How To Win Executives And Influence Strategy

Recently, I was researching how market insights professionals can enhance their internal position and have a greater influence on their companies’ strategies (for an upcoming Forrester Leadership Board exclusive research report). As part of the research, I spoke with leaders at the market insights and CMO levels to get their views on how market insights professionals can succeed, build internal awareness and reputations and be able to more effectively influence the company’s direction and strategies.

As I spoke to these leaders, I kept hearing things I had read years ago from a beat-up 10-cent book I found at the local flea market. That book was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It was published back in 1937, which was right about the time George Gallup (of Gallup Poll fame) founded the American Institute of Public Opinion, part of the growing tide of companies doing this new thing called market research.

For those who are not acquainted with Dale Carnegie’s book, it provides advice on how to make people like you, win them to your way of thinking and change them (without giving offense or arousing resentment). It even provides rules for making your home life happier! Salespeople swear by this book and I have to say that it’s been a great guide for me (and provided an amazing ROI on my 10-cent investment).

What is interesting about Carnegie’s book is that it shows how people can reach their goals through augmenting soft skills (also known as interpersonal skills). For many market insights professionals, these skills can seem far less important than hard research and analytical skills. A 2009 Forrester survey shows that market insights professionals put soft skills at the bottom of their most important hiring criteria for a research candidate.

How important are soft skills for market insights professionals? In the era of big data, email communications and DIY, do market insights professionals really need ‘people skills’ or just a good set of quantitative chops? Interestingly, all of the leaders interviewed for Forrester’s recent research pointed to the value, even necessity, of soft skills in their success. It was these skills, in conjunction with solid research and analysis, which helped them gain broad-based awareness, executive-level value perception and a seat at the strategy table.

Several key areas of resonance between Forrester’s 2011 research and Carnegie’s 1937 book stand out:

  • Carnegie tells us to “talk in terms of the other person’s interests” which is echoed in market insights leaders’ advice to not “get too mired in the data” and “raise the discussion up to the insights”.
  • Carnegie believes it’s important to “dramatize your ideas”, a view which aligns to a CMO’s belief that “data presented well can tell 1,000 stories”.
  • Carnegie directs us to never say “you’re wrong” to someone, a position which aligns with a best practice of never telling a stakeholder that the market doesn’t like their new offering.

So, almost 75 years from the book’s first publishing there are still business approaches which market insights leaders can learn from Carnegie. What role have soft skills played in your success? Do you think soft skills will become more important for market insights leaders as they look to deliver more strategic-level insights? What advice do you have for market insights professionals looking to win over their execs and influence their company’s strategies? We would love to hear your thoughts.