Who Are You? Really.

who are you to question bubble comic textAs research professionals, we evaluate a brand’s position in the market. We help firms identify how and where to position themselves, how to differentiate themselves from others, and we measure their brand health.

Yet, how many research firms or research departments think about how to position themselves? How good are we at managing our own brands? Those of us in marketing and market research are supposed to be the experts in brand positioning, but how can we make this claim when we don’t do it ourselves?

I recently attended a market research CEO summit where I met many smart researchers from firms we all know. I quickly learned through my conversations that most still struggle with the same issues – “how do we get new clients,” “how do we talk about ourselves.” On the supplier side, it seems we all say the same thing and few of us truly differentiate ourselves.

This also applies to those in insight departments on the client side.

When I was running a client side team, I tried to be intentional with “positioning our brand”. This is not just a theoretical exercise. The brand to which you aspire should influence how you staff the department and what you deliver. If you want to be internal consultants (as was my team’s objective), hire those who enjoy the consultative nature of our business and being part of our internal client’s team. If you desire to be technical experts, you hire accordingly.

This same thinking also applies to marketing departments. Are you, or do you want to be, the business lead who understands what clients want? Or is yours the creative group of experts in communications and creating ads?

This notion of “brand positioning” also applies to us personally.

I still remember a friend giving me some very good advice in my early days of research while at Hallmark Cards. At the time, I loved getting into the data and the methods. I would stay late trying out different methods. I thought that would be my path to becoming a great researcher. My friend Julie asked me if I wanted to be the technical expert, or the internal consultant who works with clients to help identify solutions – I couldn’t be both.

In reality, perhaps we can be both — but not in our client’s mind. So, although I still explored methods, I talked about them less. Instead, I would discuss concepts that came straight from Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy or Tom Peters’ and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.’s In Search Of Excellence – two landmark strategy books at that time.

We must understand who we want to be. Are we consultants? Technical experts? Low cost? Innovative? Business experts? Data experts? Most of us would say “yes” to all. But of course, just as we all tell our clients that they must pick, we can’t be everything. So, what does your firm or department really want to be? Who do you really want to be?

The bottom line is we need to be intentional in defining who we are. Staff accordingly. Set team expectations accordingly. But also, communicate to your clients who you are — whether you are on supplier or client side — and live by it.

Just as we help our clients manage their customer touch points, we should be intentional with our touch points – even if you are an internal team. If you want to be an internal consultant, do your documents and presentations look like something a consultant would produce? Can you hold a conversation on business matters other than market research techniques?

Try this as a start . . .

This whole concept is hard. Really hard. My firm is about seven years old and we’re just figuring it out. In a recent meeting, a team member wrote down what we said about ourselves and created this video. I love it. I wish I were smart enough to put down in words who we are – but the good news is these are our team’s words. Not mine. But it reflects what I want our firm to become; who I want our team to become. There is more to do, but this moves us in the right direction.

Click here to view video.

Consider this exercise for your team. Have each team member identify a few words and phrases that describe who they would like your team to be. This can be revealing. This may capture the essence of your team. That’s the first step. The hard work is then figuring out how to become that to which you aspire. But at least you will now have a compass (and perhaps your own true north).

Have A Point Of View

After all, you're the expert

Businessman With Megaphone.


We all understand that senior management values decisiveness. So why are many of our documents or presentations filled with qualifiers – “perhaps,” “tend to,” “may be,” “90 percent level of confidence?”

The truth is, as a profession, we offer a great deal of expertise, but we also tend to offer a great deal of ambiguity, and we often lack decisiveness. Our managers are looking to make decisions and for us to be decisive in giving recommendations that help them make those decisions. So the question becomes, are we giving them what they need?

I’ve cited in previous blogs the statistic that 85 percent of senior managers want market research professionals to be a trusted partner and internal consultant, but only 25 percent think we are.  I also read recently that companies are increasing their research spend, but limiting the research head count expenditures. This all tells me management values the information but not necessarily the researchers themselves. The fact that we are all too willing to serve up our data with a side of caveats and ambiguity rather than decisiveness may be one of the reasons we fall short.

We’ve all witnessed that painful sight when a less experienced researcher gets his or her shot at presenting to a senior executive. The researcher, rightly proud of the work, wants to share all of the great information. But as he or she does this, the executive becomes more and more impatient, waiting for the bottom line. Waiting for the answer.  And when he asks the key question “what should I do?”  he gets hemming, hawing and caveats. The researcher has just wasted the opportunity to influence senior management.

We are comfortable in shades of gray – but management is not

Researchers understand that few things in life are black and white. We live in shades of gray. We want our clients to understand these shades of gray and nuances. But our clients are not us. There is a point where we need to rise above the shades of gray and form an opinion or point of view as to what it all means for the company.

