Stakeholder Proximity: Why it’s important, and how to get it


It’s easy to talk about turning the insights you gather from market research into real business impact. After all, that’s the ultimate goal of the research: to inform and drive marketing decisions. But as we all know, it’s easy for insights to fall through the cracks. We can all think of times when, after an informative fieldwork study, the report is presented, everyone comments on how interesting the findings are, and the marketing team, rather than integrating those insights into their decisions, goes ahead with preconceived notions. This does nothing more than leave everyone wondering why they even did the research in the first place. Sometimes this happens because the right people aren’t involved and intimately connected to the research. In order to really understand their customers in a way that goes beyond a PowerPoint report, you need to have boots-on-the-ground familiarity. You need to be able to hear the inflection and intonation in their voices during qualitative interviews, or be able to sift through an parse data coming in from a survey. We call this intimacy with the research stakeholder proximity, and it can happen in a number of ways:

Structural: Insights are more likely to lead to impact if the researcher is embedded with and close to the stakeholders. The best way for researchers to be included in the marketing process is to rearrange the structure of the research team. In a way, market research insights are gathered both internally and externally, and including internal stakeholders in the research team will help you understand what is going on behind the scenes. This will help you structure findings and recommendations in a way that is relevant and actionable.

Procedural: You can drive action by being included in regular team meetings. One of the exciting things about client-side research is getting to see what happens from a broader, strategic point of view, and really understand the lifecycle of your brands. In order to maximize this advantage, consider simply asking to be present at regular team meetings. A crucial part of securing buy-in on research insights is having the physical presence of the market researcher there to provide insight into whether hypotheses and decisions line up with research observations. This gives you more leverage to ensure action is being taken, and it helps build relationships. Consider yourself the invaluable “voice of the customer.”

Role-based: It’s important to feel comfortable making direct recommendations. For some, this is easier said than done. In any business interaction, one must be conscientious about not stepping on others’ turf, but more often than not, this consideration can transform into an irrational fear. A way to overcome this is learning how to make recommendations that are actionable, but not too directive. Remember that line in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” Putting aside debatable gender roles here, there is some truth to this. Give just enough information to be pointed in the right direction to make the right decision, but avoid spoonfeeding by making recommendations high-level enough for the marketing team to maintain creative freedom. It’s vitally important that during research, you don’t need to go through the Six Degrees of Separation to find out how internal stakeholders are connected to insights. Either be embedding market researchers into marketing team decisions, or including someone on the marketing team in fieldwork, maintaining this line of communication will ensure that your insights to indeed translate into impact.

Ellen Hart is a Director at Vivisum Partners. She specializes in in-depth qualitative research in healthcare and nonprofit fields. Email Ellen at ellen.hart@vivisumpartners.com