Beg. Borrow. Steal. Whine. Cajole. Learn SQL?

In my last column, I vented about the frustrating types who stand in our way when we try to apply our customer data to make better business decisions. They’re affectionately referred to as “Brick Walls.”

By now, I hope you’ve identified the Brick Walls you want to tackle and have pondered possible motivations for their behavior. How do you get around them? Let’s consider a few strategies proven to yield results over time.

Do It Yourself

The most overlooked, but this strategy is a personal favorite. It works with Gatekeepers and Skeptics and can prove a Know-It-All wrong.

We forget that just because something can be done easily through technology doesn’t mean it can’t be done the old-fashioned way. Roll up your sleeves and dig for what you need to prove your point, even if you must sift through printouts or raw data to get it.

I was struggling to create a few key reports at one company. A Gatekeeper refused to compile them and a Skeptic refused to make the reports a priority. So I requested an hour’s worth of raw transactions from our database, sorted chronologically by customer, and pored through them myself. A few tedious hours later, I’d identified a simple change in methodology that would significantly increase our purchase ratio. I got those reports.

Pick Your Battles

Start small. Choose a project in which you have the biggest opportunity for success and focus on it. A small victory may open the eyes of your Brick Wall and smooth the path for larger triumphs.

A former employer saw no reason to evaluate the results of email marketing efforts. I suspected our click-through rates were less than optimal but couldn’t get past a Know-It-All who was certain his emails left no room for improvement. The data wasn’t even captured. My arguments fell on deaf ears. Resorting to groveling, I was allowed to test varying subject headers. I enlisted the help of an ally on the tech side to capture data on a one-time basis. The difference in response rate (and revenue) by subject header spoke for itself. It made a big difference in our approach to email marketing.

Be Specific

The more specific you make arguments on behalf of the benefits of customer data, the more likely your success. I doubt your Brick Wall will respond to repeated lectures on the need for analyzing customers. Offer concrete examples of the data you need and why. General: “I bet our customer data could help us identify new revenue opportunities.” Specific: “If we had access to product data by customer, we could send an email before month’s end to customers who have never tried Product XYZ and include a promotion code for $10 off their first purchase.”

Name Drop

This strategy is fairly simple. Seek out concrete examples of what other companies (and competitors) have done, then apply the “Be Specific” strategy to their experience.

A little Web research may provide fresh ammunition. Press releases, conference transcripts, ClickZ articles — these can all reveal bits of marketing strategy reliant on customer data analysis.

Sound far-fetched? Years ago, I could not convince my Skeptic it would be beneficial to evaluate AOL customer behavior separately from other customers. A marketer from a well-known Web-based business spoke at a ClickZ conference (way before I started writing here!) and gave specific statistics on the behavior of AOL users versus others. I brought direct quotes and statistics to my Brick Wall and name-dropped the source. My argument had added credibility, and I was granted resources needed to monitor what’s now considered a common customer attribute.

Learn the Technology

Gatekeepers are notorious for forming opinions about whether the value of data is worth the effort to collect it. Helpless marketers often accept the Gatekeeper’s decision without complaint. The argument is usually rendered in highly technical terms to prove the task is too daunting.

Technology is not rocket science. We humble marketers are quite capable of understanding it. I went home and cried the day my Gatekeeper told me I could have all the customer data I wanted if I would learn to write Microsoft SQL code. I’d been on the job three weeks and found little data was available. There were no resources available, either.

So I learned to write Microsoft SQL code and held the Gatekeeper to his word. I ended up with my own server and unlimited access to any and all customer data.

I’m not suggesting you all go out and learn a programming language. But a little knowledge goes a long way toward deciphering and invalidating Gatekeeper objections.


At some point, you may realize you’ll never be able to get around a Brick Wall. It can be fun to have a job where you spend vast amounts of marketing dollars with no thought of how to optimize return. Unfortunately, it’s not a career-enhancing strategy. Sometimes, the only way around the Brick Wall is out the door.

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