helping you master customer insight leadership

3 tips for maximising your Analytics team

analytics teamFollowing on from tips for your research and database marketing teams, this week we turn our attention to the 3rd quadrant of customer insight, your analytics team.

Given the emphasis of advertising & events for this community, it’s tempting to focus on technical skills.

So much social media airtime is given over to new software, coding skills or data solutions, you would think that was all that was needed for effective analytics teams. But there is so much more to developing analysts who will make an impact in your business.

So, without further ado, here are 3 top tips for maximizing the impact of your analytics team (mostly lessons learnt from getting this wrong first time)… (more…)

Correlation is not Causality

Causality bookI don’t know about you, but one of the perennial issues I experience when communicating analytical findings to clients, or fellow business leaders, is to help them avoid the pitfall of assuming that correlation equates to causation.

Once a relationship can be shown between some customer characteristics and the objective of interest, say likelihood to purchase, people love to rush to hypotheses as to why this makes sense – even when it is extremely unlikely and causation has not been proven.

Now there are plenty of studies showing examples of spurious correlations, like the proportion of blue-eyed customers coming into a store in Moscow and the murder rate in Los Angeles. So, an extreme example can normally be thought up to illustrate this danger. However, too few people actually understand causality and how it can be proven statistically. This is also important because of the unconscious bias that we all have to seek to simplify problems and attribute causation as soon as possible; thus it can feel like ‘swimming up stream’ to suspend judgement and seek robust evidence.

So, I’m pleased to share this guest content, by Vincent Granville, recommending a classic text to help with this very challenge:


Have you read this? How do you help others understand whether to not they have proven causality?

3 tips for maximising your Database Marketing team

Signpost "Lead Generation"The latest in our series of ‘top tips’, are some thoughts on getting the most out of your Database Marketing team. By this name (or DBM), I mean the team who provide the selections for targeted direct marketing or pre-scored leads for inbound channels.

This may involve your team also developing that targeting, normally a mixture of explainable ‘trigger event’ and filtering by propensity to respond (say from a logistic regression model), or that targeting may be provided by your analytics team. The database marketing team will almost certainly be responsible for ensuring robust experimental design, with feedback loops and control groups, to ensure that targeted marketing effectiveness can be measured – they may also encompass measurement of wider marketing spend effectiveness, including use of econometrics.

I share all that clarification on the role of the team, because one of our earlier surveys identified that only 6% of our readers viewed this capability as part of Customer Insight. One of the advantages of having database marketing within the Customer Insight department is delivery of measurable commercial benefit in the short term. Many years ago when I first advised and then integrated a separate database marketing team into my CI function, it was both because I believed joined-up working with analysts and researchers could improve the quality of database marketing execution and because the measurable incremental profit delivered from this team would help fund/justify the more strategic longer-term profit impact work of other teams.

Anyway, as I did for research teams, here are 3 top tips for maximising the impact of your database marketing team (lessons learnt from getting this wrong before I saw it really work in practice):

Tip 1: Visit touch-points (Customer Closeness):

Getting out to experience first-hand who your customers are, and the experiences they have when interacting with your business, is something that I’ve always recommended to all my teams. However, I’ve found it to yield particular benefits for database marketing analysts. Often the kind of people who excel in this team are both analytically strong and commercially driven – they are motivated by seeing the difference they can make to tangible business results. This can be a real bonus to your wider customer insight team, but it also runs the risk of a team who are much more internally focussed and over time see their role as optimising a process and achieving key numbers. In other words they can become both rationally & emotionally distant from real customers.

Requiring database marketers to get out, to see & hear customer experiences (especially when those customers are confronted with the targeting leads or marketing which those analysts have executed), can be both a revelation and a strong motivation for these good folk. At its best it can provide a ‘double whammy’ of benefit. First your DBM team are powerfully reminded that it is real people for whom they are designing interactions (which often leaves them feeling more empathy for customers & passion to make a difference). Secondly, being there ‘at the coal face’ (whether listening to calls, seeing customers interact in a branch/store, or watching customers using digital devices) can highlight practical problems or give ‘eureka’ moment ideas to improve the interaction. So, it’s also important to empower these team members to come back and change things as a result of what they have learnt and felt.

Tip 2: Share commercial targets with sales/retention teams:

In recent years customer insight teams have risen to greater prominence and influence within large companies. However, one silo of skepticism that many have still encountered is the perspective from sales teams or those ‘on the spike’ for critical commercial targets, including customer retention metrics. Historically, these teams can sometimes view, not just customer insight, but all marketing-related teams as at worst ‘fluff’ and at best rather ‘Teflon’ teams who manage to avoid being accountable to such hard numbers (that directly impact their performance ratings and bonuses). This is unfortunate for both sides, as customer insight as a whole should be a benefit to an entire business and certainly has as much to share and learn from sales teams as it does from marketing. Database marketing teams can be a key to overcoming this barrier.

