Our guest today is Dr. Ari Zelmanow, the Sherlock Holmes of Consumer Behavior. He is also the Senior Director of Research, Analytics, and Insights at Gtmhub.
Founded in 2015, Gtmhub is a SaaS company that helps businesses manage employees through business results. Specifically, they leverage an Objective & Key Result framework. Today, Gtmhub serves over 500,000 users across 1,000 organizations globally.
Prior to joining Gtmhub, Dr. Zelmanow has held senior insight roles at Panasonic, Twitter and Altria.
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Jamin Brazil: Hey everyone. I’m Jamin, you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is Ari Zelmanow, the Sherlock Holmes of consumer behavior. He’s also the senior director of research analytics and insights at Gtmhub. Founded in 2015, Gtmhub is a SaaS company that helps businesses manage employees through business results. Specifically, they leverage an objective and key results or OKR framework today. Gtmhub serves over 500,000 users across 1,000 organizations globally. Prior to joining Gtmhub, Dr. Zelmanow has had senior insight roles at Panasonic, Twitter and Altria. Ari, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast.
Ari Zelmanow: Thanks Jamin. Thanks for having me.
Jamin Brazil: I’ve done hundreds of interviews with today’s top minds in market research. Many of them trace their role to Michigan state’s marketing research program. Are you looking for a higher pay, to expand your professional network and to achieve your full potential in the world of marketing research, today the program has tracks for both full-time students and working professionals. They also provide career support, assisting students to win today’s most sought after jobs. In fact, over 80% of Michigan state’s marketing research students have accepted jobs six months prior to graduating. The program has three formats. The first is a full-time 100% online program that is taught over 12 months. It starts in January 2022. The second is a part-time 100% online program. It lasts 20 months and it starts in May 2022. It’s specifically designed for working professionals. And of course, they offer a full-time 12 month in-person experience that starts in September 2022. All programs include real world experience with full-time job placement support. If you were looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSU’s program at broad.msu.edu/marketing, that’s B-R-O-A-D. msu.edu/marketing. It costs nothing to get more details, take the time, invest in yourself. You’re worth it. Class sizes are limited. So please check them out today. This episode is brought to you by Momentive. You may have heard that Surveymonkey’s parent company recently rebranded as Momentive, a leader in agile insights and experience management. The Momentive AI powered insights platform is built for the pace of modern business. So you can deeply understand your market, elevate your brand and build winning products faster. Momentive offers 22 purpose-built market research solutions that incorporate an AI engine, built in expertise, sophisticated methodologies and an integrated global panel of over 144 million people to deliver meaningful insights in hours not months. Momentive also has a team of market research consultants that can take on anything from research design to custom reporting as needed. So you can spend more time shaping what’s next for your organization. To learn more visit momentive. ai, that’s M-O-M-E-N-T-I-V-E. ai. Huge honor. First, congratulations on being named one of the Insights Associations laureates.
Ari Zelmanow: Thank you. It’s such a tremendous honor to be, not only among the other laureates who were selected for this first round, but also just for being part of that organization. I think it’s been awesome to see the great growth and vision that that organization’s had, the Insights Association has had over the past few years, and I’m excited to see where they go in the future as well.
Jamin Brazil: So as you know, I’d like to start out with a little bit of context. Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they inform what you do today.
Ari Zelmanow: That’s a really good question. And I would say that there’s a lot of influence there. My father was an attorney and my mother did educational consulting. She was a teacher before that. And so I’d always had this desire to teach others and work with others and help others, because I think both of those professions are deeply rooted in that. But I think the field of law really is well suited to insights and the way we think about things and the way that evidence is weighed and the way that logic is applied to problems. And I would say that that has had a tremendous impact on the way I analyze problems, the way I think about risk and candidly, the way I communicate about those things.
Jamin Brazil: It is a lot about like the null hypothesis. So coming up with what you think is truth and then proving it or disproving it.
Ari Zelmanow: Totally. I think that, and I think there’s the second component. So something’s happened in market research, certainly during the times of our careers is this flow toward quantification, of wanting to attach numbers and measurement to everything. And while I think that’s important and I’m not minimizing that at all, I also think that we should never lose sight of how evidence is weighed in a court of law and how you can still get proof beyond a reasonable doubt without a number. And so knowing and thinking about the continuum of burden of proof and the way that evidence is weighed can really help insights professionals, market researchers, UX researchers, analysts, think about the businesses and problems they solve. Like is something beyond a reasonable doubt or is it a preponderance of the evidence or is there just not enough evidence at all. And thinking in terms of that, really opens up some new doors into what we can do to inform our stakeholders and the businesses we serve and help drive them toward better business outcomes.
Jamin Brazil: I literally have never, in 26 years thought of it in that way. That’s so enlightening for me. Thank you.
Ari Zelmanow: You bet.
