Why You Probably Don’t Need Analytics Training

If you’re a marketer and you’re thinking that the solution to your analytics troubles is a dose of training, think again.

Training won’t hurt, of course — unless you think you’ve got analytics knocked after a few sessions with an expert. But most likely training won’t get you very far down the road to solving your problems, either.

Not because you’re not smart or not good at what you do.

More likely it’s because you have underestimated how difficult it is to get analytics “right.”

And because by definition, if training is what you think you need, then you’re very likely a professional at something else. Can someone else — a digital analytics expert, let’s say — take a few hours of training and do what you do? Chances are they cannot.

Training as a Code Word

I’ve seen a number of cases where marketers begin a conversation about fixing an analytics ague with a request for “training.” I typically assume that what they are trying to say is, “things here are a mess and we’ve got to start somewhere” – and very often, “training” is the only thing that comes to mind. This can be attributed at least partly to the fact the prospective trainee really doesn’t know where the real problems are and cannot begin to articulate the real need.

It may also be that it’s been made clear to the marketer that the company has no particular taste for hiring consultants to do stuff that “should be done internally.” Which is a little bit like suggesting that lawyering should not be outsourced — pick up a book about case law and study! If it sounds a bit silly, perhaps that because it is a bit silly.

I am not going to say analytics is as convoluted as law, but it isn’t anything like picking apples on a fine autumn day, either.

Analytics is hard. It occupies the minds of seasoned professionals all the live-long day and sometimes they cannot even get it right. Large organizations have been known to falter in their attempts to maintain currency and accuracy in analytics even after concerted efforts to get beyond the basics. Almost every analytics professional has a wagonload of war stories about “Big Analytics Messes.” As many will have tales to tell of “Inability to Gain Insight From Data” even at the largest and most sophisticated of outfits.

In this context, “training” is code for “some kind of help — any kind of help.”

Misconception and Missed Opportunity

Recently I encountered a client who kicked off a phone call by saying they needed “a few hours of training.” Then, having signed up for a customized training program, they took their first lesson. It was supposed to last three hours. It lasted 45 minutes.

The reason they cut it short was because (wisely I believe) they became aware rather immediately that there was far more to understand than could possibly be accounted for in a few — or even a bunch of — training sessions. The next thing they asked for was a proposal for us to solve the problem with consulting hours.

Things might have gone more smoothly if my team had understood how little this client really knew; and how that substantial lack of perspective would affect their ability to understand what was needed. To me, it points out that analytics professionals often need to get away from their own jargon and do a little more listening than they might be used to.

Part of the solution our team designed would involve (as does nearly every analytics solution) “tagging.” Which means placing code into the HTML of the pages that need tracking. While this is a bedrock technology in analytics, it certainly is not common knowledge. And what is perhaps even less common is an understanding of who needs to get involved in order to make it happen (for instance, the client’s internal developers).

Our team submitted a specification for tagging and another for reporting. All seemed to go well and smoothly until it came time to take a first look at the data. And when our team looked, there was no data. And when we looked further, we saw that the tagging had not been placed on the pages — which meant no data could be collected and no reporting could be accomplished.

The project only got worse after that, and neither side came away happy.

OK, Maybe You Do Need Training.

Would this project have gone better if the client had been better informed about the basics? Certainly. Did they “know what they did not know”? No, they did not, and most folks do not, either. Should we have offered them training to get them familiar with certain terms and configurations that would weigh on the success of the project? In retrospect, perhaps.

So, maybe the marketer does need training. But not so much about “how to do it.” More likely the training should focus on the broader concepts that underpin the entire analytics endeavor. Therefore, if you think the answer to your analytics problem is a dose of training, you may not be as wrong as all that. It may be that the kind of training you think you want is not the kind you need.

And remember — much as you would not have a newbie do your job, try not to position yourself as a newbie trying to do someone else’s while at the same time expecting much in the way of results.

Analytics is hard, kind of like building a house. You don’t want to live in the one you “built yourself.”

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