Thursday, February 21, 2008

One True Thing

If you know me personally at all, you know that I have more fun on my job than a person has a right to expect. A lot of the reasons boil down to: talented and conscientious coworkers; smart and ethical management; a tool that lets me stretch my web-analytics legs; and my own quirky personality that's addicted to getting insights from quantification in general.

There's another piece - the clients and the fact that, as an agency, we have a variety of them.

This means we also have a variety of types of relationships with those clients in the analytics corner of the business. Our "deliverables" run the gamut:
  • setting up their reporting tool and letting them look at the tool's output (with ongoing help as needed),
  • delivering Excel scorecards of varying degrees of detail that allow them to skip looking at the tool's output,
  • delivering the above plus written interpretation or summary or recommendations,
  • deep-dives into a single, one-time analysis,

and my favorite:

  • the free-ranging relationship that has come to be known here as "One True Thing" reporting.

I want to talk about the last one because it's just too enjoyable to keep to myself.

The name "One True Thing" comes from a smart and creative client person with a limited budget who wants it all. He appreciates that the detailed scorecard is important but wants to skip the other time-consuming deliverables while still getting at important stuff that he can actually use, whether to influence decisions or impress his organization. (Hey, both of these are really important!)

He said, "If I can get just One True Thing every month out of analytics, something that's interesting and helpful, then the whole effort is worth the money we put into it."

What resulted was very simple. We have a four-person phone call every month, a few days after the detailed scorecard is delivered. By the time of the call, he's looked at the data we send and may have questions or head-scratching puzzlers. He and his site manager also talk about conundrums they're dealing with in his business (where analytics might help), or recent events and changes for which they want to measure effectiveness. On our end, we might talk about new metrics or methods we've been playing with.

He and his site manager know his business needs, I know how to express his issues as analytics problems (I hope), and in addition our engagement manager and I each have tons of web experience so we throw that into the discussion as well. There's a lot of "what the heck," "I wonder why," and "wouldn't it be cool if" going on, and by the end of the phone call we've scoped a "One True Thing" topic that our analytics team will investigate before the next phone call. And, of course, we go over the outcome from the last One True Thing question, usually with just an informal email and some graphs instead of a formal report (saves billable time). The best part is if the analysis gets them to say "That's great! Just what we needed!"

A lot of mutual education goes on. We've all gotten better at these calls over time. The two of them have become more analytics-savvy and for our part we understand their business better than ever before. They are getting a lot for their money and we are getting to poke into analytics questions that we wouldn't have thought of. Along the way we get to invent new analyses and maybe add them to our overall analytics practice. We're also proposing this kind of relationship to other clients and the One True Thing Phone Call has become a bit of a standard. Or at least we'd like it to be.

The web analytics world tends to be a little too formal, IMHO, emphasizing quantity of data and dashboards as our output when what might help most of all would be these kinds of conversations that stress questions, answers, and insights without running up a big bill. Obviously, the point of this blog entry is to suggest that more people get back to basics like this. Partly because it's a good thing in itself, and partly because it's so much fun.