How to improve "commercial insight / business intuition" on the job?

business concepts
New answer on Oct 31, 2022
6 Answers
Anonymous A asked on Oct 29, 2022

My boss told me that I need to improve my “commercial insight” - coming up with the “so what" / key implication. He mentioned that sometimes I come up with “facts” without the “so what”. 

The question I'd like to seek advice is - how to improve commerical insight (i.e. being able to come up with implications that addresses client's core problem, instead of doing a lot of “fact dump”)?

I find this challenging compared to case intervew. In case interview, you get rigid questions and data, whereas in real would you need to decide what / where / how to analyze data, and interpret / synthesize result. 

Any tips would be great!

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Content Creator
replied on Oct 30, 2022
BCG Project Leader | Former Bain, AlixPartner, and PE | INSEAD MBA | GMAT 780

Consulting is quite brutal at the beginning.

My experience is that many young or newly hired professionals do not have the top-down mindset activated. 
To be more top-down, is necessary to be able to think backward. 

You always should start thinking about the objective. Then you should ask yourself: what has to happen to achieve my objective? Those hurdles or needs are your sub-problem or your drivers. 

Whatever you state has to be linked to those sub-problems/drivers and to the end goal.
Facts are just your backup, not your starting point, otherwise, you risk boiling the ocean.


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replied on Oct 29, 2022
Ex-Mckinsey (analyst->associate->manager) and now in tech (Bytedance) + Part time interview coach and mentor

Hi there, I would recommend:


1- Understanding the core business objectives first

Don't jump into calculations if you have not first understood what you're solving for. Is the company unprofitable and you're trying to identify why? Are you trying to analyze whether entering a market is profitable? etc.

One of the reasons why people fail to derive the so what is because they don't really understand what the broader goal of their analysis is.


2- Run the right calculations, based on these objectives

Another reason why some candidates get confused is that they run useless math. If you're searching for profits, you should care about revenues and costs. 

As long as you have the objectives clear from the start and you only run calculations related to these, you'll easily be able to derive numbers that answer the problem statement. That answer is the so what.



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Content Creator
replied on Oct 30, 2022
Ex McKinsey EM & interviewer (5 yrs) USA & UK| Coached / interviewed 300 +|Free 15 min intro| Stanford MBA|Non-trad

I well remember when this is the feedback that I received on a regular basis - it is very hard for new consultants to both do the analysis and get to the insights that you need. So the first thing is that you are not alone!

My main advice is every time you do a bit of analysis think ‘so what’ and try to put yourself into the position that the client is and think about what they would think looking at the analysis. Try to then lead presenting your analysis (either to your manager or in your slides) with those insights. e.g., 'this analysis suggests that the client needs to shift their focus from fixed costs' rather than ‘fixed costs are in line with competitors’. 

Good luck!

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Content Creator
replied on Oct 31, 2022
#1 McKinsey Coach by rating & recommendation rate

Hi there, 

First of all, it's totally normal to feel this way. The complexity of real case scenarios is immensely higher than that of casing and starting to generate deep insights about the client and the market is the jump that you need to make to go from Business Analyst to Associate. 

Aside from giving it time, which is an obvious one, there are a couple of other things you can do:

  1. Be clear on what is the question that you want to answer. Clarifying the question is half the job done. If you have a good question that manages to isolate the problem and that is measurable, the insights will naturally come to you as you're analysing the data. Just make sure to not lose yourself in the data and instead always come back to what the question is about. 
  2. Force yourself to generate hypotheses by asking yourself questions. It's easy to get comfortable and just stare at the pretty numbers and graphs. Instead, always take the opportunity to go beyond that and understand what they tell you about the client and the market in which they operate. If you're not experienced with these things, try to do it on the pre-read from presentations, prepare a few insights and have them ready for when you're in the actual meeting. 
  3. Shadow others. Listen to others when they provide interpretations of data and if you find them particularly good at it, ask for their advice on how they do it. Some senior colleagues would even be willing to take time to coach you on it. 
  4. Get deeper knowledge on a particular topic or industry. The more knowledge you accumulate about a particular topic, either by doing more projects in that area or just reading about it, the easier it will be to come up with these insights. This is particularly important in the beginning when you've just started as a consultant and have little to offer in terms of both skills and knowledge.



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Content Creator
replied on Oct 30, 2022
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

Welcome to consulting!

Ultimately, you need to learn from your peers and your boss. A simple Q&A isn't really going to suffice here…for most people this takes a year+ on the job to really learn this. Again, keep pushing yourself, absorbing everything around you, asking questions, etc.

Another option is to hire a coach. For example, I actively/currently advise consultants at MBB in their day-to-day (helping them framework projects, figure out next steps, etc.). This would greatly accelerate your learning!

Always ask yourself why. Why does this data/info matter? What is our objective and how does this fit. Lean into the data by leveraging the project framework.

Read section 1 & 2 for some “reverse engineering” of your question:


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replied on Oct 31, 2022
Seasoned project leader with 7+ years of consulting and recruiting experience in USA and Europe

Good feedback so far. I would just like to add that your analyses should always be hypothesis driven - just like your case interview was (most likely). 

It's easy to get lost in a pile of data, slice and dice it three ways from Sunday and then looking at a bunch of parameters that lack the “so what”. 

Do you know what your client's key problem is? Can you make a list of the factors that might cause or contribute to your client's problem? Then derive a list of hypotheses as to what might be causing the problem and run your analyses to prove or disprove these hypotheses. What data do you need in order to test the hypotheses? Start with the data that you have readily available.

Then you at least make sure that as a result of your analysis, you can rule out things that don't matter and narrow down those aspects that matter more. From the latter subset, you can look at what the implications on your client's business will be when parameters change. Who controls these parameters? What is needed for them to change? How do they need to change to have a beneficial impact on the client? etc.

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Maikol gave the best answer


Content Creator
BCG Project Leader | Former Bain, AlixPartner, and PE | INSEAD MBA | GMAT 780
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