December 01, 2009

Analyst Spotlight: Timing and Listening

Dear Analysts:

These days, the analytics and vendor community communicate to us how important it is to have integrated data, great software, dashboards filled with robust KPIs, and an outstanding testing infrastructure.

Add "timing" to the list.

"Timing" represents your ability to sense when Executives are receptive to key issues. Honestly, there are times when Executives need to hear your message, there are times when Executives want to hear your message, and there's the 80% of the time when Executives are not in a position to listen to or respond to your message.

In order to sense if the timing is right for your message, you need to become good at "listening". Oh, I know you don't want to hear this, your analytics message should be self-evident, it is the Executive that is the Luddite who "doesn't get it". For good for for bad, if you aren't willing to listen, you are not likely to be heard.

Back in the early 1990s, I executed a myriad of multivariate tests. I wrote summarizations of the tests, full of valuable KPIs that thoroughly explained how customers interacted with brands. The documents were circulated to every VP/Director at Lands' End.

For two years, essentially nothing came of my tests or write-ups.

And then, I became aware of a meeting that was going to happen on a Thursday, where Executives were going to talk about how customers interacted with brands. I became aware that very little of my information was going to be used.

I got busy.

I couldn't just get myself (a lowly manager) invited to a meeting with Executives. So I did the next best thing. I worked all weekend, creating an 85 page Powerpoint presentation, summarizing everything I had learned across all of the tests I had analyzed over the past three years. I set up a meeting with the leaders of the Direct Marketing department, hosting the meeting one day prior to the big Executive meeting. At that meeting, I shared my "re-packaged" results.

At the end of that meeting, our department head asked me to present my slides to the Executive team at the Executive meeting the next day.

Now, mind you, for the previous 2-3 years, I had done everything that the analytics vendor community tells you to do. We had an integrated database, we had business intelligence software, we executed multivariate tests designed to optimize the business, we had dashboards and reports and KPIs, we circulated everything to every Executive.

What was missing was timing. By listening to business leaders, I could tell that I had a brief window to "re-package" my information.

I tried the exact same strategy at Eddie Bauer, in 1997, with one notable exception ... I failed to listen to leadership. I created about 60 slides that explained how customers interacted with our brands and channels, set up a big meeting, invited marketing leadership ... and almost nobody showed up. I didn't listen to the various ways that Executives at Eddie Bauer worked. As a result, my timing (which was good) was wasted because I didn't listen.

There are so many ways that timing and listening are combined to yield success. At Nordstrom, our leadership team held quarterly conference calls with the investment community. About three weeks before these calls, I listened carefully to what our leadership team was talking about, then asked my team to query the database for answers to questions that were not being directly asked of my team. About a week before the conference call, I shared my findings with our investor relations director (and my boss). And then I'd listen to the conference call. About 40% of the time, I'd hear a metric that my team generated mentioned in the call.

You can listen all of the time. This is a skill you must become good at. If you listen long enough, you'll develop an intuition for what is important, and this skill will inform the timing that makes magic happen.


  1. Fantastic post Kevin.

    Not sure many folks in the analyst community have learned to be proactive. Or, not sure many companies have the kind of culture that allows analysts to be proactive, it's more of an "analyze this" environment.

    Either way, at some point, if companies want to really "Compete on Analytics", these soft skills need to be enabled.

    The math / reporting is a commodity product; it's the soft skills that really make a difference in performance.

  2. You would know better than anybody!


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