OPINION14 September 2011

Lead! A sea change is coming

Ian Lewis dissects the findings of Cambiar’s Future of Research Study. He warns corporate researchers to become great consultants – or risk being replaced by one.

Cambiar today unveiled findings from “The Cambiar Future of Research Study” at the AMA Research & Strategy Summit in Chicago. The study looked out to 2020 and heard from 160 corporate researchers who have a wide range of experience, level and industry backgrounds. We also heard from research company executives, and I will be presenting the integrated results at the CASRO Annual Conference October 19 in Palm Beach, Florida.

What did we learn?

Researchers are expecting major change. Almost 60% of corporate research VPs expects major transformation by 2020; 70% expect this to be evident by 2015. One quarter of corporate researchers expects that the leading research company in 2020 does not exist today. Another one fifth expects that Google or Facebook will be leading the pack.

Corporate researchers will be consultants more than researchers. Virtually all corporate researchers believe that successful market researchers will have great consulting skills. This trend is already manifesting: Best Buy, Novartis, Pepsi and Starbucks have all recruited former BCG or McKinsey consultants to leadership positions.

We’ll have global responsibilities. Researchers believe that growth in MR spending will be driven from outside USA/Europe, and that jobs will have global or international responsibilities.

The future is about listening, measuring emotion, and mining knowledge. Nine out of ten researchers believe consumer listening will lead to major changes. Emotion measurement is expected to be part of the standard toolkit, although the jury is still out as to whether neuroscience and biometrics will be commonplace. Three in four researchers expect that marketing issues will be addressed by mining existing knowledge rather than initiating a project.

What about today? How are we doing? Not well. Only 25% of corporate researchers are “very satisfied” with the role of their department. We asked about barriers to success, and heard some fundamental issues.

The top barrier? ‘We are not operating as Thought Partners’ (defined by the Market Research Executive Board as an ongoing consultant to the business, an informed business partner, opportunity identifier or strategic thought partner). There is a huge gap today between corporate researchers’ desired role as a Thought Partner ( 92% want this), and their actual role ( 37% have a Thought Partner role). Six in ten have an “in the trenches” role; they are brought in too late, treated as order takers, or have business teams that want to control information.

How can we become Thought Partners? Support from the top is a key enabler. Given that many research departments are operating in an “in the trenches” mode today, there is a need to negotiate a “management contract” with senior management about how research should engage and operate with the business. [I discuss this in High-Impact Research: The New Strategic Partner. Research World, March 2010 ].

The top enabler is for research to identify and communicate insights that deliver business impact, going beyond the “what?” and “so what?” to the “now what?” This requires a different way of working, with a focus on collaboration, synthesis and storytelling.

What are the training needs? Top of the list are the journey from researcher to consultant, and storytelling and other impactful communication skills. Additional training needs include synthesis skills, development of rich insights, and learning about new research modalities.

So, what should corporate research leaders do?

  1. Become a great consultant (or risk being replaced by one!)
  2. Negotiate a management contract to enhance your role
  3. Evaluate staff capabilities and implement training for consulting skills, storytelling, synthesis and insights for impact
  4. Leverage and integrate new research modalities
  5. Lead! A sea change is coming

We’d like to hear what you think about the future, what you’re doing to stay ahead of the curve, and what you’re wrestling with.


13 years ago

I'd add to your well thought out list to learn how people listen. Researchers, like their clients, tend to rely upon their preferred modes of listening rather than what the situation calls for. That results in valuable information being left on the table because the researcher didn't tune is appropriately, or rather, listened to satisfy his needs instead of the needs of others.

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13 years ago

This 'become a consultant' thing sounds a lot like the old 'get research in the boardroom' debate we used to have. We can become consultants to the marketing team, sure. Or the product development team, customer service leaders etc. But does the corporate research department really have a broad enough view of all factors impacrting on a business for us to provide the level of consultancy a board would be looking for?

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13 years ago

Thx for your comments. Marian - Great point! Listening skills are part of the consultant toolkit, and we teach reflective listening in our program. George - I just saw Jeff Mercer of Microsoft present how they transitioned from order takers to business consultants. It look hiring, training, a change in the way of working, and focus on priority business issues. They are 3 years into the journey and have more to do. This is a big deal, but it can be done

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