Agility in customer insights is everything.

As timelines on critical business decisions accelerate, the insight function must position itself as a strategic partner who ensures decisions are made with the customer when it matters most.

What agility really means to business when it comes to market research.

All businesses are seeking competitive advantage by being one step ahead of the competition on fast-changing consumer preferences. ‘Agile’ has been the business world’s response, which is often misunderstood as a byword for fast.

The insight function has often been on the receiving end of this change. Traditionally preferring to take time, the insight function has been pressured to speed up by unsatisfied business partners. But it’s not necessarily speed that these partners are asking for – when we dig in, it seems that speed is only one part of the equation. It’s really about being timely.

The best insight teams are partners to the business, and they’re nimbly involved from start to finish of any project. The days of waiting for research projects to be completed before making decisions are long gone.

Structuring your insight function to deliver timely customer insights.

The challenge for insight teams is that legacy skillsets and structures are no longer fit for purpose. While specialized researchers and data analysts are still very much needed, most training and development initiatives in teams now revolve around creating T-shaped professionals, where the horizontal line represents all skills required to build a bridge with the rest of the business. The words “strategy consultants,” “commercially savvy,” “convincing communicators,” “curious challengers” and “growth mindset” have become the new must-haves.

High-performing insight teams are those in which the gap between insight and business decision-making is narrow or non-existent. In these, department heads evaluate their teams on their capacity to answer business questions, not research questions. This means an understanding of the tradeoffs between time and rigor.

But it also means resourcefulness: high-performing insight divisions are collaborating more fully with external partners to deliver better value internally. Partnerships with insights agencies and marketing/sales teams in the business are one way to train and retain talent. Collaboration with peers in noncompetitive companies is another way brands are pooling resources to generate foresight and anticipate customer behavior.

And internally, they’re collaborating more with different stakeholders, applying Design Thinking to identify where, when and how insight is being used to inform decisions so they can spot the best opportunities to input. One insight leader described this as “an ongoing journey, where insight teams need to impress stakeholders constantly to get invited back into the room the next time around.”

When it comes to timing, not every question has the same risk vs. rigor profile. We have to ask: ‘What if we get a decision wrong?’ Framing it this way helps people understand the gravity of the decision we’re trying to make and gives it the focus it deserves.  

Jami Guthrie, Vice President, Consumer Insights, McDonald’s

The role foresight plays in accelerating customer-driven strategy.

Anticipation is key, extending insight into the anticipation of future consumer behaviors will score points consider using real-time predictions of purchase behaviors, forging creative partnerships with peers in non-competitive companies. A great example here is Gravity and the Foresight Academy. It’s critical to determine effective criteria for prioritizing and identifying what really matters in the business and whether additional resources are needed if the work becomes a higher priority.

By considering your insights agency as a partner, you can work with them to identify ways to speed up processes. In highly regulated industries like financial services or pharmaceuticals, this means fast-tracking internal approvals and front-loading recruitment where possible. Recruitment is often the cause of slow research and one of the reasons why a subscription model enables faster decision making.

Position your insight function as an internal agency. You’re not a go-fetch, desk-side research firm, you are an agency.  

Paul Logue, VP of Growth Analytics, Market Insights & Customer Experience, HPE

Practical tips for championing the voice of the customer at speed.

Skills and Team:

  • Set qualification criteria with your team. While every internal request is important, successful insight teams are best at qualifying and managing lower priority requests, either by finding quick solves or turning them down. They keep resource focused on the business-critical requests and meet timelines.
  • One quick solve is pointing stakeholders to past work. We have so much knowledge already, start projects by looking at past work to answer a different question. Leveraging past intelligence can help you move quickly.
  • Develop cross functional project teams where research/insights leads are embedded into holistic projects, not just parts and pieces. When these research leads are less experienced, equip and coach them to defend insights in the room, or risk being relegated to validators.

Tech and Tools:

  • Consider easy-to-use tools that allow business partners to run their own research for quick and low-risk decision making. Make it easy for them to get into the work so you can focus on de-risking the more strategic business decisions.
  • Have your most important audiences at the ready: Online Communities are still a tried-and-true method for quick collaboration with customers. Front-loading recruitment shortens projects by weeks, while keeping participants engaged delivers faster responses and richer insight. Doing this over time fosters an outside-in mentality.
  • Don’t lose the customer voice in your need for speed, there are many ways to keep customers involved in your agile process.

External Partners:

  • Pick your trusted partners and develop a flexible work budget with them to speed up processes and get to the good stuff, fast.
  • Make your partners part of the team, and demand they do the same. Treating agency partners as extensions of your internal insight function and letting them get close to your business will help them bring forward ideas and work quickly when you need it.

How are you ensuring the customer is part of your brand’s most critical decisions?

With C Space, tap into an agile insight platform built for engagement that delivers better customer insights in days, not weeks.

We’re helping our clients understand, manage and grow the relationships that matter most. See our case studies.


Transforming McDonald’s innovative brand strategy with their next generation of consumers


Building the world’s largest dedicated Spanish-language streaming service through customer insights

Global Hotel Alliance

Reinventing GHA’s loyalty program by keeping brand-customer relationships at the heart of the process


Reassessing Monster’s customer segments to help them emerge as a major player in the job search space