Cialdini and Web Analytics – An 8-step Taxonomy for Convincing Stakeholders to use Web Analytics

How many times do we hear a new web analyst in an organization ask the following question: Why don’t stakeholders care about my numbers? One of the main reasons why stakeholders in the organization don’t use your numbers to drive their decisions is because they don’t see the utility of doing so. Before you were hired, these stakeholders where drawing conclusions and taking decisions without using your numbers, so why should they change their ways? Why should they care about you? Why should they make the extra effort to understand the numbers you are crunching? The answer relies on the fact that you haven’t taken the time to convince, educate and train these stakeholders to the benefits of web analytics. In other words, you haven’t acted as a web evangelist! You have acted as a simple employee. But your new task is all about persuasion, and one way to influence stakeholders is to base your argumentation on what the well-known psychologist Robert Cialdini defined as “the six weapons of influence” in his book entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. These six weapons are: (1) reciprocation, (2) commitment and consistency, (3) social proof, (4) authority, (5) liking, and (6) scarcity. This can be accomplished by executing the following 8-step proposed taxonomy, but also by taking in consideration challenges and potential pitfalls that must also be overcome.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Step 1 – Show to the person who has hired you your commitment to the implementation of web analytics within the organization

First, you need to convince someone higher in the hierarchy of the benefits of web analytics, for instance the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Generally, this person has had an influence on the decision to hire you, which implies that his/her willingness to support web analytics should be higher than anyone else’s. One of the best ways to convince/reassure this person to support web analytics is to show your commitment to the cause. However, don’t restrict your focus to the CMO. Since we are talking about web analytics and more broadly of analytics, your data can be valuable to several other areas of the company, like the department of: sales, customer service or finance. It is important that you have the buy-in of several different leaders.

Step 2 – Use the Chief Marketing Officer as a figure of authority

Once you have convinced the CMO to support you, it is important to rely on him as a figure of authority and also as someone credible (social proof), to convince others in the organization to adopt a web analytic perspective. Thus, the CMO must always be presented as a member of your web analytics team.

Step 3 – Empower the Chief Marketing Officer

The CMO has committed (commitment) to help propagate web analytics and one way to take advantage of this commitment is to empower him. One way of doing so is to give him access to data and analyses available through the software the organization is using. For instance, if the organization uses Google Analytics, it would be suggested to give him access to reports as a user. Furthermore, if the CMO has access to reports and figures, he/she will then better be able to understand the importance of web analysis and how it is related to the organization’s objectives and strategies.

Step 4 – Prove to other stakeholders that web analytics is a must-have

Once the CMO is on your side, it is time to convince other stakeholders in the organization. One way of convincing them is to show what your competition is doing (social proof) to make them realize that web analytics are no longer a luxury in an organization; it’s a must-have. In this way, even though the organization in the short-run is still making profits without caring that much about web analytics, in the long-run, not using web analytics will be prove to be a major drawback.

Step 5 – Present your own data as a competitive advantage

It has been argued that the biggest competitive advantage every organization has, is its own data. In this way, taking advantage of this scarcity in terms of information available is one way to outrun competition. The uniqueness of the data held by the company could also be an interesting opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of multichannel indicators in a holistic fashion, showing the links of web analytics to strategic objectives in the organization. In the best situation, using these web analytics coupled with internal databases comprising indicators such as satisfaction index would be the Holy Grail of analytical integration.

Step 6 – Reciprocate by getting to the root of things

Once the utility of web analytics has been praised, the next step is to implement these web analytics with the help of stakeholders. One of the best way to act would be to propose stakeholders that in exchange (reciprocity) for their discovered confidence in web analytics, you would give them the results that are the most related to their objectives by getting to the root of it all. In this way, taking some time to discuss with these stakeholders the potential causal relations is a must-do. Asking questions and cogitating with stakeholders about why the trend of a number or a KPI is going down or up is the best way to find causal relationships but also to build workplace relationships.

Step 7 – Take the reciprocation and commitment one step further

Once you have discussed with stakeholders and produced reports for them, the next step is to get them more involved with web analytics. Since you help them, they will feel obliged to reciprocate and commit a little more to web analytics. This is the moment where you should start to train them by speaking their language, not the web analytics language that is way more complex and can sometimes get intimidating. Once they become more aware of web analysis, you can create a glossary of most important technical terms to remember. One way to train them is to review key trends monthly; this will engage stakeholders in customers’ behaviours and attitudes, so they can strive more effectively for a customer-centric corporate culture. This behaviour, as opposed to having metrics always monitored, explained and distributed by the analytics manager, will greatly increase the level of ownership for continuous improvement across the organization.

Step 8 – Go for the big shot using social proof and liking

Once you have convinced stakeholders, the final point is to go for the big shot by writing a clear and concise email to your Chief Executive Officer (CEO) insisting on how web analytics are becoming part of the corporate culture and strategic goals. Although the CEO may not be the first person to read the proposal, if it’s well-written and well-reasoned, integrating the progress made related to the previous 7 steps, it may be the best way to capture his/her attention through social proof and liking and to show how the organization and the industry is changing.

