The Top 5 Challenges in Converting In-Person To Virtual Qualitative Research

As I’m sitting here converting some upcoming focus group research to online research, I realized many of you are maybe in the same boat. So, if you are wondering how to keep participants and yourselves safe by conducting your upcoming focus groups, in-depth interviews, or ethnographic interviews online, here’s some tips and resources for making virtual qualitative research work for you.

In-person to virtual qual research tips

Want a PDF with clickable links to Olivetree’s favorite online qual tools? Just email us at

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Business growth through insights transformation
Webinar Recap: Accelerating Growth through Transformation

Information alone is no longer an adequate deliverable for Corporate Insights departments. Teams must inspire strategic, impactful organizational action with their findings. That’s a tall order considering the pace of data flows and decision making today. Thanks to novel approaches to project planning, data integration, communication, organizational structure and cross-department outreach, proactive Insights teams are finding success.

A 5-part webinar series from the Insights Association and Olivetree Insights provides valuable perspective and advice on how departmental silos can be shattered and insights-based growth can be delivered.

Here’s a recap of key points from the first webinar presentation, moderated by Carol Shea of Olivetree Insights, featuring insights leaders from two Fortune 500 financial services companies:

  • Nicola Blue, American Express, Vice President, Enterprise Insights & Marketing Transformation
  • Jackie Chan, Prudential Financial, Vice President, Head of Decision Insights Group

The catalyst for change in each of these organizations was a changing competitive landscape leading to an increasing speed of corporate decision making. In both companies insights leadership saw the need to become more proactive, strategic partners as critical to support quicker decisions.

The vision for these transformed departments included changing from a team that informs business partners to one that inspires; from one that measures to one that acts; to one that connects team members and breaks down silos; and teams that are innovative, able to deliver insights more efficiently – faster and cost-effectively.

Both leaders acknowledged that changing the culture required training, coaching, open communication and a great deal of patience.

American Express’s Transformation

An internal assessment at American Express found that they had the right technical research skills, but needed development in areas such as strategic thinking, developing a growth mindset, and adapting to change.

While the insights team still represents the voice of the customer within the organization, they have also become a strategic partner with their internal business stakeholders.  Team members were coached to look at projects through the eyes of their business partners, “for ways we deliver data that fits our partner’s needs.”

While efforts were historically evaluated by the number of research projects completed, team members shifted to tracking the impact they were having on business decisions. To aid team members in focusing less on their number of projects, leadership created a “priority chart” which provided an example of how their time should be spent:

  • X% new research projects
  • X% business performance metrics and analysis (NPS, brand equity)
  • X% competitive intelligence / syndicated research
  • X% insights team collaboration (knowledge and best practice sharing)
  • X% business partner team meetings, town halls, etc.

Prudential Financial’s Transformation

Another key component of such a transformation involves open communication with business partners and key stakeholders.

At Prudential Financial, the Insights leader determined those focal areas where her team could have the most impact, and then discussed how a more proactive insights team could help key stakeholders in each of those areas.  Through this process the insights team understood how important it would be to manage expectations with business partners. Business partners would need to understand that the insights team wouldn’t be focused on quantity but on impact: “We won’t deliver the 20 projects we used to do for you, but we will deliver on the 10 most impactful projects.”

In some instances this might mean that the insights team will coach business partners on conducting their own research on less critical projects using DIY tools.

Impact on Research Suppliers and Internal Communications

For both American Express and Prudential Financial this transformation of their insights departments also impacted their use of research partners. They were systematic in identifying those areas where they did not have the necessary internal capabilities and looked for partners that were strong in those areas. They also have cut back on the number of outside partners they are using, going “deeper” with fewer partners, bringing them into planning meetings, establishing more of a trusted partnership approach.

Both insights leaders stress communication as critical during this process of change.  Communicating what is expected, encouraging questions and feedback, are necessary elements of making the transition as smooth as possible.  On top of that, patience is another attribute that must be exhibited. Change takes time, and people change and improve at different levels, it isn’t a linear process.

In Summary

These transformations have worked out well for both organizations. Both see insights teams that are more agile, more efficient in executing research, more focused on the projects that are most impactful to the organization, more visible within the organization, and viewed as partners by key stakeholders.

