The fearlessly objective researcher

While many research agencies think that getting a seat boardroom table is the pinnacle of success, this is a flawed goal. A research agency would be ill advised to define its business mission as moving from a interpreter of information to a driver of decisions at the boardroom table.

Researchers are research experts

Researchers need a lot of technical skills. Throughout a researcher’s career she is trained in the hands-on application of the profession. Most of her time is spent writing questionnaires, designing conversations guides, running focus groups, creating tables.

When she advances she has more client contact, manages juniors and brings in new business for her agency. While she develops a sense of commercial acumen and the ability to provide clarity around certain business issues that involve consumers, very little of her training is dedicated to developing wider skills in high level strategic business thinking that moves beyond marketing.

So the expertise she offers her client centres on more tactical, consumer facing issues, rather than strategic business decisions involving accounting, operations or acquisitions that are often discussed at the boardroom level.

Research is only one of many decision making inputs

For most who have made a career out of research, uncovering that nugget, that a-ha moment, that insight, is the raison d’être. Because from these insights the researcher is are able to give guidance and make recommendations to her clients.

But here’s something that might not sit so comfortably with many researchers:

In the October 2014 issue of AMSRS’s Research News, Georgia Woodley reported that there is a disconnect between the way that agencies and clients view insights…

Agencies believe they provide clients with insights. Clients believe that research is just one input into obtaining an insights, and that they are the ones that actually have them.

For clients, an insight by definition needs to materialise into a business change. It needs to be acted upon for it to become an insight. Agencies on the other hand believe that an insight exists whether or not it impacts the business.

The Oxford Dictionary defines an insight as “an accurate and deep understanding of something”

To a client, the researcher’s conclusions are just the beginning. They use the facts, stats and opinions to develop their own “accurate and deep understanding” of how to proceed.

To help them do so, organisations use multiple sources (market research and otherwise) to make decisions. Often these sources are carefully curated, offering specialist knowledge that complement each other. Suppliers usually work independently of each other, and its the organisation that pieces together the bigger picture and what it means for the business.

Whilst a researcher can have an “accurate and deep understanding” of her own research and how it relates to a specific business problem, it does not necessarily mean an “accurate and deep understanding” of the client’s business in its entirety — as only the client can have that perspective.

The researcher is fearlessly objective and independent — so let’s own this

Instead of deploring the fact that market research has ‘no seat at the table’ we should be looking to our strengths as an industry and positioning ourselves to those.

A market researcher is an expert at identifying knowledge gaps, gathering useful information and providing explanation and meaning to her client.

For any sector that is informed by research — science, academia, medicine, journalism- it’s the absence of bias that gives the results authority. It’s precisely because the researcher is outside of the client organisation that gives her work clout. Someone ‘sitting at the table’ already has a vested interest that challenges the credibility of research results.

A mission of providing clients with the best possible information on which to make the best possible decisions is still an admirable pursuit.

This can be done through the researcher’s impartial status. We should value this, and recognise that it’s precisely because we’re not at the boardroom table that makes us influential.


Author: Teri Nolan

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