Breaking Down Research Barriers Facing Corporate Strategists

  • Lucia Harold
  • Jan 06, 2020
Knowledge

Over the past year, we've spoken to many corporate strategy leaders about their pain points when it comes to supporting their stakeholders through fact-based insights and actionable recommendations. Most recently, we hosted a dinner in New York with select heads of strategy from F500 companies to deep dive into our clients’ obstacles for conducting successful market research.

The key theme that emerged was the increased pressure for corporate strategy groups to deliver near-term impact for multiple stakeholders with differing needs. Business unit leaders require support through consulting-style projects aimed at complex questions, while the C-suite expects them to respond to urgent requests from the board. Strategists need to feel confident that their time answering complex questions is well-spent as they validate hypotheses or explore new areas of interest. Specifically, strategists expressed a need for support in the following areas:

  • • Project-based execution support to help them serve multiple stakeholders while having limited bandwidth in-house
  • • Well-structured, high-quality insights at scale
  • • Guidance in getting maximum insight from expert conversations that concern new and unfamiliar markets 

Limited Bandwidth

The strategy leaders that we spoke with reflected that they increasingly face pressure to satisfy multiple stakeholders’ needs against the backdrop of limited resources and tight timelines. With major projects planned out in advance, there’s little room left for ad-hoc, high urgency requests from business unit leaders seeking help. Forced to say “no” or “not now,” corporate strategists fear that they’ll lose the opportunity to build close relationships that will be valuable in the future, that their organizational reputation may suffer, or that they’ll miss important information that could change recommendations to C-level leadership. 

As a research partner to corporate strategists, AlphaSights has responded to this need for short-term execution support through the launch of Insights Projects. This new service offering goes beyond traditional ‘do-it-yourself’ primary research by removing the burdens that come with research design, project management, and execution from clients. Having built a network of top-tier independent consultants (almost exclusively trained at the large strategy consultancies), AlphaSights coordinates with independent consultants to scope, manage, and execute multi-expert-based primary research. The key benefits from outsourcing this work to AlphaSights and our network of consultants are freeing up internal bandwidth and fast turn-around times. As one of our clients commented: “I could've taken the 12 calls myself, but it would take me 3+ weeks. Instead, having AlphaSights facilitate the same thing in 3 days was incredibly helpful.” 

Qualitative Insights at Scale 

The strategists we spoke with typically turn to traditional desktop research when they kick off a project. However, they find it challenging to sift through the millions of results on search engines and hone in on insights that are directly relevant to the challenges they hope to solve. The reliability of data found online, such as market sizing, is also often questionable.

“If it is a number that doesn’t matter too much, I’m happy to use Google,” one strategy director noted. “If I need to present it, I’ll always need to triangulate the numbers with several other sources.”

Off-the-shelf market research reports are often too broad and only offer surface-level insights. As a former senior director of strategy at a leading F500 pharmaceutical company commented:

“Particularly if you want to gain insight into new areas, market reports are a very inefficient tool. We’ve spent much time studying big reports that made no sense and delivered no real insight.” 

Because every use case is different and specific, reliable and relevant qualitative insights generally can’t be pre-produced and made available for off-the-shelf purchase. Primary research providers such as AlphaSights address this research gap through project-specific, one-on-one expert calls. However, conducting such primary-research is a time-intensive effort, given the time it takes to prepare for the expert calls, conduct them, and synthesize and document the learnings. As a result, even a limited ten-call primary research project can easily fill up one entire workweek. Insights Projects help address this problem too: when we arrange for independent consultants to lead interviews on a client’s behalf, they can cut straight to the solution in a fraction of the time. Transcripts of each call and summarized insights in a shareable deck are presented in a matter of days, solving the need for a well-structured but relevant report. Enlisting execution support from AlphaSights and our independent consultants allows our clients to increase the number of perspectives and elicit qualitative expert insights at a larger scale than is possible when they conduct the research themselves.  

Getting Maximum Value From Each Expert Conversation

Besides bandwidth limitations, our clients also said they can find it difficult to understand the nuances of unfamiliar markets while simultaneously trying to build rapport and conduct a professional conversation with experts who are often based in foreign markets, cultures, or natives in other languages. As the strategy director from an F500 consumer packaged goods commented:

“As a member of the M&A team, I’m constantly looking into new industries in search of opportunities to expand our portfolio. It’s basically impossible to use the industry terms, acronyms, and colloquialisms that market incumbents use. As a result, the quality of the conversation suffers and less information is gained.” 

On a recent project, AlphaSights paired her with an independent consultant with significant experience in the industry being researched. This proved to be a game-changer:

“Compared to my own outside-in attempts at obtaining in-depth perspectives around buying criteria and local competitors, the consultant did a great job of thoroughly probing in areas that I’d originally glossed over when creating the interview guide. Her approach and line of questioning resulted in access to nuanced market intricacies and in turn, led to a deeper understanding of the industry.”

Conclusion

Over the course of 2019, AlphaSights has helped its clients conduct around 200,000 one-on-one expert consultations. As we’ve gained our clients’ trust in our core business of assisting their primary research needs, new opportunities have opened up to serve our clients with a broader suite of knowledge solutions. Insights Projects are one way in which we help our clients extend their execution capacity, broaden their access to insights, and expedite their research. If you are a senior Strategy Leader and face challenges similar to the ones discussed in the article, please get in touch. 


AlphaSights provides clients with access to industry-specific insights gathered from custom-recruited experts who have the answers to their toughest research questions. Lucia Harold is a Manager on the New Service Innovation team at AlphaSights responsible for launching and scaling new services to our clients globally. Learn more about New Service Innovation at AlphaSights here