Jamin Brazil: You’re totally right. Anyways, that’s a whole another topic I’m absolutely going to dig into at a later episode. Not the intent of this ones. The Insights Association seeks to recognize as laureates outstanding peer nominated members with distinguished careers and contributions who have advanced and benefited the industry. This is considered a lifetime recognition of distinction in the field of market research, rather than simply an award for specific achievement. So tell me, what does it mean to you to be acknowledged by the Insights Association as an IPC laureate?
Ari Zelmanow: I’ve got to be honest, it’s almost, not even almost, it’s just overwhelming. First, it’s such an honor to have people that I’ve worked alongside or that I’ve gotten to know through the course of my career, recognizing that some of the achievements or some of the things that I’ve done, or some of the benefits that I’ve given to our chosen profession, it’s just such a tremendous honor. And then I think on a larger level, I think it’s really awesome that I’m able to have an impact at a broader scale because of it. And I would say that it’s-. So I liken it to this. I ran an Ironman a few years ago and what I would tell people about the Ironman is that race isn’t run on race day. It’s run on every training session prior to race day. So every time you go for a run or you’re going swimming, or you get on the bike and you’re training, those are the days that equate to success. And the laureate, being named a laureate also kind of gives credence to that as well. I didn’t get the laureate just from the- on the day that it was conferred. It was from all the work that I did ahead of time, like the speaking engagements and continuing education and working. I’m grateful for the University of Georgia for a lot of the things that they’ve done with market research. I’m grateful for the companies that I’ve gotten to work for, Altria, Panasonic, Twitter, Gtmhub, Indeed in helping me better refine my craft and better refine my thinking about what we’re doing. And it’s a convergence of all of those things. So when people get up on a stage at the- when they’re winning an Emmy or whatever, and they say, this is- it’s not- this is not my award. The award is really to everybody that supported me, I feel the same way. Being named a laureate, isn’t just mine. It’s my family’s for the support that they’ve given me. It’s for peers like you who have supported me through all this, for the companies for giving me the opportunity. It’s really a recognition of all of those factors coming together in just as beautiful way.
Jamin Brazil: I’d like to talk a little bit about your current employer, Gtmhub. OKR frameworks are something that is- I actually teach an OKR framework at an executive level, so C level, and I have not seen it rolled out in the way that I read on the website. What attracted you to the business?
Ari Zelmanow: In my initial attraction kind of came by a weird way. I was at Panasonic and we had started using OKRs and I was exploring software tools. And Gtmhub was the clear winner for me when I was evaluating them. And then what happened is I left Panasonic. I had a brief diversion over to Indeed, and then ultimately Gtmhub reached out because of a friend of mine that works there and said, we’d like you to build a team similar to the ones you built before at Twitter, Panasonic, and that you were building at Indeed and do that here. And knowing what they were working on and having this foundational understanding and belief in OKRs. To me, OKRs are a phenomenal way to connect strategy to execution. The best description is that it just helps people get shit done. That’s really what businesses want. Businesses want outcomes, they want to be able to achieve things. And so being able to join a team that actually is working on that problem, on working on connecting strategy to execution was just something that I find it resonates with my soul. And I think it resonates for a bunch of reasons. Like one of the things that has marked my career, whether it’s professionally or personally, is a real desire to push through and get things done. Whether it was the Ironman triathlon, earning a doctorate, growing to the role that I have today, all of those things took execution, just real good execution. And so that just resonates with me.
Jamin Brazil: It’s a very powerful if leveraged correctly, a very powerful tool for business outcome that happens at a- it can be leveraged across the organization, as you’ve already articulated. Many laureates serve as mentors to others in the industry. Are you applying that same OKR framework to young professionals or other people that you are influencing so that they can have better outcomes for their career?
Ari Zelmanow: 100%. I think, I just think it is such an effective way to drive impact by setting an objective. Some sort of goal and then having key results, which can just replace key result with a language as measured by, and you’ve got an objective and key result. And by doing that, it chunks things out into a reasonable size that people can achieve. It’s not reasonable for somebody who graduates from college or a master’s program to say, hey, I want to be a VP of insights in a year, but they might say, you know what, I do want to lead teams. And then setting objectives and key results around making progress toward that outcome, that end goal, ensures that they’re going to do that. As you and I both know, success comes from gradual improvement over time. It’s not an overnight thing. And I think that that’s something that I see where a lot of mistakes are made, is people assume that it’s just- you just fall into something and that’s just not the way it works. It’s gradual improvement. And OKRs, when used correctly help drive that gradual improvement.
Jamin Brazil: And I think most- what’s astounding to me is a lot of people actually don’t use OKRs or even not heard of them. Maybe you could give level set with every- with the listeners. What is an example of an OKR?
