Tips on developing consultative skills for market intelligence managers
- 07.05.2015 –
World Class Market Intelligence
There has been an ongoing debate in recent years about whether market intelligence professionals should step into the role of strategy advisors. In the Market Intelligence Trends 2020 survey by GIA/M-Brain, 68% of the market intelligence managers surveyed expect their senior management to seek their second opinion on decisions by the year 2020. This is also evident in one-on-one consultancy sessions at M-Brain Conferences (formerly GIA Conferences), where many market intelligence managers seek advice on how to improve their personal advisory skills.
Business managers are certainly open to market intelligence managers becoming their sparring partner, rather than being only a provider of unbiased researched data. During client intelligence assessment interviews, we often find that many stakeholders also say that they are open to seeing more consultative options and suggestions in their market intelligence reports, though perhaps not strong opinions or conclusive recommendations, particularly if they involve sensitive financial decisions in areas such as mergers and acquisitions. The key issue is whether market intelligence professionals themselves can step up to the plate – both on a real, practical level and on a perception level.
A case of proactive consultation
Consultation can occur on two levels; reactive or proactive. Reactive consultancy responds to and helps to implement business plans. In proactive consultancy, a market intelligence manager is truly seen as a trusted advisor who actively makes constructive recommendations and helps the company innovate. It is this proactive consultancy that market intelligence professionals should ultimately provide.
A good example is the market intelligence team at an online financial services company that advises management on anything from new target customer groups and product launches to strategic frameworks and mergers and acquisitions. In fact, this particular team has even moved beyond excelling at consultative skills to embedding “synthesis skills” sets into their roles. For example, a typical market intelligence manager will continue to oversee a new product introduction from the initial research and strategy development to assisting with the execution of the recommendations. For this, they will bring together the right product managers, technology and backend experts, marketing and sales specialists etc. for the product launch. They will also create initial projections and metrics to measure if the project is successful or needs to be retired. Such an example however, is more the exception than the norm.
The foundations of a consultative approach
Developing a consultative approach takes time, sometimes years. Through our work for companies with world-class market intelligence, we have noticed some consistent best practices. In general, it involves a willingness to put certain processes into place, such as continuously nurturing in-house relationship, conducting objective appraisals of the team’s current strengths and developing or recruiting the skills needed etc..
Of these efforts, perhaps the most important is being able to develop your own consultative skills, particularly in four key areas:
1. Become an expert in intelligence
Intelligence is constantly evolving. The world is changing; markets drivers are different while business models are disruptive and are going beyond borders. Your intelligence work today requires new insights, methodologies, tools and interaction. As an intelligence professional, you need to look at your customers, competition and market drivers – by using primary research, secondary research and multimedia monitoring. An increase in research and analytical capabilities is urgently needed and you need to be prepared.
So the first step is to ensure that you stay on top of all the latest developments in market intelligence, business intelligence, competitive intelligence, customer intelligence and social media intelligence. You must become and be viewed as the expert in all matters related to intelligence. Enlist yourself in training courses and best practices sharing forums, watch webinars and talk to your peers.
2. Become an expert in your stakeholders’ business
A dedicated intelligence professional understands the vision, mission, strategy, business models, must-win battles and mission critical activities for the business of their stakeholders.
Proactive consultancy means that you will go beyond that.
To be a true business partner and trusted advisor, you should be able to talk about what needs to be defended, what should be accelerated and what can be created, and identify the drivers, shifts, market dynamics, trends, customer behavior, competitor strategic moves, and so on, even before you are asked! So when your stakeholder requests for some market intelligence, you are capable of seeing the bigger picture along three axes; the current situation, the desired new situation and the transition “from here to there”.
3. Know how to communicate with your stakeholders
One critical part of developing consultative relationships is to understand the other party and how to interact with them. To do this well, it is critical that you first understand yourself well. What type of personality are you? Tests such as Myer-Briggs, DISC or Jung can help here. Next, find out as much as possible about your stakeholders, by speaking to their inner circles, observing their behavior in business circles and checking out their social media posts. That way, you will know not to discuss nitty-gritty details if your stakeholder is a “big picture” type of person. If your stakeholder is an analytical person, you will know to offer analytical and precise details. This requires practice, but it helps you develop your stakeholder relationships.
In addition to this, there are three types of communications skills that very helpful in helping you position yourself as a consultant; storytelling, translation and stimulating questioning.
- “Storytelling” requires you to move away from relating the processes and analysis to using a descriptive way to describe the journey to a desired destination for any given project to upper management.
- “Translation” relates to the ability to show management how to implement a strategy across business lines and how it may impact the CEO as well as his/her partners across global networks. This takes sound business acumen.
- “Stimulating questioning” means you use probing and interview techniques that encourage thinking or demonstrate your understanding of a situation. Stakeholders appreciate this level of engagement, rather than just talking to a “yes man”.
4. Build informal feedback loops
Make sure you develop relationships in your organization through which you can “socialize” your findings and circulate “prototype” solutions for input and feedback. As one market intelligence manager puts it; “In taking a consultative approach, we must remember there is a nine out of 10 chance our recommendations can fall flat if we don’t make an effort to solicit feedback from key stakeholders beforehand. This way, you can achieve buy-in faster from the overall group by using your formal or informal communications networks with key stakeholders. Otherwise you run the risk of presenting something to the executive body that they already know or are not interested in.”
In addition, be sure to put into place some key metrics to monitor your projects on an ongoing basis that you can review periodically. It’s not a matter of closing your file after you have presented your recommendations. By ensuring there are sufficient and active feedback loops, you will be able to identify if and when you need to reconvene with stakeholders to modify existing strategies and tactics. Perspectives may evolve and methodologies needed to be updated. At the same time, it is a good opportunity to celebrate project “wins” and review the lessons from “losses”.
By developing your own consultative skills in this way, you can be sure that your stakeholders will begin to trust what you say, believe you can deliver and feel comfortable discussing their issues with you! Good luck.