Market Researchers Need To Embrace Knowledge Management

In the past couple of months I've been working on a document called 'Information Management For Market Researchers', released earlier this month to our dedicated Forrester Market Research Leadership Board Members. Although I can't share all lessons learned with you yet, there are a couple of insights I'd like to bring to your attention.

The most important outcome from my interviews with market researchers and knowledge managers is that a culture of sharing creates better products and helps companies be more successful innovators. Simply said: to innovate, knowledge from various departments needs to come together, irrespective of role or rank.

Because Market Researchers both generate and manage many data sources, they are in theory in a good position to introduce knowledge management to the organization. They can do this at multiple levels, from restructuring their own market research department, including the way they share research with the organization, to introducing a company wide knowledge management platform. The role market research can play in practice depends on the culture of the organization, the influence the market research department has, and the maturity of the research department.

But not all market researchers are yet convinced that sharing is good. We asked market researchers in our Q1 2010 Global Influence and Knowledge Management Market Research Panel Survey “Does the market research department generally share research results from a project conducted for one product group or region broadly with the organization?"

Although the majority of researchers state that the conducted research is available to a broader audience, 23% don’t communicate this widely. And about a third only communicates research results back to the project group that requested the information.

In my interviews I found that true innovators can’t work in silos — the synergy of information and knowledge lets people come up with new ideas. Research results should be as broadly available as possible, to serve as a foundation for new insights.Building a knowledge management platform makes it easier for people to share their ideas and build on the insights gathered outside of their own area of expertise.

I'll be writing about this more in the future, like for example on how you can identify the barriers to success, or sharing some best practices for implementing information management to the research organization.

For now, I'd love to hear your opinion: do you agree with me that research should be as broadly available as possible? And should market researchers embrace knowledge management? If so, in which way? If not, why not?


re: Market Researchers Need To Embrace Knowledge Management

Excellent post Reineke! Over the course of my career, I have worked on all sides of market research - including corporate (twice). I totally agree with what you're saying. Cross-functional teams are extremely effective in tackling strategic issues with corporate-wide implications. They increase efficiency (by avoiding duplication of efforts), increase actionability of results (by ensuring all relevant areas are covered)and heighten creativity (by bringing people together with different experiences, strengths, and ways of thinking). A justifed barrier is the concern that a competitive advantage may be lost if there is an information leak, but in most cases, corporate culture is the biggest barrier to information sharing. There is often a knowledge gap about what other departments do and what issues they face. Another barrier is the decentralization of research groups without formalized requirements or rewards for information sharing. This is especially prevalent in companies that encourage competition between teams -- often done to increase 'quality' of the work, but in truth the quality suffers. A knowledge sharing platform is an effective way to further facilitate collaboration but in my experience the biggest barrier is compliance. Researchers and other information providers often have their own information hub and don't have the time and/or motivation to post their information to the shared knowledge platform. Also the research results belong to the internal client(especially if it comes out of their budget) and the researcher has the added step of having to obtain permission to post, which the client may hesitate to do for a number of reasons. Bottom line: Researchers can't turn the cruise ship 180 degrees without the support of top management but given a positive corporate culture, an open mind, and persistence can made strides in knowledge sharing and help their company get a competitive edge.

re: Market Researchers Need To Embrace Knowledge Management

Cathy, thank you for your comment. As I mentioned in the post, this observation was part of a document covering the whole information management topic. Your comment gives a good overview of the benefits but also the issues associated with knowledge management. I found that culture is the biggest hurdle for successful implementation of knowledge sharing, especially in environments that encourage competition. However, on the other hand, when management supports knowledge sharing and promotes it actively, great things can happen, at all levels in the organization: I've already talked about innovation in the post, but all interviewees also mentioned higher quality of insights, and considerable cost savings!

I'll post some more insights on the report next quarter, like best practices on the compliance issue you brought up. Some researchers managed to solve that in an interesting and successful way.
Thanks again,

re: Market Researchers Need To Embrace Knowledge Management

When I first started my career, one of the senior consultants was doing research for a regional telephone company. In the course of her research, she discovered that a separate division had already thoroughly studied the issue; she arranged a meeting with her client and the coworker who had commissioned the previous research for them to share findings. As a result, the project was done sooner and under budget -- a win for everybody!

Sadly, this disconnect happens in far too many organizations. In our own study of best practices, doing primary research had the lowest positive correlation (0.33) to customer loyalty of the 24 practices we studied. As a researcher, this shames me, but I believe it is because too often the research is commissioned but not distributed and disseminated. In fact, supporting this, the practice of sharing Voice of the Customer feedback across organization boundaries had a high positive correlation (0.52) to customer loyalty.

Researchers, you did the hard work. You have interesting data and insights in hand now. Offer to present them around the organization! You will be surprised at how many people want to learn from you.