Ari Zelmanow: An example of an OKR, I guess it would depend on in a business sense, or if you’re talking in a personal sense, but an OKR, an objective you could have, could be, I want to lose 20 pounds next year. That could be your objective. So your key results, your objective is to lose 20 pounds. Notice that there’s a number, there’s- it’s some sort of stretch. It’s not easy to attain. You don’t want to dog it, you don’t want to say, I want to lose two pounds next year because we all know you can lose two pounds. 20 pounds in a year is a very lofty goal. Is it achievable, yes. If you miss it, that’s OK. Objectives are meant to be lofty. And then key results for that could be, I’m going to do 30 minutes of exercise every day. You can measure that. So by doing the 30 minutes of exercise every day, will you make progress toward the overall objective, yes. The other could be like 100% of the time, I will eat 1,800 calories or less per day. And you’ll set several, you should not set more than five. Three is probably a good number key results. And you should have one or two objectives going at a time, if you do those things, you will make progress toward that goal. You will appreciably move the needle toward what you’re trying to achieve. Something you said is interesting though and it’s- I don’t think truer words are spoken. OKRs, they can be explained just like jobs to be done, but theoretically, the theory behind it, doesn’t always tell you how to do it. And that’s something that Gtmhub is really good at. Is helping people take that theoretical construct of OKRs and strategy and execution enablement, and actioning on it.
Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting. I’m going to do a- I had not heard of Gtmhub. I’m going to do a deeper dive into the platform. But so sorry, listeners, this is not intended to be an infomercial by any means, just a point of interest for me, especially relative to what I’m facing in- with different companies I work with. But it’s really about inputs and outputs. So a lot of times companies will set an, or individuals will set an output expectation, like I’m going to achieve 50% growth this year or whatever, but it kind of stops there. Then they might even reverse engineer what that looks like, but the inputs are the part that it’s oftentimes lost. You can always see this in a sales framework on outbound sales, because you usually track things like outbound calls. That’s a good example of a key result, and something that you can always do no matter what, but the outcome, which is like customers won, there’s a lot of factors that go into, if you’re going to be able to win the customer or not. So it’s a very powerful framework and if you are unfamiliar with it, I’d encourage you to at least Google it, check it out. It is the most powerful tool, in my opinion, for oversized business outcomes for a relatively light lift. Anyway, so let’s shift gears a little bit. We are entering into 2022. This is December 1st, 2021, we’re recording this interview. What is one trend issue or technology that you anticipate will have a big impact on our industry in the coming year?
Ari Zelmanow: I think that the trend that will continue is looking for ways to better conduct research that is not in-person. I know COVID has had impacts on focus group facilities and in-person research, context research. And I think we’re going to continue to see that growth continue, not because of COVID, but because of probably some of the cost savings that were realized by not having to travel. And so I think that that trend will probably continue as we explore those things. I think another trend that we’re going to see grow is the convergence of analytics research and insights functions, or at least this is aspirationally, but I hope we see where these functions stop existing in such siloed areas. Like UX research is buried under product or design, market research is buried under marketing. And where these functions learn kind of start to stand on their own and serve as an advisory function to the entire business.
Jamin Brazil: Sort of the unification of the disciplines?
Ari Zelmanow: I think the unification of the disciplines is definitely something that I think we will see a trend towards. I don’t know if we will see that all happen, but I think that the convergence of the data from the disciplines is certainly going to become a big [CROSSTALK].
Jamin Brazil: There’s such a unique nomenclature and application of the data inside of the three disciplines, CX UX and market research, but the overlapping, the way that the methodologies and things like that, is largely very similar. There’s a lot of cross sharing that happens. It really gets me thinking a lot and I’ve heard this over the last forever, but the insight hub space definitely feels like the time is right. There’s so much data that’s lost when an employee moves from one company to another, for example, because so much of that exists in a- their Outlook folder or whatever. And so being able to protect and then access that, is the data accessibility and visibility across your organization, that really has a multiplicity impact on what your data can do, the leveragability of your data. So I have one last question for you. Do you have a personal motto?
Ari Zelmanow: Wow. You know what, I think I do. And it came to me recently, which is funny because I have a strong belief in justice. I think that’s been ingrained into me. We go back to what my parents, the impact my parents have had on me and my upbringing, and justice is definitely one of those things. But with justice, there must be truth. And so I would tell you that my personal motto is semper veritas, truth always. And it aligns with my thoughts and research and what we’re trying to accomplish, and what we try to do for the businesses we serve. So I think that that would be, if I had to pick one today, that would be it.
Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Dr. Ari Zelmanow, the Sherlock Holmes of consumer behavior. Ari, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast.
Ari Zelmanow: Thank you for having me. I’ve really enjoyed the time.
Jamin Brazil: Everybody, I hope you enjoyed the episode. I certainly learned a couple of things. I hope you’re able to take that with you. As always, if you screen capture, share this episode, tag me on social media, as gimmicky as it is, I will send you a t-shirt. Have a good rest of your day.