December 08, 2008

An Open Letter To The Web Analytics Community

Dear Web Analytics Experts:

I have a soft spot in my heart for you, given that your skills are more technical than the average marketer, more practical than the average IT staffer, and more focused than the typical database marketer / SAS programmer.

But I need your help.

My clients are looking for a thorough, comprehensive analysis of customer behavior. And they don't always feel like web analytics provides this view of customer behavior for them. Since the vast majority of my clients don't have a SAS programmer to help integrate data like the big companies have, they heavily depend upon the web analytics expert for support. These folks need you to give them accurate answers. They don't feel like they are getting accurate answers.

Let me give you an example.

One client felt that shopping cart abandonment was a major problem. The VCBs (vendors / consultants / bloggers) suggested that their business would dramatically improve if they made key changes to the website. With a 3% conversion rate and a 40% shopping cart abandonment rate as measured by the web analytics expert, the VCBs appeared to have a case.

When the SAS programmer combined site visits over the course of a month, a very different story appeared. It turns out that the same customer visited the website multiple times per month. The monthly conversion rate was actually twenty percent (20%), not the 3% rate with 40% abandonment that the VCBs clobbered leadership about.

This doesn't mean that there isn't improvement that can be offered by the VCBs, because they certainly can help.

What this does mean is that the web analytics expert failed to provide a realistic view of customer behavior. The web analytics expert used the software given to her, and the database structure offered by the web analytics vendor, to do the best job she could do.

In order for the web analytics community to move from a valued team member to a trusted advisor, change has to happen in the industry.

  • Web Analytics vendors can better integrate with offline systems, providing better data integration across channels. The big web analytics vendors are already doing this --- one major web analytics vendor called me numerous times, picked my brain for data integration ideas, then launched a product without attribution or payment. I won't make that mistake again.
  • Your company may not want to pay one of the big web analytics vendors to integrate data. This puts the responsibility on your shoulders. You will have to work to integrate data, either partnering with your SAS/SPSS expert, our BI expert, or a savvy IT staffer willing to help.
  • You will have to provide a vision for where this goes. This means you will transform yourself from being the person who tells a merchant that customers had a 4.7% conversion rate on her landing page to being the person who makes a business case for a $500,000 data integration project. You will have to become good at calculating profit. You will have to become good at convincing management why your vision is important --- how will the executive benefit from your vision?
  • You will have to become political. Yup, this sounds hokey. Being political does not mean you're going to suck up to executives, driving their children to daycare. Being political means that you'll get to know your executives. You'll learn what they need. And then you will craft a story that blends their challenges with your vision, providing a compelling narrative that the executive takes on as her own vision.
  • Part of this learning process will include understanding all channels. I repeatedly run into bright web analytics individuals who have not been given the opportunity to integrate with other staffers in the company. The web analytics expert in 2009 will actively learn about all channels, and will get to know people who are "not like us". And the web analytics expert will take this responsibility upon herself, not waiting for her boss to provide the experience for her.
  • You will create your own data marts. The SAS/SPSS experts have been doing this for decades. If something doesn't exist, the SAS/SPSS experts "make it happen". They get no credit for this, and they get blasted by the IT people when it all has to be integrated together, but they come up with answers. You need to inherit this process. Think what you could do if you created your own data mart of social media activity across your customer base?
  • You will stop doing what Google tells you to do. Many companies cannot afford tools from the big vendors, so they work with Google Analytics. An entire generation of web analytics experts are being trained by Google to analyze business exactly the way Google wants your business to be analyzed. You will migrate beyond Google in the upcoming year. You will start looking at your business the way your CEO or CMO wants to look at the business.
To quote a former Presidential candidate, "my friends", you have a huge opportunity in front of you in 2009. I strongly believe that ownership of customer understanding is yours for the taking. The BI folks, who aren't as good as the SAS/SPSS or Web Analytics folks at analyzing data (but are really good at organizing data), are actively working to integrate corporate data for you. Once they accomplish this, they will take ownership of your area of responsibility.

I think you are ready to take ownership of corporate analytics. Always remember that the secret to your success is not in the area of KPIs or measurement. Your success is tied into your ability to link together all data within the company, to be able to tell a compelling story, and to be able to have executives trust you enough to make key business decisions based on your recommendations.


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