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Five Steps to Maximizing Cl’s Impact

At most companies, CI and business functions agree on the financial and strategic opportunity to strengthen CI capabilities, transforming insights into business actions. They also largely agree on the opportunity for CI to support business decisions on an ongoing basis rather than just for the life of a project. But how can CI and the business build a truly effective partnership? We have identified five steps to drive the kind of change that can facilitate a robust collaboration.


Rather than work on its own, CI should be integrated into business teams, regardless of reporting structures. Our research found that commercial teams think that senior CI manager continuity is critical for the quality of the work across projects. They want someone who knows their brand, market, economics, and strategic priorities-one person with whom they can plan projects and whom they can contact when projects are performing poorly. At the same time, the CI function must make sure its insights and analytics are defensibly top quality, which will further strengthen business teams’ confidence in Cl’s value. But while linking CI professionals to specific business teams makes sense, pools of centralized resources should also be available to handle large or unpredictable projects, or when specialists, such as data scientists, are required.


To thrive in today’s unpredictable business environment, companies must ensure that CI leaders and practitioners can navigate ambiguity, adopt more creative methods, and leverage new data sources. Perhaps unsurprisingly, stage 4 companies focus on developing these capabilities as well as strategic-thinking skills among CI leaders.

While the CI function will always need researchers and analytics experts, companies should create executive tracks outside of CI for high-potential members of the function. The opportunity to move from CI to a business role sets an aspirational tone for CI and its role within the organization. And executives from the business should be able to move into CI in order to gain experience in customer-centric roles before perhaps moving on to brand, regional, BU, and corporate general management roles.


For organizations in which relationships among business owners, managers, and CI practitioners are being rewritten, giving CI control of the insights and commercial analytics budget can drive meaningful, structural change. It helps create a culture of constructive checks and balances among equally powerful functions. As a result, CI and business teams are encouraged to continue to strengthen their collaboration rather than retreat to their silos.


There is a vast trove of valuable analysis, context, and perspective within CI in the form of existing reports and projects. The trick is to make all that accessible and useful to the business.

Stage 4 CI functions capture and provide access to data from many sources-including previous studies and analyses, point-of-sale records, and other digital and passive sources-and integrate it into one comprehensive source. The goal is to combine structured data with rich unstructured, qualitative data, including information on consumers’ emotional needs, at the house hold or customer level. Increasingly, CI teams in large, global enterprises are able to support business decisions without incremental studies across the portfolio of brands or regions. They closely match the cost of CI involvement to the upside it will provide, and they leverage “close enough” studies, facilitating the flow of information across the organization and relying on sup pliers as ready sources of information.


Because CI functions may outsource many activities, such as the generation of high-quality data, qualitative research projects, and predictive modeling, they must ensure they have a sound model for doing so. The CI function should evaluate four areas of its operating model related to outsourcing:

  • Supplier identification, qualification, and selection
  • Negotiations and supplier management
  • Scope of the work of suppliers and the degree of integration suppliers have with CI as well as with the business
  • The final work product, data, and tools suppliers will deliver

This thought-piece is part of an article “HOW CUSTOMER INSIGHT CAN BE A POWERFUL BUSINESS PARTNER”, which is the fourth article in a series exploring customer insight (Cl) functions in consumer-facing industries. You can read the full article here. Visit to evaluate a CI function and learn how it can make a strategic contribution to the business.


Christine Barton





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