Today’s insights are from Michael Hoban, Senior Director, Market Research at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, whose session, “Transforming The Impact of VoC in B2B,” will be presented at the Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC) in Dallas later this month.

As a lead-in to the upcoming CRC (today is the last day to register to attend), MRA conducted a brief Q&A with some of the experts scheduled to appear. We got some great answers, which should help you get to know the speakers a bit as well as whet your appetite for more.

MRA: How did you get your start in research? What attracted you to the field?

Michael: I think that, like many, I sort of fell into my career, which began as a temporary interviewer at a mystery shopping company. While there, I gradually worked my way into the research design department to create questionnaires, run data tables, and create sales and results presentations. After a year or so, I was hired as an analyst by a small research firm, and things progressed there. Since I’m a process-and-numbers guy, research was very appealing, and my personality was part of the reason why I was successful and stuck with it. It also helped that my skills seemed to be in demand at that time, so it quickly became a very lucrative career.

MRA: What is the biggest threat facing corporate-side research today? How can the industry deal with that?

Michael:Shrinking budgets in a challenging economy, coupled with the fact that many senior leaders either don’t understand or are unable to truly see the value that customer insights can bring to the organization. For the latter, I think the onus is on researchers to better demonstrate the value of research and insights. I believe this can be done by the industry (experts, committees, associations, etc.), which can share best practices about how to be more visible within an organization and, specifically, ways to better market the value research delivers through consistent communication, sharing provocative points of view, and just staying involved in initiatives beyond executing studies.

MRA: What’s the biggest opportunity for corporate-side research? Is there anything in particular that stands in the way of exploiting the opportunity?

Michael: The biggest opportunity is creating the image that researchers are influencers and change agents in that they can drive the strategic direction of an organization by engaging in initiatives that matter. This is how you earn a seat at the table.

I think we stand in our own way by engaging in too many low- or no-impact projects, which diminishes the research team’s value. I know that sometimes these types of projects are unavoidable, so the key is to diplomatically push back and do less and less of them over time. Sometimes this can be as easy as asking your internal partners: “What are your goals and what will your business do differently as a result of these insights?” In fact, one could argue that as an organization relies on the research team more and more for the high-impact projects, the lower-impact projects will just naturally diminish over time.

MRA: Since you began working in research, do you think the institutional value/reputation of corporate researchers has increased/decreased/remained the same?  Why?

Michael: I actually think our value/reputation has very much improved or increased, although there is always room for more improvement. The good news is that most of us have been able to overcome the reputation of being geeks that sit behind closed doors, pour over data tables, and emerge from their offices only to share results that state facts objectively based on statistical significance. We’ve also evolved beyond being just internal liaisons for the research agencies we hire to undertake the research. In other words, stakeholder expectations and research talent have both evolved to a point where researchers need to be more visible and approachable, need to own the research end-to-end, and need to present a compelling story about the data as strategic advisors.

MRA: Thinking of your day-to-day work and responsibilities, what is one important element of your job that’s “broken” or dysfunctional? Assuming you had necessary resources, how would you change that?

Michael: At LexisNexis, we are committed to getting closer to our customers by regularly scheduling on-location events. As a result, the market research team has committed resources to conduct pre-event surveys, or to attend these events with a moderator’s guide, to simply identify “hot” industry topics in order to facilitate discussions. This isn’t necessarily research and it can distract resources from working on the initiatives that really matter. There can be the perception that if sales or marketing wants to ask a question of the customer, they need to involve research.

In theory, the fix is simple, but it takes time: teach stakeholders the difference between asking a question to meet a business objective that drives strategy, versus to seek interesting conversation in order to demonstrate you are engaged and care about a customer’s business. The former likely requires the use of market research resources; the latter, not so much.

MRA: How can corporate researchers better sell the value of what they do within their organizations?

Michael: First, overcome any stigma by being visible and approachable, and by regularly communicating with stakeholders. Second, you are NOT simply a resource, so own what you do and don’t rely on agencies to do all the work and/or present the findings. Third, don’t assume you are entitled to a seat at the table; you earn that by demonstrating that you are a strategic consultant and can tell a compelling, action-oriented story with research insights. Fourth, it sounds silly, but thinking about your internal stakeholders (and consistently referring to them) as partners, not as clients, will positively impact your mindset and the value you bring to your organization.