Detective Duty: Finding Customer Insight

By January 31, 2019October 12th, 2021LTEN Focus On Training


Detective Duty: Finding Customer Insight

Feature Story – By Fiona Hirst

The analogy of the detective can structure our training on customer insight.

Companies recognize the importance of customer insight, but brand teams often don’t know how to find it, making it is a frequent topic for marketing training. As a trainer developing and running insight generation workshops, I realized that there is a lot in common between finding customer insight and detective stories.

In these stories, the detective is looking for the answers to three questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who did it?
  • Why did they do it?

When we go looking for customer insight, we need to answer those same questions:

  • What happened? What is the customer behavior I need to understand? (For example, why doctors prescribe a competitor brand instead of my brand.)
  • Who did it? Who makes the decision for that behavior, and who else may influence it?
  • Why did they do it? What explains their behavior? What needs, attitudes and beliefs make them do that behavior instead of something else?

We can use these questions and the analogy of the detective to structure our training on customer insight.

Clearly defining what you need to understand focuses you and you’re more likely to find useful,actionable insight.

Asking Questions

It’s usually easy to determine the “what,” the behavior we want to understand, and the options customers are choosing between when deciding on that behavior.  When training, we need to emphasize that this should be the starting point for any quest for customer insight. Clearly defining exactly what you need to understand, what behavior you need insight into, focuses you and makes you much more likely to find useful, actionable insight.

Once we have identified the “what,” we can identify the “who.” It’s usually easy to identify who made the decision about that behavior (for example, who decides what product to prescribe). What may be less clear is who else can influence the decision being made For example the doctor may decide what product to decision being made. For example, the doctor may decide what product to prescribe, but when considering her options, she may be influenced by the payer and their concerns; or by key opinion leaders and the products they use; or even by the patient. We need to train people to identify these key influencers, as well as the decision-makers, if we are to truly understand the behavior and how to influence it with our brand strategy or activities.

The often-difficult question is why? Why does the customer choose that behavior rather than any other choice or behavior available to them? Observing behavior is relatively easy. Understanding why that behavior happens is often not straightforward. But customer insight is about understanding the “why” as well as the “what.” If we don’t understand why, we don’t know what we need to say or do to influence that behavior for the advantage of our brand.

So, like a detective, we need to dig deeper.

What’s the Motive?

In our training, we need to emphasize the importance of moving beyond “what” and “who” to understand “why.” We need to move beyond the surface, rational reasons that customers give us to understand what is really driving their behavior. Customers want us to believe that they are rational beings who weigh up the evidence and make a choice based on that. If that were true, every doctor would prescribe exactly the same product, based on the clinical evidence, and sales data shows us this is not the case. We are emotional beings (even doctors), and deeper, emotional needs or attitudes can subtly influence our behavior.

When you ask participants for sources of customer insight, they mention market research, and it is a great source of customer insight. Good qualitative market research allows us to go beyond the obvious, rational reasons consumers want to give us, to get to the deeper drivers of their behavior. However, it often takes more than one piece of market research to reveal a good insight that we can act on for the benefit of our brand.

This is where the analogy of the detective becomes relevant again. When the detective is investigating a crime, he is looking for clues—small, individual observations or facts that he notes down in the hope that, by putting some of these clues together, the answers to “who?” or “why?” will be revealed.

Finding Clues

We need to train people to do the same when looking for insights. We need to get them to note down all those observations and facts, all those clues about the customer’s behavior. We also need to help them understand that these may come from various sources, not just market research, but also syndicated reports, blogs or forums on the Internet, feedback from our colleagues who regularly talk to these customers, such as the sales team, or from our own conversations with customers.

We should show them how to use these clues to find the deeper insights into customer behavior. A simple exercise to use in training is to get participants to write down all their clues on individual post-it notes and put them on a wall. Then, group them into categories and identify a theme. Finally, are there any connections between the themes that reveal even bigger insights?

And we need to help people dig deeper, like a detective interrogating a suspect. They don’t accept the first answer; they keep asking questions to get to the deeper truth. A simple tool to use in training is the “5 Whys.” You keep asking “why,” sing the answer to the previous question to ask the next. Encourage participants to use what they know about the customer from the clues to hypothesize what their answer would be to each of those questions. The questions don’t have to start with why, and there don’t have to be five of them. The idea is to keep asking questions until you get to a deeper understanding of what is driving the customer’s behavior; why they do what they do and why they don’t do something else.

Making the Case

Training should also emphasize the need to implement customer insight to shape brand strategy and marketing activities. For example, by understanding the deeper reasons why a doctor prescribes a competitor brand more frequently than your brand, you are more able to develop messages and activities that are relevant and motivating and encourage the desired change in behavior — to prescribe your brand instead of the competitor.

By understanding not just the “what” and “who,” but importantly the “why” of a customer’s behavior, we get insight into how we can change that behavior to one that drives growth for our brand. Our role as trainers is to help people understand the importance of answering these questions and how to go about it, so that they can be the detective that solves a mystery.

Fiona Hirst is principal training consultant with Ashfield Healthcare. Email her at

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The Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network ( is the only global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization specializing in meeting the needs of life sciences learning professionals. LTEN shares the knowledge of industry leaders, provides insight into new technologies, offers innovative solutions and communities of practice that grow careers and organizational capabilities. Founded in 1971, LTEN has grown to more than 3,200 individual members who work in pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and diagnostic companies, and industry partners who support the life sciences training departments.

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