these five things this week and these two will bring real value.”
Jenn added that she loves the idea of deprioritizing tasks that don’t appear to bring value.
“Or find a way to make them more valuable,” she said.
She uses four quadrants to evaluate tasks and projects:
- Not urgent
- Not important
Be clear on if something is urgent and important, for example. When something is urgent but not important does it even need to get done? Those are conversations to be had in the prioritization.
“You want to do your due diligence because it’s tough to deprioritize,” Khary said. “For somebody on the other end that was very urgent for them.”
Also, keep in mind that some things are urgent but not for the right reasons. “You have to build that rapport and trust to be able to talk about it,” he said.
“You can’t just tell somebody you deprioritized the thing that’s most important to them,” she said. “Talk about it.”
Jean-Michel Hoffman, vice president of brand marketing at SoFi, said during his interview during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit that people also get much more invested when they own the brand.
“You are much more focused on performance,” he said. “Owning the equity for the brand that you own – making sure the brand is set up that you are protecting its reputation and building its value.”
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