9 skills you need to become an insights legend

Kelsey Sullivan

In the world of insights, things move pretty fast. As a researcher, you really want to spend your time digging into your data to get the most out of it – but the reality is, you’re often stuck operating in a project-based mode that is both timeline driven and, quite honestly, rushed.

Your stakeholders want their projects up and running with results at a record pace, leaving you no time to be what they really need: a strategic partner.

Just imagine a world where your business comes to you with a project in the ideation stage. They ask for your perspective at the very beginning, because you are the expert.

But how can you get there? How can you position yourself to be the strategic partner? And what skill sets do you need to acquire or grow?

In this article, we’ll cover the nine skills that will help you shift from simply working in insights to becoming a strategic partner – an insights legend.

1. Build real partnerships

Some of you may already be hearing advice like “you need to get to know the business,” but what does that really mean?

If you’re immersed in your own world of research, others may not know they can (or should) come to you for advice. So you need to be doing more than what’s in your job description and be aware of what’s going on both inside and outside of insights. This includes understanding the business, the industry and consumer.

Why? Because in order to become a real partner (and not just the researcher that’s brought in on occasion) you need to understand the business as a whole. And the more you understand the business, the more you can effectively measure, track and improve results.

When your team realizes you are able to add value to business discussions, you will earn a permanent seat at the proverbial “table.” And getting a seat here will not only broaden your knowledge base and potential, but it will also allow you to better partner with your stakeholders.

5 ways to be a better insights partner, straight from PepsiCo’s Global CMO

Check our our blog where PepsiCo shares how insights can be a better partner to marketing.

2. Ask the right questions

So what are the “right” questions?

These are questions that urge both you and the person asking you for research to dig deeper. When you hear demands such as “I need a concept test,” take a step back and ask questions like, “Why do you need this piece of research?” or “What are you trying to answer with this?”

Think about the metrics your stakeholders are responsible for. What is the needle they are trying to move? Keeping this top of mind will help pinpoint the questions you need to ask to get the data that’s going to make an impact on the bottom line.

The person might not always have the answer, and that’s okay! But don’t let that deter you from pressing further.

By digging deeper and asking the right questions, you will help them get to the root inquiry. It can take time and courage to start asking these questions. But don’t be afraid to steer customers in a different direction if the research doesn’t match the metric.

How to evaluate market research platforms: Questions to ask

For more on the right questions to ask, check out our blog on evaluating your market research platforms.

3. Influence new thinking

The strongest insights professionals of the future will be the ones who can challenge the status quo, ask the tough questions, and propose uncharted approaches. They will be the ones that influence new ways of thinking and push the boundaries of comfort.

Just because “that’s the way it was done before” doesn’t mean that’s the direction the business should continue to move.

Understandably, it can be tough to start these big conversations. But you can start small by sharing your opinion when you feel comfortable to begin to gain influence. Don’t forget that what you have to share has the power to influence a number of business decisions!

You’re the one with the deep understanding of the data and the consumer, so you are uniquely positioned to influence new ways of thinking.

4. Arm yourself with data

The importance of data to an insights professional is undeniable.

While it likely plays an important role in your day-to-day, an insights legend knows not just how to source good data, but also how to use it effectively.

It’s up to you to influence the new thinking we previously discussed in your organization, but that new thinking should always be grounded in consumer data. In the end, your knowledge of the consumer is why you’re here.

Think of it this way: If the results you are delivering are fact, what you are saying is no longer personal or opinion. You are simply stating the truth. Of course, you will still be sharing the valuable insight you derive from the results. But by arming yourself with data, you will automatically begin earning authority (data doesn’t lie, after all).

5. See the bigger picture

As an insights professional, it can be easy to get caught up in the project-based nature of your role. And when you’re jumping from project to project, you can easily lose sight of the bigger picture.

But you aren’t simply there to hand over the numbers! You’re there to speak to patterns and meaning derived from the data.

For example, if you’re asked to test an ad, you could simply say that the ad is effective. But you could also look across all of your ad research to date to uncover how your consumers respond to your advertising overall.

