The Think like a Detective Blog

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.

Insights Without Borders: Transform Your Research Team into Investigative Journalists

May 26, 2024

It is time to reimagine what a customer insights function could be.

Insights functions are not all they can be.

Insights teams should be one of the most valuable functions in a business.

But they aren't.

Insights teams should serve as advisors to business decision-makers, helping them make more informed—and less risky—business decisions.

But they aren't.

How do we know this?

⛽️ Research functions are as impotent as a car without fuel

🍔 Research has historically been ordered like a fast-food hamburger

🌸 Evidence is overlooked like the wallflower at the homecoming dance

As evidence, I would look no further than companies' continued culling of researchers.

The competitive advantage doesn't come from having bigger research teams that generate more PowerPoint decks but from having teams that can collect better evidence faster and then leverage it toward better commercial decision-making.

It starts with breaking down the silos. Or, more appropriately, creating an insights team without borders.

For example, companies have a myriad of different business units:

  • UX teams
  • Product teams
  • Strategy teams
  • Marketing teams
  • Customer success teams
  • Business development teams

Then, layer on multiple product or service offerings, and you have multiple teams within a different business unit, i.e., several Product teams.

On top of that, we then "layer" insights functions beneath these functions, i.e.:

  • A UX research team that serves UX design (and Product)
  • A market research team that serves marketing
  • A CX research team that serves customer experience
  • A competitive intelligence team that serves sales and business development
  • And likely other business units who procure "one-off" research projects

It is not surprising that insight functions then generally stay within their lane. It is also not surprising that these functions are often horrible at sharing what they learn across the business.

What if the researchers (and insights functions) of the future didn't operate within borders?

Where researchers acted more like investigative journalists—collecting and sharing the latest customer and buyer news across the business so that everyone—regardless of role—has the evidence to make informed growth bets?

By shifting to this approach, we can more rapidly transform data into actionable insights that drive strategic decisions.

To achieve this, we must foster a culture of curiosity and continuous learning within—and across—our teams. We must encourage collaboration across departments to share insights and best practices.

And think about this. It makes sense. Our customers should never see the boundaries or borders between our teams. Their experience should be seamless. Yet, because of this matrix, fractured structure, they are often left with a disjointed experience, which costs the business money (either in churn or lack of growth).

How do we get there from here?

First, researchers should adopt the mindset of investigative journalists and delve deep into customer behaviors, preferences, and pain points.

This approach ensures that the insights gathered are not just numbers on a spreadsheet but stories that can drive strategic decisions.

Our job should be to:

📚 Turn data into stories

📝 Stories into strategies

🚀 Strategies into outcomes

By acting as investigative journalists, researchers can uncover the underlying motivations and emotions that drive customer actions, providing a richer, more nuanced understanding of the market.

This understanding should then tell a story within the context of business impact, connecting to the things a business cares about:

🚀 Experience predictable growth

💰 Increase value for the business

🔮 Adapt to unpredictable change

⚠️ Mitigate risk to minimize losses

⏱ Move faster than the competition

Instead of siloed reports that gather dust in a repository, i.e., a "research graveyard," insights should be disseminated in real-time and accessible to all departments.

This democratization of insights and evidence ensures that every team member, regardless of their role, has the information they need to make informed decisions. For instance, marketing teams can tailor campaigns based on the latest customer trends, while product development can innovate based on direct feedback from users.

Consumer insights must also become a real-time sport. We need to think about continuous learning. If we set up solid processes and systems to share what we learn, then everyone benefits, and the entire business raises its "customer IQ."

This Brave New World would increase communication and collaboration, with insights teams getting real-time feedback on what's important and why it matters so they can gather evidence to help drive future decision-making.

By breaking down departmental silos and fostering a culture of open communication, we can ensure that insights are shared and leveraged across the organization.

To build a story like an investigative reporter, you need to follow these eight steps:

  1. Identify a topic. Start by identifying a topic or issue that warrants deeper scrutiny. This can come from tips, personal observations, business metric anomalies, etc.
  2. Start with what is known. Seek to understand the context and scope of the issue. Look to existing research, tribal knowledge, and easily accessible data (product analytics, marketing analytics, customer success tickets, sales conversations, etc.).
  3. Formulate a hypothesis. Establish a set of questions to answer through your investigation.
  4. Gather evidence. Keep this simple: 80% of research impact comes from five methods: interviews, basic surveys, observation, usability and concept testing, and desk research.
  5. Corroborate. Verification is crucial in investigative reporting. Journalists cross-check information from multiple sources to ensure accuracy and reliability.
  6. Build the narrative. Construct a story. Organize your findings into a coherent narrative explaining the issue and its implications.
  7. Topline. Put your story into a format that aligns with how people consume information. Allow people to go as shallow or deep as they want—but don't force them into either.
  8. Follow-up. Continue to follow the story, providing updates as new information emerges or as stakeholder responses offer new information or insight.

By embracing the investigative journalist mindset, insights teams can unearth compelling stories from customer behaviors and preferences, empowering strategic decision-making.

This approach emphasizes transforming data into timely, actionable insights accessible to all departments. Through dismantling silos, promoting open communication, and fostering interdepartmental collaboration, businesses can ensure that insights are utilized to their full potential.

Embracing continuous learning and democratizing insights will lead to well-informed decision-making, customer-focused innovation, and sustainable growth. This will reaffirm the value of insights functions for the businesses we serve.

And isn't that what we all want?

Inside the mind of a detective.

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.