Earlier this year, I wrote a column called "It Takes a Village," describing the different types of talent required to get the most out of measuring your online success - everything from technical skill to visionary support and the many aptitudes in between.
But what if you don't have a broad spectrum of talent in your employ at the moment? Who you gonna call? My most trustworthy answer to almost any question is the same: it depends.
So let's look at what I think of as the "Web metrics consulting pyramid" just so you understand what categories of services are available. Then you can determine which you might want to retain. Let's start at the base of the pyramid.
There are companies that are happy to provide cubicle dwellers who can turn the crank. Don't get me wrong, I am not disparaging these fine folks - their function is crucial. These are the people who confirm that your page tags are in place, that your data is being properly collected, that your reporting systems are in fine fettle, and that the reports are actually and accurately being delivered when and where they are needed.
These people are hard working, detail oriented, and enjoy making sure that all systems are good to go. They are the mechanics in the engine room attending to the well-oiled machine. They know more than you might think as they have to have a full grasp of the inner workings of the different tools as well as the Web properties and Internet functionality you employ. They are necessary and critical but unsung and undervalued.
Somebody has to keep all those worker bees pointed in the right direction ("herding bees?"). Managers are those who can prioritize tasks and keep a team working on the right things at the right times. They deal with the day-to-day administrivia that would stop a worker bee from getting the job done. They protect the worker bees from the machinations of the organization. Managers in turn, are protected from the politics and budgetary woes of the enterprise by project managers.
There is a certain type of person who loves data. They get direct stimulus response to putting two and two together and discovering they've made three. They love interpretation, association, and correlation. They go into paroxysms of joy whenever they unearth causation. If you have one inside your company, treat them very nice because these individuals are out there starting up their own companies.
Why are they so transient? Because this is one of the three characters who can serve you very well from the outside. Because they are not deeply rooted in the culture and history of the company, they are free to ask all of those elephant-in-the-room questions that a good, faithful employee has learned not to ask. They have experience from lots of different clients and, honeybee-like, can bring new and fresh ideas to bear on recalcitrant problems and intractable situations. I recommend bringing in outside analysts on a regular basis and benefiting from cross pollination.
When it's time to execute on a given directive, project managers can lay out the tools, people, and other resources needed to make things happen. They are the communication lubrication between various silos in the organization. Unless you outsource your entire metrics effort, these people are best to have on your payroll. They need to be a pretty permanent part of your infrastructure and your culture. Continuity is key.
Getting a tool or set of measurement tools installed and up to speed is much harder than it looks. There are many outsiders who can offer help in this area. It is a specialty akin to installing heavy machinery on the factory floor. Yes, your people can do it, but the various vendors have implementation specialists on their staffs who do it for a living. There are a host of consulting companies with expertise with various tools that have implemented them for many others and have learned the lessons along the way. They can show you where the pitfalls are without you having to step into them yourself.
A grand plan for getting your organizational arms around online measurement and optimization is great. But then, it needs to be laid out on the table, PERT Charted, Critically Pathed, Gantted, and Time Costed. This takes someone with some experience at seeing the big picture and mapping it onto an organization. These skills can also be brought in on a temporary basis but require a very close relationship with those in your company with intimate knowledge of the available resources and the potential political frictions. It's one thing to say that IT and marketing will share responsibilities for items X and Z and another thing to know whether the CIO and the CMO can be in the same room without a fist fight breaking out.
If you're going to shift the company in a new direction; if you are going to embark on an adventure; if you are going to step up to a better way of doing things, somebody has to help you decide how to get there. Is it faster to go over the mountains or across the lake? Is it safer to compete or cooperate? Is it more economical to buy or build? You will be responsible for the strategy, but this is not something you do on a daily basis. It's wise to bring in more than one - not necessarily at the same time - to make sure you have enough intelligence to chart a prudent course.
These people must come from the outside. They live in a different world from those who have to get the work done on a daily basis. They see further, march to a different drummer, imagine a better future, and embrace change as a given and a "grand good." These people are not the best at running their own companies. They may be perfectly capable and manage to do it anyway, but their attention is off, over the horizon.
You already know who they are. You read their books, articles, and blogs. Invite them for a visit. You just might catch a whiff of what's coming.
All Together Now
And then it will be time to figure out the best path over the horizon, the best way to take that path, the best way to implement the means to get there, the best way to manage the process, and the best way to keep the whole thing operating. You will be able to keep the well-oiled machine working well enough to allow the analysts to deliver insights to those making business decisions.
It takes a village, but that traveling salesman, that specialty construction crew, and that circuit court judge can help you take advantage of the intelligence you gather along the way.
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Jim Sterne is an international consultant focused on measuring the value of the online marketing for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, produces the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and is co-founder and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT