Who speaks for market research?

This post is courtesy of MRII Board member Charlotte Sibley.


 I was the first MBA Pfizer hired into market research in 1970. The research we did then was pretty basic: focus groups, conventional questionnaires, and analyzing IMS data. I was on product teams, but R&D, sales – and to a lesser degree, marketing –really called the shots. I wondered about the impact I was making.

So what has changed since 1970 in biopharma MR?

We’ve hired more people with more degrees. We do much more quant work. We sit on cross-functional teams. In some companies, MR is integrated with analytics, forecasting, competitive intelligence, and decision science for better insights. But has our role and impact really changed? Are we as critical to decision making as we should be?

I had a 2-year sabbatical in consumer products MR at Lipton, where I learned the true power and value of MR. I’ve been trying to achieve this same impact ever since in life sciences. What troubles me is that I’ve heard the same questions for 30+ years: What is our value proposition? What difference do we make? Have we really changed marketing behavior?

Our failure to answer these questions satisfactorily has led to several undesirable outcomes:

  • The continuous churn in market research organizations: centralization, then decentralization, back to centralization. This type of organizational change is never mentioned for the legal or the finance department. So why us and not them? What are we missing?
  • Decentralization leads to the loss of objectivity –which should be one of our key value propositions, but clearly, we have not made our case. And without objectivity, MR becomes even less valuable, just a “nice to have” tool.
  • Constantly having to justify our existence in times of corporate downsizing.
  • Current focus on “ customer centricity “ – often without the presence and input of MR. We are the only ones in the company speaking to the customer to understand what they do – not to sell them anything, not to get them to participate in a clinical trial. What we do is ask questions – then we shut up and LISTEN! When the legendary AJ Laffley was brought back to reinvigorate Procter & Gamble 10 + years ago, he said that the company was going to focus on the Customer – and that meant that MR was at the hub of the entire organization.   What life sciences company has ever thought that way?

Why has MR too often been relegated to a “nice to have” rather than “must have” status? Two reasons, I think: 1) the absence of MR folks in the C-Suite and 2) many marketers came up through sales (“carrying the bag” ) and do not understand the value of MR and/or are resistant to change.

So how do we make ourselves more visible and more valuable? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Identify where you can make a difference: Is this a decision where MR will help (what will we do differently if the answer is A vs. B?) or just be “nice to know’?
  • Focus on insights, strategy and actions, not data or methodology.
  • Be bold: Speak up and voice your ideas and suggestions.
  • Be the Voice of the Customer!
  • Be a student of your company, your industry the environment. Read and listen to experts and form your own opinions and insights.
  • Lead an integrated cross-functional insights team with all functions – R&D, legal, finance, sales, marketing– to really talk about the business, not just the product.
  • Ask for a temporary assignment to anther department for a month or a year or volunteer for another group’s cross-functional teams.

Then we will all be speaking for Market Research!

Charlotte Sibley built integrated insights teams in 4 major biopharma companies.  She now serves on the Board of Directors of two private, for profit companies.  She is a lifelong evangelist for MR in the life sciences.

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