Olivetree Insights is a strategic consultancy that helps organizations be more effective and efficient at using data and insights.  We can guide your team through our skills-building workshops, including Insights Team Charter Workshop: Revitalize with the right foundation  and Knowledge Harvest Workshop: Build your Integrated Intelligence Library.

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Speed up without sacrificing quality
Hurry Sickness Relief

Happy November!  Time for end of the year urgent requests, like “Can you get me validation that our new online loan application is meeting customer needs?  I need it in two weeks.”

Hurry sickness is defined as “a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.” Sound familiar? Such is the daily life for too many researchers; juggling too many projects with barely enough time to think.

Since the world is not likely to slow down, its up to us to find ways to speed up without sacrificing the ability to provide strategic insights that support data-driven decisions.

But how can one possibly be strategic in this environment?

This may seem contrary to logic but the best way to speed up is to slow down … at least at the front end of projects. If Albert Einstein says if he only had 60 minutes to solve a problem he’d spend 55 minutes understanding the problem first, who are we to argue?

3 Ways to Relieve Hurry Sickness

1. Keeping moving but gain context. When pressed with an urgent need, there may be no other option than to move forward to meet that demand.  However, during the design stage it’s important to get as much context on the situation triggering the request as possible, even if it’s too late to implement the “right” research.  In the case of the online loan application “emergency,” the situation driving the need (e.g. a  customer-related problem or an IT-driven situation) and expectations as to how the results will be used are the minimum required to understand how to move forward quickly – or even if its best to recommend against doing research. Probing for this background also begins to reset expectations on how early to involve the insights team in exploring future challenges.

2. Get ready for next time.  Establish a consistent insights brief process before any research / analytics expenditure is made.  Doing so will speed up the analysis and report writing process and ensure usable learnings.  The brief should be used to thoroughly understand the situation, objectives, decisions, and expectations. Consistently using the insights brief not only speeds up the reporting process, it helps to:

  • Build organizational understanding of how to set up an insights project for success
  • Improve departmental efficiencies
  • Determine the impact of the research on business decisions
  • Identify and plan for future research needs

That’s a lot of heavy lifting with one simple tool! Read our ebook, Research without Regret, (request yours here) to get a copy of a best in class research brief.

3. Embrace technology. Technology is a big reason that expectations are so high for speedy research and analytics.  Technology can also help to save time in other ways. Customer online panels can be established so short-timeline requests can be planned for and accommodated.  Even the insights brief process can be delivered online to facilitate collaboration, speed up the process for getting project context, and ensure that actionable insights result.

The Smart Insights brief is the heart of Olivetree’s InsightsCentral software.  It was developed and tested through a collaboration with successful Insights Directors and Marketers as well as Human Performance Technology experts. Let us demo it for you! Contact


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4 Strategies for Elevating Insights
Four Strategies for Elevating Insights: CRC 2018 Recap

With over 70 sessions across six tracks, the Insights Association’s 2018 Corporate Researchers Conference was jammed packed with learnings!  Since our focus is amplifying the impact of corporate insights teams, we’ve summarized four strategies covered for elevating the insights function: strengthen strategic alignment, democratize insights, measure business impact, and market the insights team. (Note: quotations are paraphrases)

Strengthen Strategic Alignment

If we want marketing research and analytics to drive strategy, then our insights projects and initiatives must be aligned with corporate strategies. Several recommendations were made to strengthen strategic alignment.

  • Jackie Chan of Prudential Financial defined being a strategic partner as having insights at the center of every strategic business decision that is made, from fueling innovation to optimizing customer experience. “For Prudential, we are called upon for cross-functional business acumen. Being heard and acted upon requires strong influence and storytelling skills, skills that haven’t been traditionally found in the research talent profile. We’ve re-branded internally as the Decisions Insights Group to focus on the final deliverable.”
  • Paula Brant of MetLife suggests connecting more closely with business partners. “When I first started at MetLife, I would ask a lot of ‘Why?’ questions. ‘Why do we need to do X? I don’t know how X is being used.’ The best decisions start with the end in mind, not one small piece, but thinking of the project overall. The other thing we’ve done a lot is really bring in our stakeholders. How do you have them be part of that team? Once you get to the end, the actual implementation goes so much faster. They become your advocate.”
  • The Olivetree Insights team recommended the consistent use of a thorough Insights Brief to ensure strategic alignment with corporate initiatives. The brief encourages starting with the end in mind; defining what decisions need to be made and action(s) that could be taken. The brief makes the process less politically charged and more fact based; and functions as a contract between insights and business leaders. (For a recommended Smart Insights Brief template, Contact Us)

