Insight proficiency comes from your people, not your tools

Dr. Phil Hardy, Vice President of Retail Engagement - Intelligent Shopper Solutions

Businesses spend large amounts of money on analytical tools and techniques – but this initial investment is often the easy part. Millions can be wasted through missed opportunities because of poor implementation. That’s why it’s vital to ensure your teams are competent in the end-to-end insight cycle.

Driving value from insight isn’t easy.

Ask a retail executive if they have a certain analytical capability and you usually get a binary answer: ‘Yes, we have AI,’ or ‘We can do predictive’. Which usually just means they paid for a tool or a technique – and in many cases, these can be large investments.

For some executives, that’s the extent of their knowledge. They may know of a couple of well-circulated use-cases that have become famous in the business, but they can’t go much further. Other executives will have solid proof that their investments are driving returns, thanks to their financial reporting including measured IRR (Internal Rate of Return).

And yet others will be reassured by knowing that they have the right leadership, and the right cultural training and assessment frameworks in place to ensure their teams continually make the most of their analytical capability.

Building the capability is just the start of an ongoing process

Once the investment decision has been made, an implementation period typically begins. This stage focuses on the technical build of the tool or capability, managed by tech-minded people (usually from IT), often with the added benefit of professional project management with clear deliverables.

These processes can be highly technical and delivered under a lot of pressure, involving multiple and senior stakeholders. The trouble is, the focus and pace often diminish once the tool has gone live. And this is just the technical implementation that enables future return on investment. No value has been delivered yet!

Moving beyond the launch requires just as much attention

At Intelligent Shopper Solutions (ISS) we’ve worked with a number of grocery retailers to initialise and embed customer insight tools into their businesses. The retailer gains the greatest value when they embrace a holistic plan that helps them fully integrate insights into their decision-making after the initial launch.

This happens in 5 key stages:

Using the tool

Once you’ve set people up with the tool, keep checking in to see if – and how – they’re continuing to use it beyond the training sessions. Are they taking advantage of the full range of its capabilities?

Generating insights

Once users are able to glean insights from the tool, you can work with them to ensure they translate these into ideas that can be applied within the business.

Developing strategy

Consider how – if at all – insights are being used to drive your overall business strategy. If they’re simply being applied tactically, one at a time, think about working towards more strategic implementation.

Implementing actions

It’s one thing to gain valuable insights, but another to actually use them to put ideas into action. If your people are doing this, are they doing it in a measurable way?

Measuring activity

Monitor the actions your users are taking, so they can learn from their successes and failures. Then you can feed the resulting learnings back into the overall business strategy.

Grocery retailers are extremely busy environments. As a result, there can be great insights that don’t lead to action, actions that aren’t measured, results that aren’t learned from… and so on. That’s why it’s vital to have a plan, to stay on top of all these elements within the end-to-end insights cycle.

To create an insight-driven organisation, it’s crucial to instil a critical-thinking mindset in your people.

Sure, putting the technical capabilities in place is a necessary step. But the passion, curiosity and skills of your people are what will truly drive results.

Tools can’t make all your decisions

Over the years we’ve heard many retailers cry ‘We just want to be told what to do!’, as they seek increased value from their tools. Some tools claim to be able to do just this – tell you what to do – thus cashing in on the publicity and trends around AI and machine learning.

And some of the advances are impressive. Tech certainly can help simplify each stage of the full embedding process.

But this doesn’t mean a retailer can neglect nurturing the right behaviour and competency in its teams.

Change takes time. Traditional thinking still exists in many grocery retailers.

The tendency to act on instinct rather than on insight and data is still commonplace. To focus totally on sales and profit numbers, while largely ignoring the importance of the customer in driving the performance of these crucial KPIs is a mistake.

‘Old school’ category managers who haven’t embraced the theory of formal category management, let alone grasped the complexities of customer insight-driven category reviews, are still responsible for a large share of retail sales. While they can still be successful at driving the bottom line, they’ll find it harder and harder to adapt to ever-growing customer needs if they don’t develop insight skills.

These skillsets can be hard to find, particularly for regional retailers who have a limited local talent pool and lack relocation funds. It’s important to give teams the chance to adopt new technology, glean insights, take action, measure their activity and develop insight-driven strategies. And of course, they must be held accountable. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made.

Change needs to come from the top

  • Insight-driven thinking should be demonstrated from the top down to convey its importance to teams.
  • Leaders should ask ‘Why?’ a lot, to encourage inquisitive mindsets – and use of those insight tools!
  • Business and personal objectives should reflect the importance of insight-driven strategy and the use of analytics/technology.
  • Incentives are important – what gets measured gets done!
    The nature of the beast means that it isn’t always perfect: some things work and some don’t. Team members should be encouraged to try things without being terrified of failing.
  • Celebrate success and encourage teams to share results, generate best practice and build overall organizational capability.

Our Insight Competency Framework

Building on the implementation stages above, we’ve developed a simple, effective framework that establishes five Insights Cycle Competencies for grocery retailers.

These provide an approach that sets expectations for team members around using insights and analytics in the business, to ensure you get the most from your investment. Requirements vary by job role, of course. Analysts require greater technical competency than Category Managers. Category Managers need stronger strategic competency than Category Assistants.

We’ve worked with retailers to help assess their teams’ current status, then put training programmes in place to help members reach the required level of competency. We’ve also helped our clients to identify best-in-class examples of the competencies in action, create case studies and reward performance.

Insight tools not only drive great ROI, they help transform businesses. But this only happens when the most important assets – the employees – turn those insights into action and learn from their decisions.

Free download: Measure your own insight proficiency now...

We have created the following framework to define levels of competency in the five essential end-to-end Insights skills. Use this document as a template to evaluate yourself or your team to see where skills can be enhanced to create a high performing insights team.

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