Do Your Analytics Make Any Difference?

Sometimes it can feel that getting value from analytics can be a bit like a weight-loss program (well, mine at least); you can get some good results quite quickly but then you hit a wall and it can be a struggle to keep going. Initial enthusiasm gives way at some point to the dawning realization that it’s getting harder and harder to move the needle.

This type of experience can be typical where the drive to create analytical capabilities for the business comes from the “bottom up” rather than from the “top down,” i.e. in circumstances where the analytical capability is perhaps being developed in isolation to the context of the rest of the business. Quick wins can be made and low-hanging fruit can be plucked, but after a while the marginal effort required for the same amount of gain gets harder and harder. At that point something needs to change. My own experience from back in the dot-com days is a good example.

Full of Enthusiasm

I joined the business to set up the analytics function, reporting to the chief executive (CEO). The CEO’s brief to me was clear and straight forward. “Neil,” he said, “we’re flying blind here. I want you to turn on the lights.” It was a great brief. I had a real opportunity to effect some change, it was essentially a green field site for analytics. The existing Web analytics capability was basic and rudimentary (even by the standards of the time), the customer database was a combination of Excel and Access, and there was no customer insight in the business. The business was doing OK, riding the dot-com wave, but it was, as the boss used to say, “profit by surprise.”

I set off like a man on a mission. With the CEO’s support I was able to start to bring in the analytical technologies and resources that I thought were needed. We brought in a new Web analytics technology. We developed a bespoke transactional and customer data warehouse in Oracle and put a business intelligence layer on top of that to give daily reporting. This all took time but it got to the point where I was able to start delivering analytics to the business. There were indeed the quick wins as we found issues with the customer journey and the commerce platform we were using. In fact, most of the quick wins were product-related but where I was struggling to make an impact was in the marketing side of things, an area where we were spending significant sums of money.

Hitting a Wall

The challenge I was facing was this: whilst the CEO had a vision about what analytics could do for the business, his enthusiasm wasn’t necessarily shared by other members of the senior team. It wasn’t that they were particularly “anti” what I was trying to do, it was just that they were a mission themselves and were focused on other things, like spending the marketing budget. My suspicion was that there were plenty of opportunities for campaign optimization but I didn’t have the mandate, support, or all the data I needed to dig into it properly. I realized that I was pushing at, what felt like, a closed door. Something needed to change. I needed to find an open door, otherwise I was in danger of going out of business.

Finding a Way Round

Luckily I found one in the form of one of the managers in one of the divisions. He was struggling to put together a business case for a partner deal he was trying to develop and he wanted to know if I could help. I had a box of new toys that I wanted to play with and so naturally I was keen to help! Working with this guy, I learned more about the mechanics of the business and therefore was in a better position to understand how I could help. The manager got the data and the analysis he needed to help secure the deal and at the same time developed an understanding of how good analytics could help him develop his business. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.

Importantly for me, though, I had an advocate and a marketing-related case study. This is what I needed to bridge the gap between the aspiration and vision of the CEO and the pragmatic realities of operations on the ground. The CEO didn’t need convincing about the potential benefits of analytics but the rest of the organization was further behind on the learning curve. Having that advocate and that case study were important to me in terms of the one thing that all analysts sometimes struggle with: effecting change.

Analytics can only effect change when the rest of the business buys into the notion. That “buy-in” may come from the top, but as I found out in my experience, it often needs more than that. Successful analytics is as much about “hearts and minds” as it is about databases and spreadsheets.

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