3.5 things that keep you from finding good web analytics people

Probably the most frequently asked question I get is, “Evan, how can I tell a good analyst from a bad one?  What should I be looking for in a resume?”

Of course, the astute analyst will immediately recognize that those are two questions.  Well done!

Usually, my answer is a simple one: “You probably already have everything you need; you just need to start asking more / better questions of the people you have.”  The truth is that most businesses have already done a pretty decent job of hiring, believe it or not.  People who know me well will probably be surprised to hear me say that, but it’s true.

So what’s the problem?  Well, cue the first the three “things”:

Thing 1: Good web analytics people are carefully disguised as . . . your own employees!

What?  Yes, it’s true.  Good web analytics practitioners are all over the place.  They’re designers.  They’re usability people.  They’re your product managers, and even sometimes your IT people.  What these people don’t have, though, is your trust, the right tools and training, and an environment where they can collaborate and learn.

It’s very important that a large organization acknowledges the value of a healthy cat fight, but demands that each fighter does their homework.  Most everyone has an opinion on how things should be done, and a lot of those opinions are valid, but nobody is going to concede or collaborate if there isn’t some degree of data involved, and that’s where analytics comes in.  See, these people are yearning to be part-time analysts, and some of them full-time, if it wasn’t seen as a reporting job.

So what do you do? First, when people say, “I’d like to learn more about . . .,” make sure your gut reaction is not asking them why they want to learn something new, or even worse, why they don’t know this stuff already.  They’re asking you how to be a better employee, so don’t be a jerk – help them help you, Jerry Maguire style.

Thing 2: People with web analytics “experience” are most often not your most promising web analytics candidates.

This is the part where you start wondering if there is any good news.  It’s coming, I promise.  But first, let’s keep chipping away at reality.

The sad truth is this: very, very few businesses have figured out how to take advantage of web analytics in their organization.  They have competitive intelligence people, business intelligence people, product strategists, upper management, designers, and more, all telling the business, “Here’s what we need to do differently.”  Add to that the fact that most of these people are using different tools to measure and justify what they’re dreaming up, so they all get different numbers for the same thing, which makes the executives not trust any of it, or side with some numbers and not with others, based on which vendor paid for the more expensive steak dinner.

Yes, we know it’s silly, but it’s true.  No amount of us analysts saying, “That’s just silly logic,” is going to change this behavior, so it’s incumbent on us to figure out another, more successful way of convincing management that even though the numbers aren’t the “right”, they’re all “correct.”

The result of this organizational difficulty is that most people who have been hired as analysts are almost exclusively a source of reporting for a business.  While the analysts may add some text and reasoning to the report that they’re delivering, that only makes it a report with text, not an analytics deliverable.  These analysts, although they may indeed be talented, have been so stymied by their previous organization that they are too pacifist to argue their valid points and force your company to accommodate their valuable input.

You need fighters, and most current analysts have been too badly beaten: they’re scared dogs.

Thing 3: Your interview process prevents you from hiring good people.

Looking under the category of “hard to change,” we’ll see this one at the top of the list.  Here’s the deal: the people who are going to be interviewing  for the best web analytics person out there are going to be threatened as hell when they actually find one.  Let’s take Avinash Kaushik, for example.  He might be the nicest guy on the planet, but people know that if they hire him, things are going to change and that scares the hell out of them.

Things like peoples’ job performance, accuracy of insights, flaws in designs, poor calls to action, poor product planning and / or research will be revealed.  Gaps in knowledge will be exposed where people should be experts.  Flawed management techniques and approaches toward resolving conflict will be called to the mattresses.  Those who have decided to go with anecdotal choice A over anecdotal choice B will be asked why they didn’t consider data-driven choice C.

It’s important that the people doing the interviewing and hiring are able to get their own fears and egos out of the way.  I think that most people can easily identify the people who are intimidated or defensive, so just make sure that you involve some good people who are more interested in company success than personal protection, especially if they are junior to the true decision makers – they will quickly identify people they can learn from and want them nearby.

Thing 3.5: Your idea of an appropriate salary is way out of whack.

What fraction of a percent does your head web analytics guy have to move the conversion rate to pay for his whole salary in two weeks?  If you were to really Moses this one and part the seas for a talented person to point out flaws and implement recommendations, what would a 0.5% increase in conversion rate mean to your business – or even a 0.3% or o.1%?  If you’re a major (or even a middle-tier) online retailer, would this not equal hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional revenue per month?

So just think about it – if you want to put someone behind the steering wheel of your company’s data-driven decision making, how much should you be paying that person?  If you can get past what “analyst” means in the web space and start thinking of what “analyst” means in the financial space, for example, consider the potential impact that someone can have when they are highly effective at pointing out barriers to conversion AND architecting specific, implementable solutions.  I can tell you, it’s enormous.

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