What ONE skill do you need to succeed in market research?

If you had to cite ONE skill that market researchers need to be successful long-term, what would it be? Knowing how to discover someone’s actual business question? Consulting? Analytics? Big data?

Here’s my answer: learning.

I recently listened to someone talk about shifting their organization from IQ to EQ to LQ: intelligence to emotion to learning. He described the way recruiting and hiring has changed. A few years ago, many companies were focused on hiring top-grade-earning students from top schools. Then came focusing on hiring people who could integrate well with teams, and hiring based on how flexible the candidate could be in working with different people. Now, there seems to be an uptick in need for employees who are willing and able to learn on the fly.

I find it fascinating that’s a key trait of the younger generation that’s been raised before: trying new things quickly, adapting to the newest release/update quickly, and the tendency to move to the next tool if the one being used right now isn’t actually meeting existing needs very well.

Why is learning so important? Let’s take a look at the latest blog posts from NewMR, a site dedicated to exploring the future of market research. A quick review nets you discussions about blockchain technology and its impact (or not) on market research, a discussion about mobile research, tools to help with story identification, and how to choose a market research approach.

Even the fact a site like NewMR exists indicates the need for us to at least be aware that the tools we’re using today may very well be outdated within the next year or two. Marketing departments are driving their own insights from their own telemetry sources; product teams are using their own online communities to gather information to feed feature request lists. If we don’t keep learning new approaches, new tools, and new ways of looking and gather data, we may find ourselves irrelevant in the next few years.

This is probably best portrayed with an increase in distinction between a “market researcher” and an “insights professional.” For the past few years, the market research blogosphere has discussed the need for traditional market research professionals to become more “consulting-focused.” The focus has been on learning how to better ask questions to get to the bottom line business question from your client, to formulating recommendations from the data gathered, as opposed to just taking a business question and gathering data to help answer it. However, the fact that I saw “market researcher” and “insights professional” separated out in an advertisement today caused me pause and made me wonder if perhaps we’ve truly been asking too much of market researchers. Is our inflexibility in gaining the skills needed to become insights-focused resulting in being known just as “data gatherers,” while others are taking that data and generating the actual insights needed to answer the business questions? At what point do we find “traditional market research” rendered redundant and obsolete because we have replaced that data gathering function with machine learning, AI, etc., and we were unable to make the leap to creating insights?

Increasingly, we need to just keep learning, keep evolving, keep aware of the changes that are taking place and the speed with which those changes are taking place, and obtain the skills we need to stay relevant, even if it means moving away from our roots and growing new wings with which to fly.

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