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.

5 comments
Guest
Guest

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 http://www.2omega.co.uk

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.