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Managing Stakeholder Expectations in Market Research

Dr Katharine Johnson

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Lucy Bridges

    Insight teams work with a range of individuals and departments across a business, and part of their job, whether it's part of the advert or not, is to manage stakeholder needs and expectations of research and insights to maintain positive relationships and create truly valuable partnerships. Good communication is key in these efforts, but getting the balance right between stakeholder needs, research requirements, and team resource is a challenging balancing act.

    On a daily basis, whether it's through reports or more casual conversations, insight professionals encourage stakeholders to use customer feedback in their decision-making. We understand that customer insight brings about validated decision-making, and helps brands gain a competitive edge as well as increase brand loyalty.

    But communicating this so that brands listen to their customers and build loyalty is tricky, stakeholders haven't quite fully understood that they can build loyalty through market research, as their customers appreciate that their voices and opinions are not only heard but actioned in reality.

    It would be ideal to have customer insight at every decision-making point within the business, but it may not always be necessary to start a new project for every question stakeholders may have - this would result in a lot of repeat research projects and wasted resources. Even key, influential decisions may rely on both primary customer insight in addition to other secondary data sources.

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    Part of an insight expert's role is to educate and manage the expectations of their stakeholders - this is a task that encourages insights activation and a better understanding of market research.

    Some research questions may have been asked beforehand within the business, therefore it is fundamental to ensure there is an easily accessible and clearly understandable data bank of previous studies and questions available to all stakeholders.

    Labelling data clearly and ensuring any data visualisation is clear is important for search purposes, and having a data bank also allows stakeholders to compare current to historical insights to discover trends and find projective opportunities.

    In The Request Stage

    If the research request is necessary then organised information-gathering exercises help insight teams to understand objectives, timescales and reporting requirements for insight experts to determine the most appropriate methodologies, tools and implementation tactics to employ.

    To do this we must take time to listen to our stakeholders' needs at the very start; spend time with them to understand their area of expertise and role in the business, as well as their individual and team capabilities - all of this will help insight experts adapt their communication skills and channels accordingly throughout the research experience.

    It is important at this stage, prior to commencing work, to set out clear expectations of output to the stakeholder(s) and show them how they will be kept informed of the incoming live data. It is also essential to question the stakeholder about how the insight will be used and activated once gained so that this expectation of acting on the insights given is established from the start.

    Many insight teams have formal processes for requesting insight, with questions on forms asking why the research is required and how it will be used, this is important as this will direct how the insight is conducted.

    Managing Stakeholders During the Project

    Once research has commenced, having a system that allows for continuous communication and updating of live data and results is helpful for both insight experts and stakeholders; not only does it keep the stakeholders informed but it also reduces the need for chasing data and the need for any manual reporting on a frequent basis.

    This also allows stakeholders to see the direction that the research is taking, evaluate the usability of the insights gained and then request adjustments from the research team accordingly.

    Keep communication channels open and create time for regular discussion and catch-ups. Don’t wait until the end of a project to report findings, keep reporting agile and continuous from commencement. It is likely you may have to alter the reporting of data to match requirements and stakeholder ability, but even for those highly capable of complex data analysis it is important reporting is clear and concise.

    Encouraging Stakeholders to Act on Insights

    Insight professionals are the first to see, interpret and analyse data; they choose what to show, understand the key trends, highlight patterns and tell the story of the customer experience. From the outset, we need to aim to remain neutral, so you can be independent when it comes to data representation. But as established in the earlier stages, stakeholders will have access to this data to make sense of themselves, and act on it before the reporting stage, so they will have a level of understanding before we come in to provide them with a full report.

    It is important in all hypothesis testing for stakeholders and insight teams to discount any preconceived ideas within the business about customer thoughts and opinions and read the data as found. Insight experts should ensure that any data visualisations show the data clearly and are inclusive and straightforward for all stakeholders to follow and act on.

    Apply text carefully and think about colours and impact to maintain the stakeholders’ attention throughout the reporting methods and channels used. When communicating the data to stakeholders, we need to understand that hybrid working practices are more common these days, so any reporting channels and formats may no longer need to be a full face-to-face debrief with everyone in the room.

    Because of the conversation early on in the experience, insight teams will already know what ways to best communicate with their stakeholders, they can then use this to aim to record or publish the findings in a place accessible to many stakeholders at a time that suits them. This could include videos of insight professionals explaining the findings, alongside the data, which would work especially well for those who work more flexibly or internationally.

    Allow follow-up sessions with stakeholders after the data is published, this helps ensure that stakeholders can return to the insight team to gain guidance and direction on how to use the insights, thus encouraging insights activation after the research experience has concluded. Another way of doing this is to keep data accessible and ask stakeholders for feedback, requesting how the insights have helped decision-making within their team and then this will allow insight teams to understand if there are any further follow-up insights required.

    When managing stakeholders, insight teams need to remember that individual stakeholder requirements vary; some wish to have data for every decision they make, others require validation for compliance, whereas some don’t consider data early enough in their decision-making process and go on gut instinct or make an educated guess, rather than testing, validating or challenging their decision-making.

    In every interaction, insight experts need to show that consumer insight is accessible to all and not daunting to use, it can be gained quickly and help the business competitively, but in this, they also need to manage unrealistic expectations.

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    Insight experts manage stakeholder expectations continuously throughout the research experience, from request to insights activation - how can they do this effectively?

    In Summary

    Managing stakeholder expectations relies on communication at all stages. Here's a summary of the key steps to effectively managing stakeholders in market research:

    • It is vital to have a clear system for requesting insight and where insight professionals take the time to understand the request and stakeholders are informed of the output.
    • Use a system which allows the easy sharing of live data so stakeholders are kept informed once the research has been launched. A tool such as ActivateMR on the FlexMR InsightHub platform also allows for real-time commenting alongside the data which can help with data interpretation as well as group collaboration and the sharing of ideas.
    • Ensure the interpretation of data and any visualisations are accessible and easily understood for all stakeholders, think about colours, impact, type of graph etc
    • Maintain a filing or online system to store the data so it can be easily searched and accessed for any future questions or comparisons.
    • Ask for feedback from your stakeholders following projects and insight requests to develop strong partnership and have a continual cycle of improvement.
    • Promote your work so others within the business can learn from the insights gained as well as understanding how they can gain insight for their own decision making.

    Follow these steps and you'll be able to effectively manage stakeholders throughout throughout your research projects and programmes - all the way from inception to reporting and driving action.

    Camp InsightHub

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