Archive for June, 2017

Yes, your CEO has an attention span!

Corporate market research departments are a support function. They support decision makers in marketing and often the C-suite by providing market knowledge and insight. Even though research is a support function, since information truly is power, researchers play a powerful role in many organizations. Those that control key information in an organization have a unique responsibility.

Nothing puts research directors more on edge than a presentation to the CEO. Many times this research presentation represents the only point of contact the researcher will have with the firm’s top manager.  That often makes the researcher understandably nervous about what might happen in the presentation.

I’ve seen research directors make many mistakes in these presentations. The most common is presuming that the CEO is so time-pressed that he/she can’t handle a presentation of the full story of the study. Researchers seem to feel that their presentation has to be boiled down to a few key takeaways, colorfully presented so that anyone can understand them. Either way, there often seems to be an undercurrent of fear among researchers when it comes to CEO presentations.

Why do so many researchers live in fear of their CEOs?

I’ve presented in front of a few dozen CEOs in my career (including three billionaires) and have never felt this fear. Perhaps this is because as an outside supplier, I don’t have as much at stake during the presentation as the internal staff does. I have often found that the CEO will give more careful consideration to what I (who has been studying the issue at hand for a few weeks) have to say than what the internal researchers (who have been studying these issues for years) have to say.

I’ve often wondered why. I think this is partially because when you have paid for a consultant, you feel a bit obligated to listen to what he/she has to say. But I think it is more because of the fear internal staff have when they get in front of the CEO.

I have found that CEO presentations tend to go smoother than presentations to marketing departments. The CEO tends to grasp the study quickly, ask insightful questions, and is almost always an excellent communicator and is good with people. In fact that is the one thing I think they all have in common – you really can’t get to the top without strong people skills. This makes them easy to present to.

It is common for the market research department to feel that they have to somehow “dumb down” the research for the report or presentation that goes to the CEO. That is a mistake. This is a very capable audience. It is true that CEOs are often time-starved but I have found that they value the nuance in the story and grasp it well.

Yes, we don’t want to waste the CEO’s valuable time so we want to be sure to tell a clear story, outline important takeaways, and provide implications. But researchers also should be of the mindset that their top-level manager really shouldn’t have anything more pressing to do than to listen to what his/her customers think. Stop being so nervous – it almost always goes better than you think it will!