“In today’s complex and fast-moving world, what we need even more than foresight or hindsight is insight.” – Anonymous
Picture the scenario. You and your team spend weeks and weeks on a research project for a prestigious client. The data is incredibly good and allows you to create some compelling insights. You present your report, assuming that it will be as exciting for the client as it was for you. You wait.
And you wait.
And nothing in your research is actioned.
Mind the gap
This is the ‘insight adoption gap’ in all its glory, and it’s beginning to vex a number of researchers. Of course, completing a research project and then seeing nothing in terms of client follow up is not a new experience for market researchers. As researcher Gideon Barker said, “Often, you’re influencing a decision or a non-decision, so the impact is harder for you to grasp.”
But seeing good insights left without any implementation should concern everyone in research as well as C-suite executives who may require research in the future.
Why commission an expensive research project, only to let the insights it generates gather dust? What leads a client to simply sit on an insight? There could be any number of reasons, not least being the current pandemic and an uncertain commercial environment. Yet this very situation should itself be driving research projects, as companies and brands re-emerge, blinking, in the commercial sunlight, with little idea of how the pandemic may have affected their markets or how to mitigate the impact and rebound.
The onus is upon MR to discover why those insights were ignored.
- Did the project ask the right questions for the client?
- Was the client actually looking for insights or simply confirmation of its position?
- Are there other business implications that you were unaware of?
- Does other data exist with the client which contradicts your research?
- Would the insights provided require significant restructuring or capital investment?
Ask the questions
The simplest way to discover this is, of course, to ask the client, because your next research project may hinge on having all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. If there is additional data to which you haven’t had access, it can skew your entire project. Finding out exactly why the client needs the research should be your opening question, and you need to fully understand what you’re looking for. As respected researcher, Ray Poynter, observed in an article in November 2020:
“When I see people struggling to turn data into findings, and findings into stories, and stories into action, it is often because they do not really understand the question they are seeking to answer. If you do not know what you are looking for, you are unlikely to find it. And, if you find it, you are unlikely to recognise it.”
Finding out why it might not have been used or acted upon should be your first follow up after you complete the project.
“With external clients as an independent 3rd party consultant (freelance or agency), my approach has been to ask, ‘Are there elements of the research you believe do not align with my/our final recommendations? How does your interpretation of the results differ from my recommendation?’ It very well could be that a client’s mind is made up on their path forward regardless of research results and their unstated purpose behind doing the research at all with you is to assess the risk levels of acting on their predetermined plan.” Bert Willard, Director, Willard LLC, via LinkedIn.
Always be aware of the internal forces at play
When dealing with internal clients, other factors can often come in to play, as Bert continues:
“With internal clients in an end user organization scenario, the same is true yet with added complications around office politics, where internal groups compete for budget and control. In such cases, it is imperative to do additional research to ensure you as the researcher understand how an internal client views how your recommendations might affect their standing in the organizational ecosphere.
“They may be using the research to also navigate their actions in a competitive internal landscape. At the stakeholder assessment phase up front and early, I have had my own lessons learned and wins here by asking, ‘What is your gut telling you about your path forward on this topic? Has any preliminary research already been completed? Are you, yourself clear whether this research is meant to be a validation/risk exercise or exploratory in nature?’”
This was a thread which kept expanding in one of the LinkedIn groups where we posed questions about insight and failed adoption. One thing became clear: internal teams, office politics and competing departments make the job of producing killer insights even harder for MR, as each may have their own goals or expectations.
Clarity, Implications and outcomes
Ultimately, it’s the job of MR to produce a clear report which offers not only insights which can be actioned, but also the implications of pursuing that. If the client faces significant capital investment or restructuring, it may well be that those insights are ignored or set aside until a better operating period arrives for the client. If the project was simply to confirm an existing bias or opinion within the client company, it’s possible that you may hear nothing further.
How you follow this up depends a great deal on your client relationship. A good researcher will want to maintain an ongoing relationship with the client, allowing you to explore the outcomes of your research.
Foster a greater understanding of your client’s business, its operations and ultimate aims. Learn their jargon and way of doing things. This will mean that you will reap greater benefits in terms of ensuring your next project with that client begins with the right data and the right questions, allowing you to deliver the best insights.