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4 Design Principles of Customer Centricity

This post comes from fellow CEB researcher Tim Bruno of the Marketing Leadership Council.  For more marketing perspective, check out the MLC blog.

Being good at everything would be a phenomenal problem to have.  Unfortunately, that’s just not the case for most of the companies in the world today.  But bear with me for a moment and visualize this utopian state at your company:  Marketing planning is optimized.  Your go-to- market approach is winning.  Operations, finance and service are all working in lock step.  Everything is perfect.

If this was the case, what would you do?

Many of my members would say: look for areas of constant improvement.  And many more members would say: we can be more customer or consumer centric than we are today.

Being more customer centric is a lot to bite off and chew.  That said here are four design principles that can guide your own conversations on the topic:

  1. Start with the customer experience.  The customer experience is often considered the central role in defining a firm’s level of customer centricity.  MREB members, learn more about embedding customer experience with Using a Customer Journey for Synthesis and Strategy.
  2. Create an executive-level chief customer experience officer.  Many members have expressed a keen interest in this topic – so much so that there have been some peer forum discussions on the responsibilities of the role.
  3. Rotate employees into customer facing roles.  Many firms intent on developing a customer first culture see the value in rotating key employees into the front-line or research positions.  In MREB, companies like Eli Lilly have improved customer centricity by using rotations to form a bridge between Research and other departments in the organization.
  4. Flatten and decentralize your marketing organizational structure.  Many may consider this a bold design principle and one that diverges with centralizing a chief customer office, but it should be in the conversation.  On a related note, one of the reasons members opt for a decentralized marketing structure is to place more focus on differing customer dynamics that occur throughout their markets globally.  MLC members can view the Council’s overview of org structure models here.

Curious to hear from you.  If you have any other design principles to add, let us know in the comments section below.

Protect Your Time: Prioritizing for Success

Posted on  8 January 13  by 


In a 10-minute scan of business headlines I came across literally dozens of blogs and articles on prioritization: mastering productivity and efficiency to ensure success in the New Year.  From a personal prioritization point of view, a common theme remains focusing on what you’re good at.

 I’ve blogged before about differentiating yourself by playing to your strengths.  Don’t try to be the bionic researcher; you’ll get more done more successfully if you focus on your strengths (click here to access 4 tips to help you identify your strengths). 

But one of my favorite posts on personal to-do list prioritization comes from Mike Michalowicz on  Mike establishes a prioritization process where you label your to-dos:

  • Dollar signs next to income-impacting to-dos
  • Smiley faces next to client-facing needs
  • Stars next to things due today

Check out his post to see his recommendation for sorting and prioritizing your check-list, Vegas slot style.  As you can imagine, items with a dollar, smiley, and star need to get done first.

Beyond the personal to-do list, researchers also have to prioritize the larger research agenda for the organization.  There are two main areas that you need to consider:

  1. Focus on Issue Diagnosis-projects should answer key unknowns that impact strategic decisions.  MREB members, access our Issue Diagnosis Center to read how Johnson & Johnson inventories knowns and unknowns, and how Lilly gets line partners to ask better questions.
  2. Prioritize Ad-Hoc Requests-it’s all about transparency: define simple criteria to prioritize ad hoc requests, and make sure your business partners understand it.  This will allow requestors to “game the system” to make sure that you accept their project.  But what they will really be doing is asking better questions.  MREB members, visit our center on Research Agenda Prioritization to see how Norwich Union, FedEx, and others do it.

Related Blogs:

5 Characteristics of Strategic Thinkers

Posted on  8 January 13  by 


We have argued frequently that researchers are in the best position to provide strategic guidance to their organization.  As researchers we think about things like how you can get more folks to benefit from insight by sharing our foundational knowledge and how to embed customer knowledge in a way that fits executive decision-making processes.  That’s right…STRATEGIC thinking!

Innovation Excellence recently published a blog on  5 characteristics of the best strategic thinkers, and I think many of these will be familiar to your daily research lives:

  1. Open yourself to perspectives from multiple sources—this isn’t about having more data points than others, it’s about putting them together properly.  We’ve done the analysis, and know that decision makers feel more confident in their decisions if they used more data points to get to them.  But we also found that decision makers struggle to make the best decisions without help with interpreting the dataResearcher synthesis skills can give you a real leg-up in the strategic decision-making process.
  2. Incorporate BOTH logic and emotion into your thinking—emotional drivers matter, especially when you’re trying to get the organization to take action.  We have found that the most successful way to re-educate executives when their assumptions are wrong is by engineering learning moments: using multi-sensory experiences that make the decision makers feel the emotion that comes with new, convention-breaking insights.
  3. Seek options beyond today’s reality—don’t let the current state of affairs have too much impact on future decisions.  A great Research example of this is the trends trend.  Decision makers like to ask for trends to try to identify “the next big thing.”  But we’ve seen companies have much more success growing their company when they shift Research’s focus from megatrends tracking to opportunity identification.
  4. Question both the familiar and the to-be-determined—in other words, be curious.  As the Science channel promo goes: Question Everything.   We’ve done the quant on this too, and have confirmed that intellectually curious people provide significantly better insights to the organization.
  5. Accept open issues—this may be the most difficult for us.  As researchers, by nature we are looking for answers.  But the most successful Research departments are the ones that encourage principled risk-taking.  Waiting for all of the facts to come in to make the “right decision” will keep you waiting around forever.  Use your judgment when guiding the organization: it’s how true insights are made.

