Earning the Right to be Awesome: The hardest part of web analytics

By Jim Cain March 7, 2011

Last Friday, a photographer came by the office to take a professional head shot of me:  I need to send it to eMetrics for my speakers bio.  It turns out the cartoon version from our ‘About Us’ page was not adequate, but I digress.

I will be speaking on a panel at eMetrics Toronto with some very impressive members of the measurement community about one of my favourite topics:

Getting the Organization to Care: Advocating for Analytics

That’s a heck of a title, and it succinctly defines what I think might be the biggest challenge in analytics of any kind, web or otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of issues around actually doing the work that need to be dealt with in the near term: attribution, multi-channel analytics, alignment with Business Intelligence, and ethical data capture are all on that list.

But what’s the point of a great report if no one reads it?

This is why I am so excited about this topic, and I know it resonates with most practitioners of web analytics.  If you put more than three web analysts in a room, the discussions will start around the complexities of measurement and best practices, and will within half an hour devolve to telling war stories about amazing work that was never read/shared/adopted by the organizations we work for.

So why is the issue of ‘caring’ such a big deal? To me there are two main reasons:

  • Perceived Value:  Web analysts in 2011 are highly trained business people who build a framework of data to help understand and move an organization forward.  Most of the time however, people higher up the org chart still think of the web analysts as software developers who squeeze numbers out of log files.  Why on earth would a Vice President read a formal report on business performance and strategy that was written by a tech support person?  Couple this with the fact that in a lot of cases the data being analyzed is ‘free’ from tools like Google Analytics, and you end up with a lot of senior people who are indifferent about web analysis.
  • Information vs Intuition: To become a successful business owner/executive, you have to spend years of hard work and trial and error.  All this experience allows a decision-maker to ‘intuitively’ make the right choices on the direction of the organization.  Also, very few companies have good measurement systems in place for anything, let alone sales and marketing.  And when they do have reports, they are quarterly, maybe monthly, but never real time. Having insights and decision support thrust on you from a relatively junior person can be perceived as pretty offensive, especially when that person can literally build a performance report about your work – every hour if they wanted to.

So, to recap thus far: getting people to care about your analysis is often harder than doing the actual work.  The reason people don’t care is because the business value of web analysis runs contrary to the historical intuition/experience based structure of most organizations, and because web analysis is perceived as data from tech support.

A quick note about why getting people to ‘care’ is so important to me.  Napkyn is a managed service provider – we act as a virtual web analysis team to the companies we work with.  If people don’t read the reports every week and see value in them, we get fired.  ‘Nuff said.

When Napkyn first started out a few years ago, we lost a few clients because we weren’t able to make them care about all the work we were doing. But then we had a Eureka moment, which has turned into something of a mantra at the office:

“Earn the right to be awesome.”

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value." - Albert EinsteinUsing someone else’s analysis to make decisions requires you to both trust and see value in the analyst.  You need to earn the right to have an executive trust you and find you valuable — it isn’t tied to your salary, or your degree, or your title.

Here are two things to be aware of and two things to do to increase your perceived value.  Try these two things out to start earning the right to be awesome.

Things to be aware of

  1. Acting on your analysis requires your boss to stick his/her neck out:  Analysts tend to have rock solid belief that they are right (and this is a good trait).  Be aware though that if you make a recommendation that doesn’t work – it’s not your job on the line.  If your analysis includes recommendations that if they work could get your boss a huge promotion, and if they don’t work could get her fired – you’re doing it wrong (at least at first).
  2. The speed and language of digital isn’t spoken by the organization:  Just because you are used to seeing the results of an A/B test 4 hours after it goes live doesn’t mean your boss is.  The near time nature of digital data is totally overwhelming to people who don’t work in it all day.  The same thing goes to language.  If you have to teach non-analysts terms like bounce rates, eVars and event tracking so they can understand your work, you’re doing it wrong.

Things to do

  1. Unplanned, bite-sized insights:  Many analysts (perhaps even businesspeople in general), try to show value through volume.  This can be seen in the sheer size of the spreadsheets that get sent out.  Newsflash – no one looks at those, and analysis isn’t about the size of your spreadsheet, it’s how you use it.  Try this instead – once a week, send a one pager to your boss about something both interesting/statistically significant/worth money.  Don’t include any data other than a few key metrics and graphs – make the emphasis on the one or two paragraphs. Within a few weeks you might start getting great questions from your boss about the data, and you have a much better chance of being brought into his/her decision-making process.
  2. Find out what your boss cares about.  Report on that.:  Let’s say that you work  in a marketing group  for an online retailer where 80% of the budget is on paid search traffic.  Don’t spend a lot of time on social media, or giving your two cents on design.  Build some performance metrics around ‘weekly revenue’ and ‘Paid Search ROI’.  Send a one page overview on performance trends and insights for these two metrics every week.  Periodically ask if there is anything else that could be added.  Repeat until you become the ‘single point of truth’ for digital marketing.

You show me ten senior web analysts, and I will show you at least 9 people who feel undervalued at work.  The soft skills around getting people to care and use your work are as important as the hard skills of implementing, managing and interpreting data — and I can’t wait to hear what people have to say on the topic in Toronto.

Cheers,
Jim

PS.  If you want to learn more tricks about increasing the internal buy-in for your analytics work, buy a few books on solution selling.  All the steps required to manage a complex sale work just as well to build your internal culture of analysis.

One Response to “Earning the Right to be Awesome: The hardest part of web analytics”

  1. peter Says:

    excellent article. buy-in is the most important step to viability.

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