As measurement of the effectiveness of targeted direct marketing and lead generation improves, DBM teams should be able to more and more accurately predict both the volume of leads that can be provided and the likely sales (or retained customers) they will generate. The first stage of warming relations with your sales and retention teams is, of course, to share this with those teams. Communicated well, this can help to overcome a misconception that customer insight is all about theoretical maths or fluffy concepts like ‘understanding the customer’. But the signature action, which I found made a step change in relations, was for the customer insight leader and database marketing team to also take commercial targets. To calculate the proportion of overall sales which can be generated from leads provided by the team and be ‘on the spike’ themselves for hitting those numbers. Of course that means the result if not fully within the control of the CI team, and people will feel uncomfortable that their good analytical work could be undermined by a poor sales experience, however this was more than made up for by the respect earned from sales teams and the cooperation to improve results together which this fostered.

Tip 3: Invest in commercial understanding:

One of the many mistakes it’s possible to make as a customer insight leader is to assume that your team know more than they do or are fully equipped for the challenges you set them. Over the years it has been eye opening for me to see that many very capable analysts, who may wow audiences with their statistical work of data visualisations, actually understand very little about how the business really makes money. Such commercial naiveté can really trip them up in future, either through inappropriate recommendations or when they are talking with business leaders about their requirements or how insight can be acted upon. Beyond this potential for embarrassment, it is also a huge missed opportunity. So much of the quality of database marketing work comes from thorough domain knowledge; really understanding where the opportunities lie, where things are not working and what can be done to improve results.

It can prove very valuable to invest in ‘commercial understanding’ training. This topic covers both understanding the general principles of understanding how a business makes money. One of the best presenters I have heard on this is Dave Meckin, also author of ‘Naked Finance‘. Then building on that improved financial understanding, your DBM analysts will also benefit from a better understanding of the market your business operates in, how it competes and the major profit levers being used by its particular business model. Here, getting experts in from your market & competitor intelligence or strategy teams can really help. A bit like the customer ‘eureka’ moments that I explained in Tip 1, above, this greater understanding can produce significant improvements. As DBM analysts look at their data, processes and customer behaviour with fresh eyes –  they often spot areas for improvement which they now know will impact the bottom line.

I hope those tips help. The above list is by no means exhaustive and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what has helped. But I hope it gives you food for thought & perhaps help you lead an uplift in commercial performance from customer insight, of which you and your team can be proud. I’ve led a CI department with a well performing DBM team to add over £10m to the bottom line each year – so there is rich potential in these great people.

Data-driven Spam is not an improvement

Bottles in art exhibitionOur latest sharing of content from others is this article from Mark Cameron. He makes the very important point, that just being better at targeting your messages or executing them more efficiently, will not protect you from it being spam.

The forgotten component, in too much data & digital marketing ‘innovation’, is understanding your customers (their needs & what they view as relevant).


I hope you enjoy this article as well. In line with some comments I made when reviewing ‘Marketing Payback’, I fear that today’s marketers have become captivated with digital/mobile/social/omni-channel capabilities and taken their eye off the ball of some marketing basics. That applies just as much to the need to really know your customer as it does to being able to accurately measure the effectiveness of your marketing.

Customer Insight Leadership will be needed more than ever to address the failures that are bound to result from over-inflated expectations. Just as, in the past, data warehouses and CRM systems rarely lived up to their promise – we are just beginning to see the same with platforms for social & mobile marketing. But all these capabilities have the potential to be relevant to customers lives, if you put the customer first and our guided by what you need to know from them first.

Do you agree? Please share your thoughts on this guest post.


3 tips for maximising the impact of your Research team

research team
The winning creative team from the ArtSlam 2010 event by Realize Bradenton (is your team invisible?)

Starting with this post, I am going to share a weekly series of ‘3 top tips’ for maximising the value of each of the different technical teams within a Customer Insight department; starting with the research team.

This content is intended to complement our previous focus on holistic customer insight.

None of what I’m about to share is rocket science and is probably only a reminder of what you knew already. However, these updates will comprise lessons learnt, normally from getting it wrong first, and so are practical advice “from the trenches”. Given recent content has focussed on data or analytics, I will start with some advice for leaders to maximise the value of their in-house research team. (more…)

Your Barriers to maximising the value of your Customer Insight

barriersInterestingly, the interim results from our recent  poll on barriers to realising value, are revealing that there isn’t one most common barrier to maximising the value of your customer insight.