We need to recognize what most business leaders understand – there is no such thing as perfect information, and that we often need to make decisions without having all the facts.

For those of you who have been fortunate to work with strong leaders, you understand they want your opinion. They want to know what you think they should do and why.  When we answer with “well we could do this, but on the other hand, that has merit as well, ” we limit our effectiveness and do a disservice to ourselves and our firms. Yes, there are shades of gray. But since you understand all these shades of gray and nuances, evaluate them and state of point of view. Really, who better to offer an opinion than you?

Developing a point of view is not easy – nor typically within our comfort zone

I offer a workshop to my clients on how to get results heard. In most all cases, this is perhaps the most difficult challenge the participants face. They may understand the concept and the rationale, but many are just plain uncomfortable taking a position and having a point of view.  There is a risk involved.  What happens if the CEO disagrees?  What happens if we’re wrong?

The key to successfully offering and owning your point of view is to ensure your opinion is  based on evidence. If you can support an opinion based on logic and strong evidence, then you are on solid ground and your point of view will be valued – even if others disagree. You will have contributed to the decision. Others will have other sources of information and other points of view and that’s okay.  Perhaps their arguments will win the day.  But you brought your insights to the table for discussion and as valuable input for the decision.

There are hidden benefits to having a point of view

A huge side benefit of having a point of view is that it forces us to analyze our results with a different perspective.  It makes us think like leaders — not just reporting data, but trying to decide ourselves what we would do. This might lead to slicing and dicing our data in different ways, or integrating data points from other sources into our documents to support our points.  But if we do these things, we will become more comfortable with our own point of view and we will have produced a much more decision-ready report or presentation.

Owning a point of view makes us much more prepared to answer that question “what would you do?” And in doing so, we will have taken a step closer to becoming senior management’s trusted advisor.

The great researchers know their craft . . . and a whole lot more

Skill Level

If you’re like most research professionals, you’re passionate about your craft; I know I am. We thrive on uncovering and sharing the facts, data and insights to help our organizations and our clients’ organizations thrive and succeed.

The value of the insights we offer — often straight from the customers’ lips — can’t be overstated. That’s why I find it a little ironic that the key to being considered a great researcher — one whose recommendations are appreciated, accepted, and utilized — lies in being so much MORE than a researcher.  Actually, this applies to whatever your area of specialty is.

We need to know more than research

Researchers understand research like nobody else. But in today’s business environment, that is our cost of entry.  To offer meaningful recommendations and influence our organizations, we must understand the ecosystem around research.

If we are going to research marketing issues, we should know something about market strategy and tactics.  If we are to research price, we should know something about pricing strategy.  You get the point.

We need to know more than just our craft.  We must understand:

  • Business strategy
  • Marketing strategy
  • Pricing strategy
  • Communications strategy
  • Who the decision makers are and what they are trying to accomplish
  • What our clients want, expect, and are trying to prove
  • The challenges with executing the types of recommendations that we make

Although this broad range of expertise or knowledge may not be natural to us, it benefits us to develop it. The danger of staying within our own research world of execution, techniques, and simply managing to research objectives, means we will miss the mark.  Not because the research was wrong, but because we did not understand the ecosystem around the issue we are researching.

Those of you who have been in research for any length of time understand that there is typically more to the research objective than what is stated. It’s critical for us to understand the context around the objective.

Understand the ecosystem surrounding market research

By understanding the ecosystem and the context around our clients’ request, our analysis will be more on target.  Our recommendations will move from sophomoric to sound, and our insights will move from discrete data points to true insights that can be used.

So make it your business to meet with and get to know your clients — internal or external. Try to understand their jobs, and what they’re trying to accomplish, and even their challenges.  Let’s read our company’s marketing plan.  Let’s understand. Understanding enables you to set the right goals, execute relevant research projects and deliver value-added insights.

Learn marketing and business strategy from the best

I’ve also found that learning from experts through reading their books is a great investment of time. So make a point to look at the works of Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, or other business authors that you may respect.

When we reach the point of understanding and “business savvy,” and when our clients see this understanding, our recommendations will be accepted. We will be asked to comment on non-research decisions because we understand the market, the company, the industry. Our jobs suddenly become a lot more rewarding – and valuable to our clients.

Of course, there’s always the option of staying within our comfort zone and learning another research technique.  Which do you think will have a larger impact on our clients, our companies, our careers, or our job satisfaction?

There’s a lot to being considered a good researcher — maybe more than you thought. No one ever said it was easy.  But I can tell you that taking the time to learn and understand makes our jobs a lot more fun and meaningful.

Earn Trust – The Formula to Help You Get There

Businessman Drawing Formulas

Earning Trust is the most important thing we can do.  Without trust, a superbly designed, executed, and analyzed study is meaningless.  Without trust it will not be accepted and acted upon.  Here’s the formula for generating trust . . .

