JD Deitch Answers Community Questions for Women in Research

Every other month, market research networking organization Women in Research (WIRe) hosts “Office Hours” with an industry expert. They call it “informal mentoring on the fly” where members can send in questions for the expert to answer in a forum type environment. Just a few highlights from JD’s participation are outlined below.

 

Q: Hey JD. With all of the talk of AI in market research I’m concerned that my skill set might be less valuable than that of my peers with more coding/software. Is there a place for AI in qual and, if so, how can researchers adapt without turning their world upside down?

A: AI is making in-roads into all disciplines of market research, and qual is not immune. There are a number of new firms in the market who are applying AI to “qualitative” problems…or perhaps we should call them situations with unstructured data. The attempt to understand and classify what people mean using technology is hardly confined to market research. If anything, market research is well behind the curve.

That said, the fact that people are applying AI doesn’t mean it’s an unmitigated success. It takes three things to make AI work well. Two are relatively easy to obtain: lots of data and an algorithm that makes the decision. The third is much harder: domain experience. Domain experience is how we separate good outcomes from bad and understand their exogenous factors. When John McCarthy originally defined artificial intelligence, he did so in this way:

“…the artificial intelligence problem is taken to be that of making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving.”

Teaching a machine to replicate the sophistication of a human brain, particularly with the brain’s ability to utilize heuristics and deal with “fuzzy” situations, is extremely difficult. There will certainly be formative roles for qualitative researchers of all stripes in the application of AI. Moreover, AI is likely to shorten the distance between research and execution, meaning that we will—perhaps not now, but soon—find what we once called “qual” on the front lines of marketing execution.

So how do you orient your professional development? I would respond this way: while you don’t necessarily need to code, it does behoove you to understand how these tools work as you could easily find work helping design them.

 

Q: Thanks for taking my question. I was hired early in my career as a developer, and have since moved to work more as a marketing research analyst. As I move further into my career, I feel I would really like to try sales, but I don’t see any opportunity to try that at my current company and haven’t had any traction trying to shift gears in applying at other market research firms. I think my technical knowledge would be an asset, but hiring teams are looking for someone with a sales track record. Any advice on how to turn the dial?

A: Great question. Let’s look first at what “sales” is in our business. There are typically two types of roles where people have revenue objectives. One is new sales, where you are in pursuit of landing brand new clients. The other is what is often called account management (or sometimes client engagement), where your job is to convince clients to continue spending their money (preferably in larger amounts) with your company.

If you are looking to go into new sales, then you will indeed face an uphill battle. Much of new sales is about good execution, persistence, overcoming objections and maneuvering to close the deal. Knowledge is helpful to build trust, but is insufficient. So are “relationships skills” to be honest.

But if you are interested in shifting gears, account management could be a good place to start. There’s typically a revenue goal associated with the role, and in our industry (more than most) your knowledge will be very useful. That said, for you to be considered you would need to have had experience already working with clients and, in particular, dealing with difficult situations. So if you are set on this professional trajectory, I would recommend getting in front of clients and building experience that allows you to say to a hiring manager, “I’ve convinced clients to give us more business” or “I turned an account around”…something that shortens the gap between working on projects and sales.

One last observation: when you work in sales, you should expect nothing less than to be judged by your numbers. If you’re not making your quota, then it may not matter how hard you’ve tried.

 

Q: How do I push my company to adapt to newer tech? I’m mid-level mgmt. Thanks.

A: I see three steps, but they are not easy ones. The first step is that you, as a mid-level manager, need to make sure you are punching above your weight. You may feel that your arguments are valid, but even the best ideas don’t just spontaneously take hold. There is a hell of a lot of work you will need to do.

Step 1: Start with making sure you personally have the tools and mindset to be successful convincing the people above you that you’re credible in new ways.  The things that made you successful enough to get to your current level are not the ones you are going to need to convince your company to adapt to new tech. I would encourage you to do a bit of reading, perhaps starting here.

Step 2: You will need to understand why your business doesn’t seem to be adopting new tech. Convincing people to do new things implicitly begins by convincing them to stop doing old things. There may be good reasons (revenue at risk, need to hire/cultivate new skills) and bad reasons (leadership cowardice, sacred cows) at play. You will need to know who could be enlisted as a potential ally, and who has the most to lose.

Step 3: You will need to share a vision of the new future. New tech is a means to an end. How will it change what you are doing? How is that a good thing for the company? How easy will that be to accomplish. What are the risks and how do you mitigate them?

This may sound intimidating, but if you aspire to be promoted into senior management then you will one day have to do all these things. My last suggestion would be to enlist someone more senior (your boss?) to help you do this. Most of us who have responsibilities for big projects started out by having someone show them the ropes. Good luck.

 

JD Deitch is a WIRe mentor, WIRe Advisory Board Member and recipient of the most recent WIRe Diversity Champion Award.

P2Sample is a long-time supporter of Women in Research as well, and is a corporate sponsor for WIRE’s 2019 programs for workplace diversity, professional development and networking for women in the market research industry.