Barry Jennings of Dell presented yesterday at the 2012 Annual Conference of the Marketing Research Association. Barry described himself in Twitter hashtags as “#PassionateInsightsProfessional #TripleCollegeTuitionPayer #GlobalTraveler and #ConstantLearner”. “You can’t be in this industry if you’re not a constant learner,” he said.

He shared some quotes that inspire him, from Peter Drucker and fortune cookies:

  • “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”
  • “The aim of marketing is know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”
  • “All wish to know, few wish to pay.”
  • “Knowing and not doing are equal to not knowing at all.”

Both sources reflect his understanding of the role of customer insights. “Business can’t operate unless we know who are customers are,” he said. “Yet corporate researchers are constantly directed to bring more insight, more often, with new methods and fewer resources.”

The “New Normal” has broken old paradigms. In the past, Barry could tell his internal clients “Good, Fast or Cheap – pick any 2.” And this would help him bend their requirements to something more manageable that still met their objectives. Now those clients have no patience for research that is too expensive, takes too long, and gives them too many things to process. “Now they want Good, Fast and Cheap. Data is not the problem: insight is the big problem. We have to deliver answers everywhere, all the time: Global/365.”

Nor is it enough any longer to be “a rock star researcher” – you have to be “consultative insights guru – leverage hindsights, drive the research role into the social business and add new social tools to allow us to get broader perspective on what we know.”

“All of which leads me to my HiPPO problem! I have to worry about the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. We have VPs of everything, who run huge P&Ls that drive our business. They get paid a lot of money to make decisions: with good information, bad information or no information. They will make a decision, and it’s my job to make sure that they take customers’ thoughts into account when making that decision.”

To do this, Barry turns to what he calls “triple vision”:

  • Hindsight—a perfect understanding of something after it happened
  • Insight—an indication of some relationship between data (or meaning within a diverse set of data) that promises significant impact
  • Foresight—a plausible, internally consistent story of what could be

Dell has built out a platform to provide “triple vision”, “enabling us to create, share, and act upon conversations to drive innovation, engage customers and conduct market research”. It is “simply the fastest, easiest and most cost effective market research platform ever.” Key elements of this platform include:

  • Ideas – Dell embraces idea generation, from its IdeaStorm community to other social and community groups. “We encourage people to come in and tell us their ideas and what they need.” In the past, it was hard to see who was making requests, leading to some new products that failed in the market. Community members are profiled in depth: “We had to better understand who is there and what they are doing to really understand what customers want.”
  • Panel – “In our platform we can profile you, like empaneling a good set of folks. We use DirectFlow™ research to recruit users by site activity and demographics. We get people from tech sites, LinkedIn and Facebook and profile them and keep them and build that relationship.”
  • Surveys – From quick polls to longer surveys.

As an example, Barry talked about a product manager wondering if it would be important to make servers that ran cooler. “We can find a group of people talking about servers two days after they’ve made their posts. We are getting hotter and fresher insight – it’s like a quick and dirty focus group talking to the right people at the right time rather than six weeks later. We can get in, get out and provide a directional answer in 24 or 36 hours. We’re not going to do this for every question but it helps drive insight. We then take that back to Engineering, back to Marketing, and say ‘here is what you need to do’.” This allows Customer Insights to make an impact much earlier in the innovation process.

One internal client needed to present to Michael Dell in eight hours. “We were able to get information to present to Michael. Without it, the decision would have been made with no information. Better that we get them some information.”

“This makes the HiPPOs happy. When they can get rapid response to such issues, they don’t mind paying more for the critical answer to the multimillion dollar question.”

Much of the work in the platform is done by the internal clients themselves. “The business owns a community – they manage the roadmap and the content. I make sure they are asking the questions the right away, not influencing the answers. As they own that insight generation, those insights get infused into that business. Dell stakeholders rate the platform 5 stars and love it. When you hear your clients saying ‘it’s because of the research we did this that way’, that’s a huge success.”

Barry wants to “lobby” on behalf of the customer viewpoint, to make sure it is heard, even though there are times it is not acted upon. “I never believe the customer is always right: if they were, laptops would weigh a pound, cost $1, last forever and we would be out of business! But customers absolutely deserve to be listened to.”

Author Notes:

Researchscape International

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.