How to Pick Your Insight Team

Staffing has more options than in years past, with more data, analytics and research agencies, consultancies and contractors.

Amid the merry-go-round of new objectives, targets and budget allocation that keep many a leader of an insight team busy, there is a question of “Who?” Who will do the work? That is probably accompanied by “how many people will there be in my team?” and “do they have the skills and motivation they need?” At first, this can all feel rather daunting. But it will be helped by, first, being clear on your goals. If you know what matters most and why, you're in a better place to make those ever tricky people decisions. Staffing your team has more potential options than in years past, with more data, analytics and research agencies, consultancies and contractors. Determining which route to take requires some thought. In my conversations with leaders, it sounded like different businesses favored different resourcing models, but it was unclear which was most popular. For that reason, we ran a survey among our readers about customer insight team resourcing models. Thanks to all of you who took part. The time has come to share those results. First, we asked about how customer insight leaders currently resourced their four technical teams that make up holistic customer insight: 1
  • Customer Data: For this team, as you can see, most leaders (67%) replied that all members of the team were employed by their company. The only alternative resourcing approach captured was a mixture of employed and contractors — but still all part of an in-house team. Perhaps it's the greater ease of recruiting these skills, or the sensitivity with regard to customer data, but this team doesn't appear to be a focus for outsourcing at the moment.
  • Customer Analytics: For this team, there was a similar picture, with an even bigger majority of leaders (80%) stating that all the members of the team were employed by their company. Once again, the only other alternative captured was a mixture of employed and contractors as part of an in-house team. These results were perhaps more surprising, given the much-touted difficulty recruiting analysts or data scientists. Perhaps many businesses are still recruiting rounded analysts rather than the more limited pool of data science graduates. The result certainly flies in the face of advertising by many outsourcing analytics providers.
  • Customer Research: Here, we began to see a slightly different picture. Only 50% of leaders replied with the most popular resourcing model thus far, that all the members of the team were employed by their company. The other half were split between outsourcing their research provision entirely and a mixture of both approaches. Sadly, this doesn't surprise me. I've found many a CMO or CEO who assumes that research is an ideal candidate for outsourcing and just asks the agency to “do more.” Sometimes, this is down to the internal team not demonstrating clearly enough the value they provide, so they are simply being perceived as “research buyers.”
  • Database Marketing: Last, but definitely not least, is this commercially focused insight team. This category showed the most variation in resourcing models. More leaders (40%) still chose the most popular option; all the members of the team were employed by their company. But all the options we have seen so far were also used — contractors, outsourcing and a mixture of all of them. Given the more visible dependency that most businesses have on this team to hit income targets, I was slightly surprised by this.
As always in business, past approaches are no guarantee of business strategy, funding priorities or resourcing model preferences going forward. So we added a couple of questions to capture personal preferences. Experience has taught me that the preferences of two key parties tend to influence the way customer insight teams are resourced. First is the CEO and any recruitment policies he mandates; second is the customer insight leader who is leading the recruitment. See Also: Leveraging the Power of Data Insights So, how did you vote for those two personal preferences in resourcing models, and does that give us any clues as to how customer insight teams may be resourced now? 5
  • CEO preference: This reflects that CEOs value customer insight and view it as a potential competitive advantage, so the majority prefer all the members of the team to be employed by their company. There were also votes for use of contractors within in-house teams, a mixture of both and “no preference” (it depends on the team). This appears to be a continued opportunity for customer insight leaders to build on in 2016, to demonstrate to their CEOs that they offer that competitive advantage and are a key internal skills within their business.
  • Your preference: So, we finally come to the resourcing model that customer insight leaders themselves favor. What has given them the best results, that they would prefer to have at their disposal to achieve 2016 targets? Well, based on votes, it would seem the answer is definitely in-house teams. 60% favor all the members of the team being employed by their company, with the other 40% voting for a mixture of employed and contractors making up this internal team. For what it's worth, that was my own experience, too. Growing your own talent internally worked best.
I hope you found the results useful. Do they accord with your experience? One final thought, if you are seeking to build a strategic insight capability within your business, one that will empower your company for years to come, are you thinking long-term? Rather than be at the mercy of whether the jobs market has the candidates you require or graduates have the skills and aptitudes you're seeking, why not shape the latter? I know a couple of businesses that have seen real value through building strategic partnerships with local universities. See Also: A Wedding's Lessons on Customer Insight If you are fortunate enough to have a local university with a good reputation for numerate graduates (from business school or maths/stats faculties), why not work with them? Are there opportunities for internships to try out potential future employees? Would it benefit the university for you to go in and speak to students, even teaching them some of the skills they will need within business? How much better would it be for you to know  that students are being trained in the skills you require? A great example of building this kind of partnership was the Data Talent Scotland event. I'm proud to have delivered a workshop at this gathering of data science students, academics, industry experts and businesses, helping to forge the kind of partnerships customer insight leaders will need. Please let me know if you have built a sustainable pipeline of talent to resource your insight team for years to come. What's working for you?

Paul Laughlin

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Paul Laughlin

Paul Laughlin is the founder of Laughlin Consultancy, which helps companies generate sustainable value from their customer insight. This includes growing their bottom line, improving customer retention and demonstrating to regulators that they treat customers fairly.


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