What types of ads work best? What shifts are you seeing over time? And what do those shifts say about the future of advertising for your company?

It’s like having on a constant lens. Sometimes that lens is wide, sometimes it’s narrow. You need to be able to scope in and out to answer short-term questions while keeping an eye on the longer-term vision. The value in taking a step back can be highly underestimated – and people will appreciate you reminding them of the bigger picture.

6. Get to the point (faster)

When sharing your data, the best method is to keep it short and sweet.

Just like you, your colleagues are pressed for time. So while you have a lot of information you could potentially share, don’t get bogged down by details.

Keep your audience in mind and focus only on what’s need-to-know. Try practicing sharing your insights in snackable pieces that are easy to digest and run with.

Because the reality is, if you’re booking two hours to cover a slide deck, you’re going to lose your audience. Instead, ask yourself, are you giving a top line overview? Do you just have time for an executive summary? Or, are you able to present a deck to your team?

For each of these, you should be thinking about the 3, 15, or 30 minutes of value your stakeholders and team members really need to hear. By getting to the point faster, you will gain a lot of respect and appreciation from leadership – while also giving them what they need to move forward and make an informed decision.

7. Be the voice of the customer

This one requires a bit of balance. You always need to keep the business goals in mind, but you can’t dehumanize your consumers by only talking digits. Never let the business forget who they are talking to – who they are trying to impact.

Consider dedicating time to tie the two together more effectively. What connections can you make or expand upon? Are there multiple data sources you can link to that will paint a better picture?

It’s important to keep in mind that the consumer doesn’t have a seat at the table, but you do. And when you report on results, you are delivering the responses of other human beings. How they feel, what they like, what they don’t like, and why.

You need to tell their story, because their voices deserve to be heard.

8. Empower stakeholders

As an insights legend, you should also direct some attention towards your stakeholders. It takes serious skill to not only wield your knowledge of insights, but also leverage your expertise to empower others.

Think of it as a method of expanding your reach as an insights professional. Once you’ve proven yourself to be a true partner and have earned a seat at the table, let your stakeholders take a look inside your world – share the data and tools you have at your fingertips so that they can gain a better understanding of what you’re working with and why.

Are you conducting exploratory research? Or, are you gathering consumer feedback on innovation concepts? Are there new tools out there that can benefit the business?

Empower them to make decisions based on what they see. And, ultimately, enable them to grow with you as your knowledge of the consumer grows.

By opening up the doors and allowing access, you will begin to strengthen your relationship to have more productive conversations (possibly freeing up some of your own time to focus on more strategic work) and earn the respect and understanding you deserve.

Managing stakeholders to drive insights transformation

For more content on how to successfully work with stakeholders, check out our article on managing stakeholders to drive insights transformation.

9. Support your team

At some point in your career, you might find yourself managing a team of your own (or maybe you manage one already). Which means it’s time for you to start leading by example.

Just as you’ve gained trust from stakeholders and business partners, you have to learn to trust your team and share your experiences with them. Be there to support them as they go down a route you took years ago.

A true insights legend is there to guide their team as they continue to learn and grow. As they do, ask yourself: Are they on the path to becoming an insights legend? Are they already demonstrating competencies? What areas can I help them improve upon? By helping your team members along their path and building trust along the way, you are expanding that sphere of influence.

And as your team evolves, you need to evolve with them. Because soon, you won’t be managing insight professionals anymore – you’ll be managing legends.

Final thoughts

While there’s no ‘right way’ to become an insights legend, these skill sets hopefully prove that it’s not an impossible journey. A world where customers and stakeholders view you as a strategic partner can exist.

And there’s no reason to assume that if you don’t have these traits now, you can’t start developing them. It will simply take time and effort to get there.

So on this journey, remember:

  • It’s important to be a true partner and understand the business as a whole

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or challenge those around you

  • You have the power to influence business decisions

  • Arming yourself with data can help you build up your confidence

  • The consumer doesn’t have a seat at the table, but you do

  • Leverage your expertise to empower others (which includes stakeholders)

  • Always keep an eye on the bigger picture

  • Pay it forward!

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