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The Empathy Opportunity You’re Probably Overlooking

Connecting in partnerships transcends delivering on ROI. Maintaining partnerships requires an empathetic approach to understanding the pain points clients encounter in their day to day.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. 

I’m currently in the post-research, post-insights phase of a major project related to shopping for wine. This is the part where we take what we’ve learned through the data, research, and behavioral science, understand the compelling ways to change and execute upon it. We are taking what we’ve learned from our research and sharing it with retailers, category managers, and sales partners.


Communicating the Results

As the lead researcher of the project, I’m delighted to participate in this phase: meeting retailers across the country and sharing our knowledge. Data and insights folks don’t usually become honorary sales team members! I’ve been grateful to be included and to participate with my sales partners whom I support on a daily basis. Retailers are hungry for knowledge and eager to learn about their shoppers. I get to have conversations that ignite empathy within them as I show a video of a person trying to find their preferred product in the store or share metrics that speak to the opportunities to make wine shopping easier and more enjoyable for more people. What we are proposing is a radical change in a rather traditional category (after all, wine has been around for thousands of years!) but change doesn’t feel so radical when you can see it through the eyes of the consumer. Empathy can help deliver progress.


What Your Clients are Really Thinking

But I’m realizing as I’m meeting the buyers and decision-makers for our categories that the empathy channel has opened in another direction: from them to me. I am learning so much about what keeps them up at night, their cycles and processes to managing change, and their stuck points. I’m humbled, to be honest. I’ve spent so much time in my CPG insights and analytics career drilling “empathy for the consumer” into everyone around me but I have not been as passionate about “empathy for our partners” and “empathy for other functions within the company.” I’ve spent dozens of hours in consumer interviews across multiple countries to bring back stories to help “know the consumer,” but perhaps I haven’t been nearly as curious about what matters to our sales teams, distributors, or gatekeepers.
I think we as market researchers need to cast our empathy nets a bit wider. Everything we are doing right now to explore big data, merge it with small data, and leverage behavioral sciences and neuropsychology to uncover what makes people tick, click, and engage is invaluable. Our passion for understanding people is unparalleled when we are applying it to people who we want to buy our brands. We can take that level of passion for understanding people and extend it beyond consumers to include our sales teams, retailers, and other business partners.


Opening the Channels of Communication

I propose that we do this by opening the channels of communication much earlier and include a broader set of voices in our discussions on consumer questions and research. Because we often have limited ourselves to defining and solving a problem only within the walls of our headquarters’ building, we might be missing a few things. While I’m not proposing that everybody gets to play researcher or data scientist and define the research or analysis plans, I am suggesting that we lean on the knowledge and observations of people outside our usual insights and marketing bubbles. Here are some suggestions to do this:
  • Before starting a new project, gather the related burning questions your external partners have. Don’t build a research plan without understanding what retailers care about also.
  • Give a sneak peek of the research plan to one (or a few) of your key retailers to get their feedback and gauge their interest.
  • When doing qual work, invite more cross-functional (or even external) partners to observe. Attending one in-home interview or seeing one consumer video can open their eyes and build a greater partnership.
  • When discussing timelines for in-market testing or new item launches, give Sales a seat at the table. They know when it is best to drive those conversations with retailers based on planning cycles and retailer-led initiatives.

The result of greater collaboration and inclusion on innovation and other insights-driven projects will not solely be that we have greater empathy for our business partners. Of course, we want to gain that, but moreover, these projects will be more actionable and impactful. If we have heard the voices of our partners and responded to them, we will co-create better solutions for our consumers as well. It’s a virtuous cycle of empathy.

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Vanessa Roddam

Shopper Insights Manager, Constellation Brands