Crunching Through the Data Ceiling

Most company insiders understand the function of a Chief Executive Officer or a Chief Financial Officer, but too few understand the function of a company's lead researcher or even know what they should be called - Vice President of Strategic Intelligence, Vice President of Marketing Research or perhaps Chief Marketing Research Officer. Senior researchers from Atlanta's largest corporations were asked at a recent gathering to identify the title and function of the senior most marketing researcher in their company. In the ensuing discussion, many voiced concerns about a kind of glass ceiling, noting that few, if any, CEOs at large U.S. companies come from a marketing research background.

One attendee recounted an amazingly similar situation with Information Technology specialists, once considered very talented yet geeky "pocket-protector" types who made sure the technology infrastructure worked. They kept to themselves, didn't talk much and worked alone in rooms no one else ever saw -- a somewhat similar situation to the traditional marketing researcher. As technology began to fuel corporate growth in the early 1990s and businesses started using technology not just to solve problems and make their companies more efficient, but started leveraging technology as a competitive advantage, the importance of IT managers in corporate America grew exponentially. Concerns over Y2K served to enhanced their importance. A Chief Technology Officer is integral to virtually every medium to large company now and many have gone on to become CEOs of America's largest companies.�

How did they do it? According to industry insiders and magazines such as Forbes, Business Week, InformationWeek and Fast Company, many did it by taking advantage of a very visible opportunity to act as, and be perceived as, strategic thinkers and drivers of business rather than just IT specialists. Many broadened their business acumen with MBAs, management classes and people skills training, making themselves an indispensable asset to their companies.

What can you do as a marketer or marketing researcher to facilitate your trip into the executive suite? Learn from the IT lesson. First and most importantly, marketing researchers need to truly understand and be confident about their business impact. With the ever-increasing ability to gather customer information throughout their lifecycle, and the ability to survey and track behaviors in real time, companies are recognizing the importance of marketing research and analysis more with each day -- especially because research findings can translate customer behaviors into successful sales and customer retention strategies. Do you think of your marketing research this way?

Here is a quick list of strategic and tactical initiatives you can undertake now:

  • Strategic: Understand what top management needs.

  • Strategic: Look for and recognize key trends, especially those others may not see clearly.

  • Strategic: Take risks, be a thought leader and make your voice heard.

  • Tactical: Be your own best cheerleader and make sure everyone is aware of the great work you are doing.

  • Tactical: Know your different audiences and what they want or need (bonus if executed before they even ask).

  • Tactical: Synthesize and present information in readily digestible insights.

  • Tactical: Discover your weaknesses and get training. Management training, HR training, presentation training, whatever you need help with.

  • Tactical: Get a mentor to help guide you.

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