Business questions shift over time. It’s the great Delta.

There are very specific questions that can have an immense impact on the business if they were answered and executed against. These include:

“How many [repeat] customers do I have?”
“Who are my most valuable customers?”
“What do my most valuable customers have in common?”
“Who are my least valuable customers?”
“How much is it costing me to service my least valuable customers?”
“How do I attract more customers like my most valuable ones?”
“Who should I direct discounts at? When?”
“Who should I direct ‘I love you’ campaigns at? When?”
“Who should I just stop saying anything to? When?”
“How are customers finding my site?”
“What channels are resulting in highest conversion?”
“How are returning customers finding my site?”
“Where are they falling off my site?, Why?”
“How much are people spending on my site?”
“How can I get people to spend more, at a higher margin, on my site?”

So, yes, we can go about building a web analytics + database analytics programme that seeks to answer these baseline questions, and then exectute against those insights. The real tragedy of the commons is that frequently, we’re never asked or funded to answer those questions – either because nobody thinks to ask, or because we’re instantly bogged down in the impossibilities of data aggregation. (Much of that data just isn’t captured by web analytics data…so the great unification just can’t happen yet, and other such reasons…)

All to often, before even these baseline 15 can be answered, the other questions start to pop up:

“What are people looking when they come to the site?”
“Why arn’t people posting more comments?”
“What do people think about their experience on the site?”
“Where do people go after visiting Page X?”
“Why did this campaign succeed?”
“How did my banner do?”

And these are all very great questions, I must admit. However, not every installation is set up to answer them. For instance, in many cases, the question “how did my banner do” means that we had to have set up a specific parameter especially for ‘your banner’, and that the web analytics software is actually set up to listen and record that parameter. If that question wasn’t identified as one that needed to be answered in the first place, don’t expect any web analytics software to naturally pick it up. (19 times out of 20, it won’t).

Worse, you don’t want to hear how long it takes to really set up campaign tracking properly. (Because it’s so easy to screw up, it takes time.)

Likewise, don’t expect most web analytics software, which is predicated on the Pageview paradigm (STILL), to pick up the crucial event of ‘submitting a comment’, and that these people will be automatically segmented by the software (they won’t be). That kind of customization, while possible in a few web analytics software, requires somebody that knows what their doing to set up.

Then there’s entirely different set of questions that shift the emphasis from ‘hindsight’ into ‘foresight’.

“How much cashflow can we expect in the second quarter?”
“How many returns can we expect next month?”
“If I decide to use blue banners instead of red ones, and spend half the money I did last year, how many conversions can I expect?”
“What would be the impact to checkout funnel completion if I added step C?”

Questions that are predictive in nature are a natural extention to the great basics.

Of course, I have yet to encounter a single piece of web analytics software that can tell me, on their own, the answers to any of those questions.

When it comes to web analytics, and by extention DW/BI systems – let’s be aware that business questions shift. It’s the great Delta.

The only real way, in my view, to derive the greatest value from the great Delta is make sure that we’re always answering the business questions that will drive the greatest business value.

Easier said than done.

3 thoughts on “The Delta in Business Questions

  1. Jim Novo says:

    Is it really necessary to join the data from web analytics to the backend systems to gain tremendous business insight?

    Just answering the 2nd & 3rd questions – regardless of the web analytics data – would provide insight that could power the web side of the biz to a whole new level of performance.

    I’m thinking people are way too hung up on the integration, and that means they are wasting valuable time.

  2. You’re right, unification of data isn’t all that essential. You can start with the back-end and answer many of those RFM questions.

    Although – frequently, even those RFM questions reside in multiple databases…making the unification problem at that more wicked.

  3. Jim Novo says:

    OK Christopher, I just quit then!

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