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Most companies today strive to become more customer-centric—it’s simply good business. They use customer feedback to make data-backed decisions, and rely on customer intelligence software like insight communities.

At a recent Vision Critical meetup in New York City, three leading companies shared how they successfully introduced customer intelligence to their organization. The panel discussion explored the value of having authentic, timely and contextual customer feedback. Speakers also explored the challenges—and solutions—of introducing a customer intelligence platform in the enterprise.

The lively discussion included Celia Tombalakian, senior director of global consumer insights and product development at Elizabeth Arden New York, Melissa Saroff, senior manager of marketing and research at the New York Post, and Catherine Makk, VP of global insights at HarperCollins Publishers.

Celia Tombalakian, senior director of global consumer insights and product development at Elizabeth Arden New York, Melissa Saroff, senior manager of marketing and research at the New York Post, and Catherine Makk, VP of global insights at HarperCollins Publishers

Here are highlights from the session.

Think bigger—look beyond research.

While customer intelligence is becoming an enterprise-wide exercise, it typically starts with market research. Traditionally, market researchers have been the people who collected, analyzed and distributed customer feedback and insight.

That’s quickly changing. The speakers said many departments now recognize the need for real-time customer insight, making it critical to involve them early in the software buying process.

Tombalakian found success by tying Elizabeth Arden’s corporate goal with the benefits of having an insight community. “Our mandate was to insert the voice of the consumer into all of our strategic decision-making rather than working off gut or instinct or past experience,” she explained. Knowing that strategic goal, she made the case that customer intelligence will help ensure the customer remains top of mind in the company.

Her next step was to approach three senior leaders in the company to understand how they use research and discover their challenges. By working with those leaders, Tombalakian determined how customer intelligence software can lighten their workload, helping her convince them to use some of their budget allocated for research toward this new technology.

Let other companies do the talking.

Introducing companies that are already using customer intelligence technology to decision makers at Elizabeth Arden helped move the process along, according to Tombalakian. Hearing how other companies use insight communities helped demonstrate the value of customer intelligence in a more tangible way.

“It made a difference that I talked to other companies like Allure,” she said. Vision Critical’s customer base is so diverse—some people in my company appreciated that.”

Speak their language.

HarperCollins Publishers’ Makk said that one of the hurdles she had to face was convincing publishers to care about hard data.

“Many of them had the feeling that, ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t need to ‘focus group’ this,” she said. Knowing that these stakeholders didn’t care about charts and graphs, Makk decided to highlight something they care about: the readers.

“The insight community gives a face to consumer research,” explained Makk. "Publishers don’t want to hear about stats; they want to hear about people. They like to hear about the readers.”

“The insight community gives a face to consumer research...If you can humanize that research, it completely changes the attitude of the recipient."

Makk said the community has given way to a cultural shift at HarperCollins Publishers, saying “If you can humanize that research, it completely changes the attitude of the recipient.”

Highlight the revenue potential, not the cost.

Naturally, business executives want to see the ROI of customer intelligence. The speakers said their insight communities have helped them streamline the way they engage with their customers.

But if you’re looking at customer intelligence as a cost center, you’re missing out on a huge revenue potential. Many companies have been able to monetize insight, transforming customer intelligence into a revenue-generating function.

For example, while evaluating customer intelligence alternatives, Saroff brought in experts from a sister company, to talk to executives. What interested leaders at the Post was how its sister company uses an insight community to bring in money. The sister company shared how it uses its insight community to sell value-added services like custom insight projects and A/B testing. This approach of generating additional sales piqued the interest of decision-makers at the Post.

Share your big plan.  

Enable stakeholders to see the value of your community by sharing specific plans and details.

“I was more invested than anyone,” said Tombalakian. “I had to make sure that the Vision Critical technology was something that could help me contribute and make a contribution to the organization.” Completing her due diligence about the Vision Critical software helped Tombalakian convince the company to launch an insight community.    

Presenting a detailed plan of what the company will do once the insight community is already launched will also help.

“When we first started this process, we created a timeline, and that was super helpful in getting buy-in from management,” shared Saroff. She advocates having a rough schedule of when the insight community will be up and running, types of planned projects and which departments will be using it.

Don’t be selfish.

Finally, to accelerate adoption of your insight community, don’t be afraid to let others access it.

“As we got up and running, we empowered some of our marketing team members to use the community,” said Makk. Because the marketing team can program surveys and recurring studies themselves, Makk’s team doesn’t become a bottleneck.

Bringing a colleague to last year’s Customer Intelligence Summit also helped Makk evangelize the value of the insight community.

“Bringing my colleague was an enormous leap forward in institutional buy-in,” Makk explained. “The opportunity for my colleague to talk with other customers at the Summit got her excited and let her get into the weeds into how Vision Critical works. She was able to advocate on my behalf across the organization.”

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