I have had a pretty long career in analytics, at least long in comparison to other analysts (+13 years). I would not have been in this industry for as long as I have if there weren’t aspects about it that I enjoy. I could probably spend multiple posts on the positive aspects associated with working in the analytics industry (demand, teamwork, pay, etc.). However, with every yin, there is a yang. In this post I will discuss 4 things that analysts don’t learn from courses and books on analytics. I’m not advocating that traditional education can’t help an analyst learn new techniques, but there are some skills that can only be mastered by experience.
In my opinion, the first 30-90 days can make or break a role. A strong start to a role can be the difference between a great engagement with a company and an eventual early exit. Make sure that you get sponsorship in the early days of the role. I would define sponsorship as an endorsement or a close relationship with a senior employee (your manager does not count). This could be a simple as meeting with a senior employee, discussing the issues surrounding his/her job and how your skill set can assist them. This can be a tough task especially for an introvert like myself, but the payoff can be tremendous. In most cases, these individuals have no idea that the data or the skill that can help them exists. Their lives don’t revolve around SQL and statistics, but the analyst’s life does. Grab a cup of coffee, lunch, a shot of whiskey, whatever you have to cultivate those relationships.
Analytics is a Mix of Science and Art
I have learned over the years that analytics is a mix of science and art. There are a number of technical disciplines that must be learned. The usual suspects that most programs encourage analysts to learn are programming (SQL, R, Python) and statistics. However, the science that they don’t expect you to learn is…psychology. I was fortunate enough to start my career at an organization that understood that psychology was integral to creating and optimizing the web experience. Web content, be it ecommerce websites, institutional websites or blogs, have a main goal in mind. That goal is to educate the visitor and to convince them that their site, their service or their product has something that they lack. There is no better way to convince them of this than having a deep understanding of their wants, needs and behavior. This type of thinking has been important to my career and how I break down analytical problems, especially problems dealing with web analytics. The art comes in how you solve the issues once you’ve broken them down. The decisions that are made in creating optimizations, designs and new features. The analyst must have a big part of those decisions, because the analyst has the best understanding of the underlying data.
An Analyst’s Ears are Their Biggest Assets
Earlier in the post, I detailed how finding a sponsor is one of the most important things for an analyst to do in their first days of a role. The main point is that, if the analyst isn’t communicating with other individuals in the organization, they will get lost in anonymity. Anonymity is not the place for an analyst. Analysts should field questions, analysts should be considered experts and (most of all) analysts should be relied upon to help steer the strategy of the organization. With that said, the analyst should take the initiative in understanding the issues (both current and potential) of the organization. This is done by keeping an ear out on the concerns of the individuals of the organization. This is done by attending meetings planned for groups that have no connection with analytics like marketing, advertising, operations and executives. Practice active listening when speaking with colleagues. Only after their concerns are understood can the analyst really become an asset to an organization.
Analysts Must Have Thick Skin and Unwavering Honesty
It is no secret that some of the most productive people in a number of different industries have the skill of effectively saying “no”. These individuals understand that they cannot perform at their best if they are being bogged down by inefficient processes and unfruitful tasks. With that said, analysts must take this concept a bit further. Analysts must understand that they must be honest with their colleagues, even when they must give bad news. This is especially true for analysts that work in marketing.
eMarketer estimates that digital ad spending will hit $172 Billion (with a “B”) by 2021 in the U.S. In other words, a lot of money gets spent on advertising in the U.S. with a majority going to Google and Facebook. Almost every marketing organization is going to pay some part of this spending. With that, comes added scrutiny of marketing budgets and performance. The marketing analyst is on the front line in answering questions of how well budgets are spent. They have the visibility on spend of marketing campaigns and the skill to analyze their performance. That can make their job very hard as they will sometimes have to give bad news on the performance of a campaign(s). The best analysts are honest on the performance of marketing campaigns while giving good advice on corrective measures. They stay in front of issues and are ready to answer questions before they are asked. They know when a campaign is going sideways before their colleagues.
I hope this helps in understanding some of the lesser known skills of being an effective analyst. It can be a challenging career, but one with numerous benefits!