MREB’s Best of the Year

Posted on  2 January 13  by 


Happy 2013!  From improving presentations to creating better insights or identifying new research methodologies, there are a number of research-related resolutions to set out on this week.   

To help you get back into the swing of things and get you going on your resolution to-do list, take a look at our most popular content over the past year: 

Most Popular Blogs

Most Popular Research

Most Popular Web Resources

We’ve also got a list of some of the research initiatives we are working on in the first months of 2013:

Upcoming 2013 Research

We’d love to hear about your upcoming initiatives too; let us know what you’re working on in the comments section below.  Happy New Year everyone!

4 Tips to Make “Consultative” Hires Technically Competent

Posted on  31 December 12  by 


Many Research functions today are hiring “consultative” candidates in their quest to become consultants to the business. Most Research heads want these consultative hires to take on a mix of consultative and core research responsibilities. But they are realizing that these new consultative hires lack technical research skills of traditional researchers. This lack of technical research skills can reduce Research’s credibility with the business and lead to action on incorrect research.

To prevent these pitfalls, here are 4 tips from progressive companies on hiring and training technically competent consultants.

  1. Define technical skills new consultative hires need: Companies must clearly define technical skills they expect new consultative hires to develop. In general, all consultants, even leaders, need basic technical research skills to influence business partner decisions, manage expectations, and supervise technical specialists on their team. At a minimum, consultants need to understand “how” to conduct research, while technical specialists or vendors execute the study. Some consultants may need to develop specific advanced research skills to perform their research responsibilities.
  2. Test for technical aptitude but avoid the “Bionic Researcher” trap: “Bionic Researchers” equally skilled at research and consulting are extremely hard to find. When hiring consultative hires, companies should test for technical aptitude but not technical excellence. Leading companies test for a basic knowledge of the research function and process, baseline technical acumen, and an interest in learning technical skills.
  3. Be prepared to invest in building technical skills: Companies should be prepared to invest time in training since on-the-job training alone will not be sufficient to up-skill consultative hires. Consultants often need six months to demonstrate progress and at least a year to reach the required skill level. Leading companies use a combination of best-fit internal methods (such as simple tools, workplace assignments, and immersion) and external methods (such as courses, certifications, and conferences) to build skills. Companies that cannot make this investment should check for technical competence—not just aptitude— at the time of hiring.
  4. Workflow embedded, continuous learning is more effective than point-in-time approaches alone: Progressive companies realize that a mix of learning, doing, and coaching works best since up to 70% of skill-building takes place through workplace assignments. And, simply sending a new hire to a conference or skill-building class is not enough.  Even if formal training provides structure and scalability to skill-building efforts, managers must create opportunities for new hires on the team to practice what they have learned through workplace assignments. The mix of learning and doing is often facilitated by peer coaching.  Peer coaching provides an informal environment to ask questions, highlight pain points, and jointly work through solutions.

MREB members, learn more about how companies like CareFusion, Cummins, and SABMiller approach technical training in our new whitepaper, Building Technical Competence in New “Consultative” Hires.

Related Blogs:

Related Member Resources:

3 Tips for Surviving the Company Holiday Party

Special thanks to Joanna Wohlmuth of the Communications Executive Council for this week’s guest post.  Check out CEC’s blog for more on communications best practices. 

It’s December, which means it’s the company holiday party season. Professional communicators don’t have any trouble making conversation, but most of your colleagues are probably a bit less confidant and company parties can lead to a perfect storm of socially awkward situations.

This leaves you with two options. One is to politely excuse yourself, and head for the bathroom, the bar, or – if things have got really bad – home. The other is to use your skills as a communicator to enable some social interaction between your colleagues.

1. Base Conversation in People’s Personal Interests

The Problem: After a few questions about colleagues’ vacation plans, everyone falls back on the go-to-last-resort topic: work. The one thing you all undeniably have in common is also the least interesting because you’ll have plenty of time to talk about it when you’re back at the office.

The Solution: Search for people’s personal interests to get the conversation flowing naturally. You’ve probably heard your peers mention something about their weekend plans and seen the pictures on their desk. Ask a question to get them talking about something they feel knowledgeable about or have a genuine interest in.

“Ben, didn’t you just get back from your second trip to Paris this year?

