Tips for Hiring and Developing Analytics Rock Stars

By Brian Suh posted 07-15-2014 11:49 AM


As the number of marketing channels continues to grow, measuring the influence of one channel on another has become a huge challenge. In fact, according to a recent report issued by Visual IQ and The CMO Club, more than 70 percent of marketers rated their ability to assess the impact of one channel on another as “poor” or “fair,” suggesting a lack of practical expertise harnessing and deriving insights from Big Data. The real bottleneck is not technology, but the availability of analytics experts with the skills and expertise to analyze and interpret it correctly, so it can be acted on effectively.

What Makes A Good Analyst?

While skilled analysts are essential for unlocking the power of Big Data, building an effective marketing analytics team poses some interesting challenges, including knowing what qualities to look for in an ideal candidate. When building out your analytics team, it’s important to focus on these skills and characteristics:

  • Pure analytical horsepower: Your marketing analyst needs a working knowledge of Microsoft Excel, database tools, and statistical modeling techniques, as well as how to manage and discern relevant information from unstructured data. However, there’s a key difference between data reporting and data analysis. The ability to study information, understand what’s relevant and what’s not, and make informed marketing decisions is what makes an analyst truly effective.
  • Industry/business knowledge: Relevancy is imperative when applying insights that come from an analysis; otherwise, you end up doing analysis for analysis sake. Your ideal candidate should have the business context and industry knowledge that enables them to draw relevant conclusions from the data, as well as understand potential anomalies. Without this foundation, marketing analysts often make improper assumptions about how to apply the data and derive inaccurate insights.

  • Presentation skills: Presentation skills are often an overlooked and underrated component of a successful analytics professional. The core of an analyst’s job isn’t just to crunch numbers and identify trends, but to tell a compelling story about the data. Even if an analysis is great, it can go completely ignored if presented in a poor or mediocre fashion. I’m sure many of you have witnessed a poor and/or incorrect analysis that, when delivered in a phenomenal presentation, ends up driving way too many important business decisions. Therefore, excellent communication skills and the ability to present findings in a clear and understandable manner are essential to unlocking value.

How Can I Develop the Best Analytics Talent?

  • Another key challenge to finding and retaining marketing analytics talent is the impact of simple supply and demand. With more analytics jobs than candidates, basic economics puts a premium on experienced, capable analytics practitioners. Until there is a systematic way to train new analysts, the industry will continue to face a shortage, and managers will be forced to build up their analytics talent internally. To help foster and grow an effective analytics team, analytics leaders should:

  • Define evaluation systems: Although HR departments are typically tasked with developing a performance evaluation process, as the experts, analytics leaders need to clearly define the knowledge, skills and capabilities that are required of their team. This way, team members have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them and what they need to do to improve.

  • Provide mechanisms for continuous learning: While working with individuals directly to perform real-world analysis is best for learning and growth, it’s not always feasible within the day-to-day realities of the workplace. Industry groups like the DAA and Web Analytics Demystified, as well as free online classes from Coursera and Code Academy, can help build your team’s knowledge of and competency in marketing analytics, as well as enhance communication and presentation skills.

  • Build case studies: Case studies can be a powerful tool for teaching analysts core skills in a scalable, repeatable fashion. They also help managers gain traction internally and build a case for investing in new analytics hires. Case studies not only help teach and prove the value of analytics, but often whet people’s appetites for more.

Finding, retaining and fostering analytics rock stars can be a tall order. Though elusive, top analytics talent is essential for harnessing data and turning it actionable insight. To address the gap between supply and demand, the marketing analytics industry as a whole must learn how to better nurture and develop skilled analysts so that the collective pool can grow. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about the premium on my analytics skill sets and I’m sure you aren’t either. But when looking to grow an analytics team, practice, or company, it quickly becomes a double-edged sword for us all.

Brian Suh
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