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Talent, culture viewed as absolutes for marketing analytics programs

Henry Stewart Marketing Analytics 2011 conference attendees believe a program’s success lies with the right kind of talent, but the appropriate skill set isn’t always easy to find.

Ask a company to describe its marketing analytics program, and it will no doubt talk about the technology it’s using, the kinds of data it’s leveraging and the roadmap it’s developing.

At last week's Henry Stewart Marketing Analytics 2011 conference in Boston, tips on how to improve analytics programs technology-wise and trends now emerging in the market took center stage, but these often shared the limelight with two other components important for a program’s success: analytics skills and a cultural willingness to develop them.

“At the end of the day, you need to have someone to look over the data before pushing it out the door,” said Ilene Goldman, president of IGG Consulting based in West Newton, Mass. “And that requires industry experts.”

In other words, having the ability to churn out data is one thing; having the skills in place to ensure decisions are based on good, clean data is another thing altogether. Goldman, a conference panelist, wasn’t the only one to report such things. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” was invoked by several presenters and attendees alike, but finding the talent has become an obstacle complicated by declining populations in the hiring pools.

“The big hurdle is the access to talent,” Ozgur Dogan, vice president and general manager for the data solutions group at Columbia, Md.-based Merkle Inc. “There’s a huge need and there’s just not enough of a supply.”

Maoli Chang, vice president of marketing analytics and modeling for the Stamford, Conn.-based Affinion Group, echoed the sense of deprivation.

“It’s so hard to get good talent,” he said. “The industry is growing so fast. We need more people who are bright and smart and who have the mathematical and statistical background.”

The talent well is ‘drying up’
Chang said most U.S. college students elect to study non-technical subjects these days, and so his organization often turns to foreign nationals to help take on the technical work.

“Even that’s drying up,” he said, adding that he offers $80,000 to students with masters’ degrees right out of graduate school.

While the pickings may be slim now, a McKinsey & Co. report advises businesses not to hold their breath; this will not change anytime soon. In May 2011, the management consulting firm released a study stating that by 2018, the United States could face a talent deficit of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills. The report is often cited by the media, vendors and businesses alike.

Raw skills alone are not the quick fix they may appear to be; businesses also need to consider the whole person before making an offer of employment. Panelists participating in the opening session explored what top performers are doing to fully exploit their marketing analytics programs, and their comments ranged from increasing target loyalty among customers to finding employees who are independent, creative workers.

“Top performers take accountability, don’t wait for people to tell them to do things and have an intellectual curiosity,” said Judah Phillips, senior director of global site analytics for the New York-based Monster Worldwide Inc.

And, Phillips said, employees who work closely with data should have not only integrity, but also guts for those moments when bad news needs to be delivered.

“You have to be a little ruthless if you’re going to survive,” he said. “As a high performer, you want to give the truth, and that could be uncomfortable.”

The need to embrace analytics
Talent, though, is only one part of the equation; another is welcoming that talent into an environment willing to embrace fact-based decision making, Dogan said, especially as businesses increasingly see potential value in deploying marketing analytics programs.

“Businesses are shifting more pressure onto their CRM systems to drive ROI [return on investment] for a program,” he said. “And they’re realizing they need to build an analytics program into their processes.”

For Chang, who also pointed to a fact-based culture as being vitally important, that kind of data-driven tone should be set by a company’s executives.

“High-level management needs to be focused,” Chang said. “That vision needs to come from the very top.”

Exploring ways in which to create such a culture may help businesses address other important questions and refine an analytics program, said David Hastings, director of the advanced analytics center of excellence for Dayton, Ohio-based Teradata Corp., which supports its customers through recommendations and advice.

“The analytic techniques are there,” Hastings said. “But questions remain on how to organize analysts, how to connect the dots and how to deal with integration.”

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