5 Questions with Wachovia’s Dan Gilbert

September 10th, 2008

Wachovia approached CMB in 2006 with a strategic goal of learning more about how to best tap into the small business market. The result was not just a research project, but a partnership that created a Small Business Advisory Board. Responsible for helping to support the strategic direction of the company, Wachovia’s Insight & Innovation team’s primary objective was to conduct frequent ongoing market research with a prequalified target audience who could provide behavioral data. Originally, the team wanted to recruit between 800 and 850 people, approximately 550 customers and 280 prospects, to participate in the online panel. The following is a brief Q & A with Wachovia’s project leader, Dan Gilbert.

What drove you to launch this project?

We recognized a need to better understand the small business market; the challenges they faced, what they wanted and what they needed from a financial institution. We wanted to hear the opinions of small businesses, understand their use of financial services channels, and use those insights to develop new products and services to meet their needs.

What was the outcome? Was it successful?

Overall this has been a very successful, very effective project. We’ve been able to make better decisions as a result of this work. We continue to gain insights from this project, and have been improving products and services for our small business customers.

Can you describe your role within Wachovia? How important is market research to the company?

I work in the company’s Insight & Innovation department, which is part of Wachovia’s Marketing division. Insight & Innovation is responsible for providing insight, and really foresight, to senior management. We are proud of the fact that we are a trusted source of information to help drive the strategic direction of the company. The need for the information we provide has become more and more critical in our business; an increase in the rate of adoption of new technology is one example why. So, we need to stay at the forefront of these changes and our work helps the company do that.

What about your relationship with CMB?

CMB was new to me. My colleagues have worked with the firm but this was my first experience. I was aware of their reputation for strong quantitative work, but this project gave me the opportunity to work with them on both quantitative and qualitative projects. I would say the relationship was and is a very good one. I challenged CMB, pushed them at times, and they challenged me as well. It was a very good thing. The give and take allowed us to learn from each other, resulting in a better outcome for me. I really appreciated the way CMB was a true partner in the process, not just a vendor, but a resource for ideas. CMB was flexible and delivered well thought out proposals. They are a valued resource for Wachovia.

Do you have any advice for others who might engage in this type of project?

Yes: be prepared. The panel had our name on it, which was the right thing to do, but it did expose us to a bit more risk. We had to be ready to deal with complaints, service inquiries, and other types of customer service requests because Wachovia’s name was on the door, so to speak. Wachovia is very proud of its reputation for excellent customer service, so the expectations were high, as they should have been. I would also recommend that you have a plan for refreshing the panel membership before you begin. We created a plan later, but the results would have been better had we started that process sooner.