Instead, your votes have identified 7 equally likely barriers. Perhaps it really is, as Proverbs puts it, “the little foxes who spoil the vineyard”.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved, so hopefully it helps you to understand the barriers that other leaders are facing. In this post I’ll also share some initial thoughts on interventions that may help you overcome them. (more…)

How to be intentionally Happier, a book to help

HappierThe sub-title of this book is “Can you learn to be happy?” and this question is explored through a series of short chapters summarising the most popular course at Harvard today.

This might seem a strange topic for this blog, but my coaching work with customer insight leaders has taught me the power of Positive Psychology. It is also a short (168 pages) book, fun and very accessible; so a good compliment to some of the weightier tomes that I’ve reviewed here.

For those not familiar with the Positive Psychology movement, it was properly launched by Martin Seligman when after a distinguished career as a psychologist, he used his opening address when becoming president of the American Psychological Association to propose that instead of just focussing on mental illness or helping clients address weaknesses, it could focus on ways of fostering joy/happiness/flow/strengths etc in individuals. In other words to help clients focus on their positive strengths and how to be happier rather than seeking to use models etc to address weaknesses or unhelpful thinking patterns. Prof Seligman has dedicated his subsequent career to this goal. This topic has also of course become popular with politicians on both sides of the “pond” and I’m sure you’ve heard of their work on measuring wellbeing in society.

Anyway, this book by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a course at Harvard University on Happiness, is more of an accessible self-help book. It’s packed with personal anecdotes, simply communicated psychology and practical exercises for you to put into practice. Divided into three parts, these cover: What is Happiness? Happiness Applied and Meditations on Happiness. These are further broken down into 15 chapters, so many are less than 10 pages and an ideal short-read. Within each chapter you’ll find at least one “time-in”, a moment for you to stop and reflect on how you’d answer a personal question. At the end of every chapter is an exercise for you to try. A number of these are suggestions of new rituals to put into place over weeks or months, not just quick fixes.

Personal favourites for me, from the exercises have been:
1) A gratitude journal: noting down, before you go to sleep, at least 5 things that made you happy that day and for which you are grateful.
2) Reflecting on your four quadrants of Rat Racer, Hedonist, Nihilist & Happy – to learn from past experiences about what really makes you happy.
3) Mapping your life: measuring how you spend your time & how this matches those things which give you most meaning & pleasure.
4) Goal setting: to set long & short term goals to move toward what you really want to do with your life.

I’m conscious that without reading the book, a lot of this could sound like just American positivity, with fake smiles & over enthusiastic language. However, there really is so much more to it than that. Tal does a great job in helping the reader understand the combination of meaning and pleasure that can help you be happier & the joy to be found in the journey rather than assuming happiness is a fixed state at which you arrive. As well as this, his personal anecdotes and the amount of time given to personal reflection and practical exercises continue to keep the theory grounded in the practical day to day reality of your life. It would probably also help if I declared that I was initially very skeptical of this movement and a book with such a title. Overly positive people who appear to be in denial about their circumstances and full range of emotions don’t do it for a natural sceptic like me. However, as I’ve had my eyes opened to the academically grounded theory here, I have found it very useful in my own life and with clients. My time mentoring future leaders over years had already taught me that you make more progress helping people play to their strengths rather than improve their weaknesses.

In the second part of the book, Tal addresses how to apply the theories of part one to education, the workplace and personal relationships. The workplace chapter focuses a number of pages on how individuals can find their “calling”, as Marshall Goldsmith would say their “flow”, that conjunction of meaning, pleasure & strength/capability that make for the most fulfilling work. It is also pragmatic about crafting your existing role and work rather than assuming everyone takes this discover as a Damascene conversion experience and rushes off to a new career. The personal relationships chapter is also a good reminder about expressing love, knowing the other person and expressing gratitude.

The final part of this short book contains a series of seven shorter chapters or meditations on different aspects of happiness, from self interest to beyond the “happiness revolution”. The conclusion to this work ends on a useful y practical note, focussing us back on the here & now, thus what we are going to put into practice today. Overall the book does well at avoiding false expectations but also helping readers try different ways of thinking and new practices in their life which could make them intentionally happier.

During much of my coaching work with customer insight leaders, we come back to the source of motivation for that individual and the meaning + pleasure which keep them motivated to lead effectively and consistently over the long term. So, I would encourage any leaders to not be put off by what sounds like a fluffy title and try engaging with this short book. It may just reignite your passion & motivation to make a real difference through work that makes you happy.