The formula for trust

How about a formula for trust for us analytical types?  David Maister in his book  The Trusted Advisor  gives us this formula:

T = C + R + I


T = Trust
C = Credibility
R = Reliability
I  = Intimacy
S = Self-orientation

Credibility and reliability are not enough

Credibility and reliability are what we typically go to when thinking about how to build trust.  Do you have the expertise?  Do you have the experience?  Will you do what you say?  Of course these are important.  But you might also say that these are cost of entry.  On their own, they do not generate trust.  We have to look further.

Intimacy generates higher levels of trust

Intimacy refers to the ability to have empathy; to see other’s point of view.  It is being authentic and open.  It represents the extent to which others feel they can confide in you and feel safe in doing so.  This is what moves an interaction from a transaction to a relationship.

When conducting research for big dollar B2B, we have found that this dimension is highly correlated with loyalty and growth.  Without this, the relationship tends to be viewed as simply transactional.

Touting our skill or accreditation doesn’t work—because it’s not really about us

When we focus on our skills, when we focus on how good we are, we can damage trust.  Take another look at that equation.  Notice that “self-orientation” is in the denominator.  The more we focus on ourselves and not our client, the more we run the risk of damaging trust.

Now don’t get me wrong, we need the technical skills.  Personally, I enjoy “geeking out” a bit and digging into a method.  But we have to view this as the cost of entry when it comes to trust.  We need to understand that trust is an inherently emotional construct.  We need to focus on the client.  It’s not about us.  It’s not about demonstrating how much skill we have.  It’s not about showing how smart we are.  It is about doing all we can to help our client.

The following are things we might do that fall into the “S” category:

  • We want to look like the expert – we make it about us.
  • We don’t have the time to really understand the issue so we recommend a standardized approach that we can do quickly.
  • We have a desire to be right or to look smart.
  • We have a lot of other projects so we select the quick and easy path to execute.
  • We try to move off a project too quickly because we under bid the hours – before the client gets what they need.

How to overcome self-orientation

The following are a few things we can do to overcome the big “S.”

  • Ask a lot of questions about the issue – make sure you really understand it.
  • Restate the issue and the decision the client faces to ensure you truly understand.
  • Do not jump too quickly to a solution or methodology; even if a methodology is apparent.
  • Ask to see and read other background material so that you can better understand the situation – and read it – perhaps ask questions about it.

Try posting this formula on your wall and think through how you can leverage each aspect.

As always, feel free to comment.  I’m interested in what you have to say.

Become a Trusted Advisor

Become A Trusted Advisor

“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust!  Then you can worry about the rest” (Seth Godin)

Bottom line, no matter how much data we have, no matter how we spin the story, we will be completely ineffective if we are not trusted.
And trust is not just about delivering what you say on time, or trusting your technical capabilities. Trust is an inherently emotional construct.  To be effective, we must understand this and be intentional in developing trust.

Those who are not trusted will not succeed – no matter how good they are

I was once a category manager working with the top sales people in the company. I hired an analyst that had a fantastic background in sales. Unfortunately, he started by telling our sales team what they were doing wrong. He never established the trust that was needed to be heard. He became completely ineffective — and we had to make a change.

Over the years, I have had to let others go as well; some layoffs and some otherwise. In all cases, they were good researchers. In all cases, they had destroyed trust with their clients, their team, or both.

Trust is so important; we can’t just let it happen.  So how do we do it?

Earn the right to be right

The Trusted Advisor BookDavid Maister has written a fantastic book on the topic The Trusted Advisor. Maister coined the phrase “Earn the right to be right.” You may be right, but if you have not earned the right, it does not matter. You won’t be heard.

To earn the right to be right you need to first demonstrate that you are truly interested in helping; that you have the other person’s best interest at heart; that it’s not about you. But having that perspective is not enough. The client needs to know you have that perspective.

Maister also says “…the motive that generates the greatest trust is genuine caring.”

Ask yourself…

Are you truly trying to help the other person, or are you trying to demonstrate what a good analyst you are? Do you truly want the client to be successful; or do you simply want to move on to the next project? Are you more interested in your client advancing; or in you advancing?

But having this perspective is not enough.  The client needs to believe it too.  They need to know that  you are truly on their side.  It is then that we will have earned the right to be right. Then we can be much more effective and have a much more rewarding and successful relationship with that client.  It is at that point when our voice will be truly heard.

After all, as Theodore Roosevelt once said “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Trusted Advisor 2Another fantastic resource is The Trusted Advisor Field Book by Green and Howe.

Next time I will talk a little more about building trust and offer some specific things we might do to earn it.

As always, feel free to comment. I’m interested in what you have to say.