MREB members, see how Sabre and GM use their social networks to help gather knowledge.

2. Tap Social Motivators for Sharing

The Problem: After volunteering a few personal facts and stories, conversation once again dries up because people tend to get shy after a few moments in the spotlight.

The Solution: Tap into the emotional drivers of social activity and sharing — feeling smart, looking cool, and helping others. Show you’re interested in discussing things your colleague is proud of and watch them roll!

“Chaz, don’t you do a lot of hiking? I was thinking of planning a camping trip this spring. Any suggestions?”

You can tap social motivators to help gather research inputs too.  MREB members, see how Microsoft, Transamerica, and Lilly show source owners the value in sharing data.

3. Create a Safe Space

The Problem: Conversation is on a role but then a final straw threatens to once again break the camel’s back. Your boss or another higher-up wanders over. Conversation slows as no one wants to say the wrong thing. Your boss looks on expectantly.

The Solution: Break down the hierarchy from the top. If you’re a part of a stunted conversation across different levels of seniority, get the senior staffer to open up – thus setting the tone for others to chip in.

“Boss, did you know that Emmy here shares your passion for historical films? Have either of you seen the new Lincoln movie?”

Watch the hierarchical divide come crumbling down as conversation turns to their shared interest.

So here’s to an easy-to-get-through holiday season; use these communication tips, and those in blogs listed below for a happy, un-awkward new year!

Infographic: Holiday Music by the Numbers

Posted on  17 December 12  by 


Data visualization is always a hot topic for market researchers, so when I find a fun infographic I like to pass it along.  And Pandora, the internet radio site, just released an interesting one on holiday music preferences in the US.   Some interesting findings:

  • Those in the south prefer classic holiday songs over new releases, while folks in western regions are more accepting of a modern, pop holiday.
  • Nearly twice as many men as women believe music will make or break a holiday party.
  • Only 1 in 5 Americans listen to holiday music at work (count me in the 20% here!).
  • 94% of 32-44 year olds listen to holiday music.

Visit Pandora’s blog for a beautiful graphical representation of these results.  And, if data visualization is important to you, please let us know in the comments below.  We just launched an initiative on this topic and would love to hear your opinions on which projects lend themselves best to data visualization techniques and what skills are necessary to create engaging graphics.

Related blogs:

3 Reasons Why Storytelling Works

Posted on  11 December 12  by 

Comment (1)

What was the last engaging presentation that you heard?

Chances are, it didn’t involve long-winded PowerPoint decks, endless bullet points, or slide after slide of graphs and charts so crammed with data that you can hardly read the labels.

It’s not that research presentations should be stripped of all data. If you have an argument to make, you need to include some solid evidence. Instead, presenters need to become savvier about how they choose to engage the audience. 

To do so, researchers can try storytelling as a presentation technique. Whether this is done by telling stories within a presentation or structuring the entire presentation with a narrative, storytelling offers three unique benefits:

  • Brings the audience into the presentation: Business partners are often biased towards their own experience and judgment in the decision making process.Storytelling combats audience biases by including realistic protagonists that allow the audience to see themselves in the story and become invested.
  • Takes advantage of memory processes: Presentations that include storytelling are easier to remember because information is placed in a familiar, easy-to-remember sequence.
  • Triggers high-arousal emotions: Content that inspires high-arousal emotions such as awe, anger, and anxiety is more likely to be shared. Tradition research presentations don’t trigger these emotions, but change-inspiring stories often invoke these strong emotions.

MREB members, learn more about how to use storytelling as a presentation technique

Related Blogs:

Related Member Resources:

Top Jobs of ’13: We’re #3

Posted on  10 December 12  by 


A few months ago I blogged about how Research Analyst was one of the underrated jobs of 2012, and now another list is providing a shout-out for our function.  According to CBS News, Research Analyst is ranked #3 in the 15 best jobs of 2013.   

A median salary of a bit more than $30 per hour and a growth rate of 10% put the position in a group with software developers, computer system analysts, and information security analysts.  So go ahead and skill up, researchers; it’s a good time to gather and analyze data.

Related member materials:

Shopper Research: The Mannequins have Eyes

Posted on  3 December 12  by 


The Washington Post recently profiled a new tool in the shopper research arsenal: mannequins running facial recognition software.  Although in very limited release (five companies are using a few dozen mannequins), the article outlines a few cool insights gleaned from the new observational technique:

  • A clothier introduced children’s clothes after seeing the large number of kids that make up afternoon traffic.
  • One store redesigned displays after learning men spend more than women in the first two days of a sale.
  • Another store placed Chinese-speaking associates at a certain door after noticing that one-third of customers coming through that entrance were Asian.

We have recently profiled work on neuroscience and smartphones, and it appears from this article that technology will improve more opportunities to understand the customer journey.  What new technology do you think is next to provide business-relevant data?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.   

Related blogs: