So you want to be a senior analyst: a four-job roadmap

by Jim Cain

Digital Analysts are in high demand, and there really aren’t that many of us–yet. I get asked often by prospective analysts about how someone can advance their career in this industry. I also get asked often by firms looking hire or develop a ‘senior analyst’ what the best steps are.

The breakdown below illustrates the four jobs that I believe an analyst needs to know how to do properly before they can be a ‘senior analyst’. The role of a senior analyst is to be a trusted strategic resource who both uncovers opportunities to leverage data, and informs decision-makers.  In order to do this role properly, you need to have a very solid and diverse skill-set–and I believe that a good senior analyst could do any of the jobs below, because they need all the skills required to do their job.

You might look at this breakdown and think “That’s ridiculous, learning how to do everything on this list would take years, and I don’t even know if I’m capable of all of it.”.

That’s the point, and that’s the reason there are so few senior analysts.

1. Web Analyst: basic tactical skills

  • The first job is the one that most people get stuck on; it’s the glass ceiling for many analysts.  You tend to be the person who sits somewhere between marketing and IT, and anyone can email you a question or drop by your desk to ask for data. Most of your time is spend clicking through analytics tools and powering Excel models. Everyone has to go through this phase–getting solid on your fundamentals is critical to success–and at some point you should have gotten so tired of being a high-volume, low-value analyst that you start to develop the skills for Job 2.Tooling expertise (every part of the UI)
  • Basic implementation expertise (how deployments work)
  • Advanced Microsoft Excel chops (design and data wizardry)
  • Dashboard Design
  • Ad-hoc reporting, on things that have happened in the past
  • Reports to: Everyone, but mostly manager-level information requests

2. Salesperson: basic strategic skills

  • A good senior analyst knows the critical importance of helping someone formulate the right question, and then properly explaining the answer. They don’t start doing work in response to an email, or a new task in a ticketing system. They reach out directly to the stakeholder with the ask to find out what problem they are trying to solve, what they would do with the answer and how they would like it presented. These reports get read, the drive the business forward, and they are actually easier to do because you are much more likely to get it right on the first pass. Strong communication and negotiation skills are what separate web analysts from budding senior analysts. Sooner or later though, a web analyst with sales skills is going to be inundated with complex information asks that can’t be solved with a spreadsheet and an analytics tool. At this point, you either learn how to be a project manager or you start to fail.Requirements solicitation
  • Analysis delivery, written and verbal
  • Stakeholder negotiation (creating alignment, planning delivery dates)
  • Ad-hoc reporting, on things that could happen in the future
  • Attribution and testing
  • Reports to: Still everyone, but mostly to director-level decision-makers

3. Project Manager: tactical skills

  • Breaking work into pieces (goals, milestones and tasks)
  • Aligning complex work to immediate business needs
  • Knowing how long things should take
  • Distributing and delegating tasks
  • Advanced implementation skills – could deploy tools personally if required.
  • Finance alignment and omni-channel experience
  • Reports to: Director-level, with some asks from the VPs

Proper project management is a deceptively hard thing to learn, and a good senior analyst is great at it.  Taking a complex ask from within the business, breaking it down into tasks and times (or gates and dates) and delivering high value on time is an entirely new discipline of work, and is required in order to win. Delegating work and running a distributed group of task owners is also needed to get proper work done. At this point most senior analysts are so involved in the DNA of the marketing and sales organization that they start getting asked strategic questions about the business.

4. Director of Marketing: advanced strategic skills

  • Vendor selection and accountability planning
  • Campaign planning
  • Forecasting and budgeting
  • Omni-channel analytics and basic BI
  • Reports to: VP/CMO/CEO

In order to really do good analysis on marketing, you need to be an accomplished marketer. Most food critics are good cooks, most hockey commentators know how to skate, and most marketing analysts know how to plan a campaign. At this level you are baked into the decision-making process for the business, and have a seat at the table with the executives.

Web analysts get asked questions like “How many people did we get on the site from email yesterday?”  Senior analysts get asked “Should we build a mobile site or move into responsive design?”.

The questions are fascinating, the money is good, and the path to get there is hard.


Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

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