Democratize Insights

Insights-based decisions is the driver for sustainable corporate growth. The more deeply business leaders are in tune with current customer and marketplace insights, the better decisions they can make.

  • The Insights team can help democratize insights by working more collaboratively with other sources of information throughout the organization.
    • Lisa Courtrade at Merck commented that “Twenty years ago, we were the main way to talk with customers. Now data is everywhere, almost like oxygen, sales data, big data… if you are only presenting primary market research then you are not giving the holistic picture of what is happening. It’s really necessary.” She recommends that marketing research teams work more closely with other insights-oriented teams.  “We succeed together or fail separately.”
  • The Insights team can help democratize insights by becoming knowledge ambassadors and providing an easily accessible source of truth.
    • Sydney Leonard at Southwest Airlines shared her experiences launching and running a knowledge management platform. She spoke of wasted hours searching for reports to share with business partners; forgotten studies leading to unnecessary duplicative research; and a lack of trust in sharing information. So, they assessed their business partner’s needs and appetite for a central source of information. Based on this understanding, they worked with Bloomfire to create “The Source,” a single source where all studies could be found with easy Google-like searching.
    • She and her team are active leaders in ensuring proper use of the knowledge base including educational sessions and games to incentivize usage, as well as encouraging business leaders to reach out to the insights team for important context and consulting on the information they use.

Measure Business Impact

Andrew Cannon of GRBN and Simon Chadwick of Cambiar led a panel to discuss the concrete actions insights teams can take to measure, demonstrate, and build the impact they are having on the business. Several key recommendations regarding measuring business impact included:

  • Lisa Courtade of Merck said, “Measuring the impact to the number of dollars spent per FTE, like running a factory, commoditizes the value of the work that we do. How do you make insights a competitive advantage? You make it a competitive advantage by focusing on what the business wants to achieve: grow a market, accelerate a launch, develop a competitive position that grows your business share. That is more important than the throughput of the department.”
  • Kelly Bowie of Guardian Life said, “We have metrics and measurement aligned to all our strategic initiatives. If it is not aligned, it doesn’t get done. We have ROI and measurement embedded in our bonus structure.”
  • Andrew Cannon shared GRBN’s ROI framework and several ways for insights teams to measure ROI beyond financial ROI to include such measures as growing brand affinity and customer satisfaction. Andrew has created a knowledge hub for practical guidance and useful reports for measuring and demonstrating ROI:

The Olivetree Insights team shared a process for connecting the expected uses of research and analytics projects, documented in an online Insights Brief, with the actual uses of the insights and resulting business impact. (For a recommended Smart Insights Brief template, Contact Us)

Market the Insights Team

Insights professionals take pride in their role as insight discoverers and sharers but don’t often sing their own praises in the important role they play in companies.

  • Paula Brant of MetLife says, “It’s funny for research insights types. It’s not in our DNA to really want to be out there saying ‘this is what I did’. I push myself and our teams. I push our teams to really lead. Own our work in a collaborative way…having those champions to be bold and be proud for you as well.”
  • Jackie Chan of Prudential Financial adds, “We’re uncomfortable singing our own praises, but it’s critical. To make it less uncomfortable, my job as a leader is to motivate and engage the team. Part of my job is marketing our work: we do it in a number of different ways, through consistent branding and identity across all our deliverables, ensuring our work is cited and sourced. We include impact audits at the close of the study, with the team and with the business owners: what was the impact on the business?”

Want to learn more ways to amplify the impact of your insights team?   Reach out to schedule a time discuss ideas with one of our Olivetree Insights Coaches.

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