Bow to your sensei!
In the off­beat com­edy “Napoleon Dyna­mite”, Napoleon learned the impor­tance of the buddy sys­tem from Rex, a self-defense instruc­tor. “[At] Rex Kwon Do, we use the buddy sys­tem. No more fly­ing solo. You need some­body watch­ing your back at all times!” In terms of your company’s web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram — whether you’re the web ana­lyst or CMO — does an exec­u­tive spon­sor have your back or are you fly­ing solo?

In the first of a series of arti­cles exam­in­ing the “7 Keys to Cre­at­ing a Data-Driven Orga­ni­za­tion”, I’m going to look at the crit­i­cal suc­cess fac­tor of secur­ing an exec­u­tive spon­sor. Your com­pany may have invested in the tech­nol­ogy and resources for its web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram, but does it have an exec­u­tive spon­sor, let alone one that is effec­tive? Yes, no… maybe?

I’ve had the oppor­tu­nity to work with many web ana­lyt­ics pro­fes­sion­als at var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions. I’ve seen the deep frus­tra­tion of web ana­lysts who didn’t have an effec­tive exec­u­tive spon­sor as well as the sin­cere appre­ci­a­tion of those who did.  Many CEOs and CMOs would be shocked to learn how iso­lated, irrel­e­vant, and frus­trated web ana­lyt­ics teams can feel when they don’t have an effec­tive exec­u­tive spon­sor. No mat­ter how smart, inno­v­a­tive, or pro­duc­tive these teams are, they can’t over­come orga­ni­za­tional iner­tia with­out sup­port from above.

The Aberdeen Group found that “com­pa­nies that invest in ana­lyt­ics plat­forms with the sup­port of senior man­age­ment have greater suc­cess in exe­cut­ing on their cor­po­rate goals.” All of the suc­cess­ful web ana­lyt­ics pro­grams that I have encoun­tered have had the sup­port of an exec­u­tive spon­sor. In this arti­cle, we’ll exam­ine who should be an exec­u­tive spon­sor, what their respon­si­bil­i­ties are, and what it takes to be effective.

Exec­u­tive spon­sor criteria

First, the exec­u­tive spon­sor should be a senior exec­u­tive within a key stake­holder group for web ana­lyt­ics (e.g., e-commerce, mar­ket­ing, etc.). In other words, the exec­u­tive must be part of a team that ben­e­fits sig­nif­i­cantly from web ana­lyt­ics. Sec­ond, the exec­u­tive needs to have suf­fi­cient power and influ­ence within the orga­ni­za­tion to ensure the pro­gram can be successful.

Choos­ing the right exec­u­tive may depend on the matu­rity of your web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram. Paul Strupp of Sun Microsys­tems found that the senior­ity level of its exec­u­tive spon­sor­ship increased as its web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram matured and pros­pered. Dur­ing the course of seven years, dif­fer­ent indi­vid­u­als assumed the role of exec­u­tive spon­sor and the senior­ity level increased from a Senior Direc­tor at the begin­ning to a VP and then a Senior VP today. Strupp men­tioned that the program’s matu­rity prob­a­bly wasn’t ready for Senior VP-level over­sight at its incep­tion. Now the group needs high-level sup­port to inte­grate web ana­lyt­ics into the full mar­ket­ing business.

Exec­u­tive spon­sor responsibilities

The duties of the exec­u­tive spon­sor are four fold:

  1. Pri­or­i­ti­za­tion: In order to be suc­cess­ful, the web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram needs to be aligned with the busi­ness. The exec­u­tive spon­sor pro­vides cru­cial direc­tion to the team so it is always in line with the cor­po­rate strat­egy and top priorities.
  2. Pro­tec­tion: The exec­u­tive spon­sor plays an impor­tant role in pro­tect­ing the web ana­lyt­ics team from other con­flict­ing ini­tia­tives or cor­po­rate politics.
  3. Prob­lem res­o­lu­tion: Using their clout or influ­ence within the orga­ni­za­tion, the exec­u­tive spon­sor steps in to remove any prob­lems that could impede the suc­cess of the pro­gram such as resource or bud­get constraints.
  4. Pro­mo­tion: The exec­u­tive spon­sor plays a key role in cham­pi­oning the ben­e­fits of the pro­gram and pro­mot­ing its suc­cesses within the orga­ni­za­tion, espe­cially among other executives.

Effec­tive exec­u­tive spon­sor — com­mit­ted and involved

In an infor­ma­tive Com­put­er­world arti­cle on ‘reluc­tant’ exec­u­tive spon­sors, Bart Perkins high­lights how exec­u­tive spon­sors need to be both involved and com­mit­ted. He shares the bacon-and-eggs anal­ogy, where the chicken is involved in the meal but the pig is com­mit­ted. An effec­tive exec­u­tive spon­sor needs to believe in the value of web ana­lyt­ics (com­mit­ted) and invest the time and effort nec­es­sary to cre­ate a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion (involved).

If the exec­u­tive spon­sor is involved but not com­mit­ted, they may go through the motions and only pro­vide lip ser­vice. On the other hand, if the exec­u­tive spon­sor is com­mit­ted but not involved, they may believe in the impor­tance of web ana­lyt­ics but not pro­vide enough sup­port to make it suc­cess­ful. In either sce­nario, the web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram will not progress. To achieve the goal of becom­ing a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion, ensure your com­pany has a com­mit­ted and involved exec­u­tive spon­sor. No more fly­ing solo.

My next blog post will focus on the next build­ing block to cre­at­ing a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion — align­ing your imple­men­ta­tion with busi­ness objec­tives.


Very good points Brent! Anybody who wants to help their sponsor (or who is a sponsor and wants some help) might also find "Sponsoring for Success" useful, at

Jim Anderson
Jim Anderson

Great read and well written Brent! You have summarized one of the largest challenges we are facing today. Our situation is related to your topic in that we had a VP level sponsor who is now a SVP and has a different focus and thus while still a supporter, he is no longer our sponsor. The point you make about Paul’s experience at Sun being ready for a VP but not a SVP really hit home as well. Now that we know how much more productive we can be with an educated executive sponsor, we need to fill the void left by the promotion. Maybe I'll use your blog (cited of course!) to assist in our sponsor recruitment process.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Great point on the organizational clarity, Reuben. My next post will focus on the importance of having a measurement strategy, which also contributes to org clarity.

Reuben Poon
Reuben Poon

Great article, Brent. I definitely agree that a strong and effective executive sponsor is key to ensuring success in optimizing your online business. An extension of your first point (about Prioritization being a key responsibility) is that cascading those priorities down throughout the organization is very important. In his book, "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive", Patrick Lencioni talks about creating Organizational Clarity and then Over-Communicating it. "The key is that at any given point in time, a healthy organization can point to an unambigious answer for each question." I have worked with some clients whose organization clarity is so clear that the front-line analyst knows exactly what their VP executive sponsor wants and needs. When an organization has this clarity, projects go smoother, quicker, and are more effective toward the company's overarching goals. ps - Great analogy. Now I'm hungry.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

I'm glad the post was helpful. Good luck with recruiting another executive sponsor. As you already know, it's a key void you'll need to fill.