Back in December, I announced that I was kicking off a big report on the future of the market research function. Well, a funny thing happened when this announcement went out — I got a lot of feedback from our clients, from our blog readers, and from my peers here at Forrester. From people saying that the post was sensational or that it was old news — or that it was right on — one overarching thought came through loud and clear. Market insights (MI) professionals aren’t the only ones dealing with data overload and the need to pivot their role in the digital age. But I argue that they are unique from most other roles within the marketing organization since the MI function is specifically tasked with using the proper data and methods to gain an understanding of the customer in a way that drives business decisions. You know who else within your organization is tasked with this? The customer intelligence (CI) team. These two roles may use data that’s gathered differently — i.e., passively collected transactional and behavioral data versus proactively collected market research data — but the success of both of these roles hinges on delivering relevant insights and intelligence that influence the way their companies do business.

Just as these two roles are collaborating more within their own organizations, we at Forrester kicked off a collaborative effort of our own to help our clients align these roles more effectively. My colleague Dave Frankland and I spent the past couple of months talking to over 40 vendor and client-side companies in a variety of sectors to understand how these two functions were using customer knowledge, what kinds of business questions they were answering, how their success was measured, and to what extent these two teams collaborated on a regular basis. The result is two reports on preparing for the intelligent enterprise, with role-specific recommendations for MI and CI. Some of our top-level findings include:

  • Customer knowledge is an elusive commodity. Today, these two groups work with a variety of data sources, and the insights from both aren’t always shared. As a result, companies make decisions based on an incomplete view of the customer.
  • The old roles of market research and database marketing miss the mark. Both of these roles are stuck in their own vicious cycles because they tend to focus on traditional methods and channels, making them less relevant to the business.
  • But greater alignment of these roles can drive business value! The process of “alignment” is of course much easier said than done, and it won’t solve all of the challenges that MI professionals face. When done right, though, a more adaptive insights function emerges that can drive more efficient marketing and in the end help grow the bottom line.

This may sound like common sense, but in fact this alignment requires not only a strong desire at the team level but also a company culture that puts the customer at the center of its strategy. In other words, this change is about people and process, where technology plays an important, but supporting, role. And for teams that make it through from not just dating and testing the waters of alignment to full-on marriage and integration, we see a whole new kind of role emerging: that of customer strategist. And guess what? Today, this person isn’t a traditional market researcher, but a business person who gets the value of research.

In my view, the future of the MI function is bright, and the more customer-centric an organization is, the more opportunity there is for MI to play a strategic role in company direction. However, the skills called upon in this new type of function will be a true mix of hard analytics and business savvy. And — for the market research industry in general — there is a wealth of opportunity for new entrants who can displace traditional market research providers by knitting together various data sources and offer a combined solution for both CI and MI roles.

So, where do you fit in this story? Are you prepared for the next generation of enterprise insights and intelligence? Is your company?