What I learned working analytics at a “fixer-upper”

I think any analytics professional who has worked in consulting has run into these clients. There’s one person in the company who wants to be incredibly data-driven. How do we do this? Let’s bring in the experts who can lead us to data-driven nirvana. I LOVED these clients. You can spit in any direction and hit a winning recommendation and you can sell every single one of your services to them… and to be honest, they sometimes NEED it! They’re paying you to be a subject matter expert. You drop in some obvious recommendations and next steps and wait for them to clear the bottlenecks.

So it might be tempting to think: “It would really be great to work client-side, piggyback on their enthusiasm to become more data-driven, and reap the benefits of leveraging my expertise to help the company make more money!” Well… it’s not that easy. Here’s what I learned from working several years with what I would consider a “fixer-upper”. The tl;dr of this is there is a reason it’s a fixer-upper.

You’re only as fast as the slowest person

Within the first few months I had several analyses out with a large list of recommendations. My impression was that the product owner would look at it and say “Wow, these are great recommendations and they even come with revenue projections! Let’s use this analysis as ammunition and tackle these right away!” Instead, I was shown the backlog… all 350 items. “Oh, and did we mention we only have 1 front-end developer?” The developer was also working on several projects for the PO, was shared between multiple departments, and ultimately put in his 2 weeks notice. If it isn’t a developer it’s a designer or QA resource. You’re only as fast as the department that’s being suffocated the most.

How do you solve for this? Simple – use your analysis to build a case to hire folks and clear the bottleneck.

Your entire company is requesting additional resources

While your recommendations are fantastic, the email team (which pulls in over 20% of digital revenue) is short-staffed and desperately needs support so they can stop working nights and weekends. Paid search is also trying to scale their revenue… and oh man, one of the product specialists just left and needs to be replaced. These are all critical and urgent. Let’s wait to see what the revenue numbers are this quarter. They’re down? Shocking! Oh, and about those new hires… now just isn’t a good time.

You won’t be the design or UX messiah

The site looks bad because someone designed it that way. It hasn’t changed because someone wants to keep it that way. No amount of common sense or best practices will go farther than a minor tweak. After 6 months of persistence, the designer probably thinks you’re out to take his job and is twice as defensive. There’s some history someone wants to explain to you which clearly justifies why the site looks the way it does. Or maybe the VP of Merchandising complimented the site at some point. By this point you’re going through an existential crisis. Maybe I’m projecting.

Out of Touch
It reached a point where I wasn’t sure if this was me or the people I was working with.

You’ll have plenty of time… for reporting

Your analysis recommendations are slowly crawling through the backlog. You’re tired of trying to sell through A/B testing to a design team that doesn’t want to change the site. So what now? At this point you’re either working solely with the acquisition teams or (more than likely) you’re reporting. Don’t worry, that tag management system you implemented has you doing some fantastic implementation work so you can tell the team how many times people clicked on their new product sorting category.

The conclusion and the caveat

This is a personal anecdote and not always the case with fixer-uppers. However, it’s incredibly an incredibly common scenario that I’ve worked with both in consulting and client-side. These companies are fantastic to work with when you can pace your work with the client… 4 hours one week, 14 another. Unlike consulting, everything on client-side is a battle YOU have to fight. You’re working on this client for 40 hours per week (at least). It’s tempting to look at the transformation you might be leading with a client and think that working full-time on a site that desperately needs help is rewarding – and for those who are patient enough (to fight and wait and fight and fight and wait and fight) will eventually be rewarded with that transformation. Unfortunately, passion and motivation tend to wane over time.

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