There’s an unfortunate perception in the world of business analytics today. People widely believe that the solution to analytics is more and better tools. This is largely false.

I spent 3+ years as VP Marketing for RJMetrics, one of the leading analytics platforms for growing ecommerce and SaaS businesses. Companies came to us because they believed they had a tools problem, and that if they only had the right tool to get them the reports they needed then they would become data-driven.

This is rarely how things played out.

Like most BI tools, RJMetrics is a blank canvas. You can paint whatever data on this canvas that you want, but you must supply the intentionality.

In order to make our users successful, we needed to provide consulting in addition to our software. This consulting came in the form of account management. Without this consulting, users weren’t sure of what to paint on their canvas and would often end up cancelling their subscription without having gotten much value from the tool.

The first question our customers asked us during setup was typically “What should I be looking at?” This is not an easy question. In fact, answering this question requires an understanding of:

  • business goals,
  • how to both pursue and measure those goals within the context of the particular business model,
  • availability of data within that particular business,
  • best practices for analyzing and visualizing this particular data, and
  • benchmarks for how other similar companies are performing on relevant metrics.

That’s not trivial. An excellent data user will go deeper, too: she will bring an understanding of past tactics and their success and failure, awareness of team operational strengths and weaknesses, and of course the communication skills required to have the conversation.

It takes an experienced operator / analyst to bring all of this insight to the table. Or, in our case, a team of highly intelligent junior employees with amazing leadership.

At RJMetrics, we sold our customers a tool, but the most important thing we delivered to them were our people.

There are so many tools that exist today. You can get what you need out of many of them. This wasn’t always true — ten years ago there just weren’t a lot of great options for business analytics. But analytics tools have seen massive investment recently. Today, we have enough tools. We don’t have enough people who know how to use them.

About the author

Tristan Handy is the Founder and President of Fishtown Analytics, a Philadelphia-based analytics consultancy serving high-growth, venture-funded startups. We give companies access to top-tier data talent on a fractional basis. Tristan has been working in data for 18 years and held executive roles at Squarespace, Argyle Social, and RJMetrics.