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Engaging Sales with Market Research

This session dove into the journey of enhancing insights at Morningstar. Agostinelli shared firsthand how he leveraged market research to empower sales, resulting in tangible net gains in speed to sign and customer engagement. He also outlined the benefits of being a centrally placed resource and ways to contribute to the overall value proposition of insights by joining key partner meetings.

“I started at Morningstar three years ago,” recalls Agostinelli. “I was supporting one of our business units with user research, product and persona research. Morningstar is so tuned in to creating these amazingly designed products that have powerful engines, methodologies and structures behind them. The product and design folks were really keyed into gaining further insights to their work. They just didn’t have the full knowledge of what good research looked like. That wasn’t their background. With me in the mix, I was hoping to help them take it to the next level. One of the things that was great out of the gate is we got some very quick wins that gained traction within not just our business unit, but within Morningstar overall.”

There were opportunities, however, presenting themselves to expand the market research.

He relates, “Opportunities kept coming up that were broader, all organizational initiatives as opposed to product specific. Sustainability and ESG have been hot topics over the past several years in the investment world, and we got some funding to explore that. Outside of the results, helping to define the direction that we took some of the products we were working on internally, those insights were then turned into white papers that we leveraged externally. People really started to see what was possible from the work we were doing.”

Scaling the Insights Capability

“The next part of the story is where we truly took a first step to scaling insights,” says Agostinelli. “An opportunity came up to change the main focus of the work I was doing, stepping out of that specific business unit. I ran this idea by the appropriate people. They were on board. We started building what a market research function located within Morningstar’s central marketing team could look like. And we went fully live with that on January of last year. We have made some great strides.”

He adds, “That move really changed the game for me personally. Being on central marketing, I not only have all the resources I could ask for in content creators, designers, people who run our podcast and webinars, and, obviously, marketers too, but, also, all of those folks essentially have a direct line to sales. Getting the introductions, knowing the right players to prioritize, and connecting was that much easier.”

The Sales/Market Research Combination

From there, for Agostinelli it was about building the market research team’s reach into the sales organization.

“We were building out a very specific value proposition, and we knew that engaging with sales was going to be one of our pillars alongside marketing, thought leadership and executive communications,” he says. “But sales wasn’t something we were really thinking about as kind of the main driver of those three, for our success and growth moving forward. I believe we were more focused at that point on thought leadership and marketing components of what market research could bring to the table.”

Sales enablement becoming the insights focal point was something Agostinelli kind of stumbled into, but with successful results. “We had a successful engagement with a client of ours where we started talking about marketing overall at Morningstar and our structure, and then market research came up, and our CMO mentioned our new market research efforts and our voice of the customer initiatives. This really resonated with the client as they have a similar team in house that takes on these initiatives. It helped me ramp up my knowledge around the financial advisor specifically and their place in this overall investment ecosystem, which is incredibly nuanced and detailed,” he says.

Agostinelli relates that the sales executive in charge of that client relationship came back and said they quickly got a deal done, in part due to the market research engagement. “That kind of showed the impact we could have from a market research standpoint.”

“That brings us up to where we’re at right now,” says Agostinelli. “Coming into 2024, sales enablement became front and center. We hit the ground running with our sales kickoff meeting, and my boss and I went in with a very specific agenda, not trying to get every sales executive on board. We focused on a specific team that we thought would be a little more receptive. We met with this team and presented some of our findings. We talked about how we’re building a library of insights and what we have planned. We talked with them about how some of our specific results would resonate with their type of client that they serve. The added benefits of including us in these conversations and just bringing us into their sales process is that we can be this additional voice on your client calls specifically focused on adding value to the relationship by bringing in these conversations around insights.”

Let the client also use Morningstar as a resource, Agostinelli suggested. “What do they want to learn from retail investors or financial advisors or their asset manager peers that we can go investigate and do the legwork on?” he recalls. “We really wanted to involve them and get their buy-in for the research that we were doing and have them craft specific questions that they wanted to ask. And then we could go into our surveys or our focus groups and ask these questions, and then report back to the client. It creates this kind of automatic engagement loop that we can have.”

He adds, “We presented all this. Once we saw the heads nodding with our specific sales team, we made the ask. We said, invite us along. Carve out 20 minutes for us next time you talk with your client. And one of the sales executives in the room immediately saw the value we could add. And within a day or two, he had invited us to four meetings that he had lined up over the next several weeks. We’re getting some traction. Now we need to figure out what we’re going to be doing ahead of those meetings to prepare, customize and engage with those clients.”

“This was really accounted for by having a prep call with the sales executive,” says Agostinelli. “What are your clients’ objectives? What are they focused on right now? Are there any sensitive topics that we may not want to cover? Give us the full agenda, let us know where we fit in, and make sure that anything else that we’re sharing from the Morningstar side are aligned and supported.”

Watch the video for the full session with Morningstar’s Joe Agostinelli, as he discusses scaling the market research capability in the future, plus measuring the impact of the insights team.


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.

    View all posts

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