Robert Cialdini
Robert Cialdini

Challenges

Unfortunately, accomplishing this taxonomy can’t be done without overcoming some challenges. One of the main challenges the web analyst faces is to fight against the fear of change. This fear of change is even more present if the organization is making profits and if members are older. How many times have you heard the famous sentence from senior stakeholders: “I have done my work this way for 25 years and it has always been good”. The initial answer that would come to my mind would be: “So what”? The world is changing and so is the industry … ? But this would not be the best way of making friends inside the organization. In this way, controlling the fear of others by preparing a more “politically correct” and less sensitive answer would be more appropriate. One way to achieve this objective, would be to give examples of best practices that integrate web analytics (social proof), and how web analytics can be integrated to the “older” way of doing things.

Potential pitfalls

As it is often the case, one of the main traps a web analyst can fall into is to look more like a scientist in an Ivory Tower, than a true integrated member of the organization. The web analyst needs to discuss with other stakeholders in the same way as other stakeholders need to discuss with him/her to take more informed decisions. The worst thing that can happen is being too data driven, because, as we know, there are humans affecting these data. Thus, the internal and outside influence should be taken into account. These internal influences are actions provoked by the organization and may include: (1) marketing programs driving traffic to the website, (2) website changes (i.e. navigation, changes to homepage), and (3) operational failures (i.e. out-of-stock items, problems with checkout process, site performance issues). On the other side, outside influences, as the name suggests, are actions taken by agents outside the organization. They can be from competitors (i.e. competitive marketing initiatives) or part of the macro environment (i.e. seasonal changes, legislative changes, public opinion, fuel prices). Not taking into account any of these two types of influence can give you the reputation of a scientist conducting Ivory Tower research.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the proposed 8-step taxonomy mixed with the challenges and potential pitfalls should serve as a guide for web analysts looking for a way to propagate the good news about what web analytics are and what they do inside their organization. Even though these 8 steps don’t guarantee success, they can be of great help in improving chances of success. I would conclude in saying that one necessary but not sufficient condition for success is that before convincing others to the benefits of web analytics, the first person you need to convince is yourself. Once this is done, the 8-step procedure takes courage, willingness and time. But just before taking action, take a minute or two to sip a cup of green tea, relax and tell me what you think of this plan!

Jean-Francois Belisle

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Comments 5

  • Your plan is very straightforward and clear. As a complement, I would add/suggest you to consider for Step 1 to really focus on the people who asked the human resources to hire you as a web analyst. The web analyst should try to influence these people initially. It will be easier to thereafter involve stakeholders and even more the vice-presidents and CEO subsequently.

  • Interesting recipe that can be applied to a number of fields. Deep down, it has more to do with change management than anything else.

  • @Simon. Thanks for the nice advice, I totally agree that the first step is an important one and that the focus should be oriented on who hired you. This is why a strong personality is important in this business, even though some might think that web analyst should be shy extroverted individuals.

    @Marc. Nice comment. I strongly agree with your “fear of change” argument, like you mention, overcoming (or fighting against) the business culture of an organization is such a challenge in any kind of persuasion task. In bigger organization it is always more difficult, I’m pretty sure you got plenty of examples in mind.

  • Very nice adaptation of Cialdini’s principles Jef 🙂
    I must confess that 15 years ago, in the very same fashion Web analytics expertise is confronted as today, usability specialists faced the same challenge…The dilemna of being hired to implement usability processes within the organisation while figuring out how to convince that very same organization that user experience was a strategic weapon not just a tactical one…wondering why was I hired for? Token usability agent comparable to visible minority employees’ quotas to make up for the organization’s image??!
    And although the 8-steps you mentionned clearly helped anyone who tried them, all we did was sounding like research geeks at the time! 😉 My evangelizing experience tells me that the best parallel way to win your job’s ‘business case’ is to work your point bottom-up as well (vs trying to convince the top first), inspiring yourself from computing development and the agile approach with rapid prototyping (i.e.; trying small things on the side, make your own hypotheses and experimentations, collect and analyze your data, etc.) and document it, vulgarize it, publish it in your space on the intranet, organize a lunch session with colleagues to discuss it, and at some point, when the opportunity calls, the whole persuasive set-up – everything including yourself – will be ready to convince the top. 🙂

  • Thanks for your comments Sandrine, happy you like the Cialdini’s principles application. Your point about the importance of taking usability and web analytics as strategies and not purely as tactics is an important one, and I think that there is still too much misunderstanding on this issue. I really like your last paragraph, I think that the best approach to take depends on how many colleagues can understand your everyday job . If your answer is none or very few, then the taxonomy (procedure) I am proposing is an interesting way to evangelize, but if like you mention you have a certain amount of colleagues that can understand you, criticize you and add thoughts on the points you are making, then I would agree that your bottom-up persuasion mode would be the one I would prioritize before trying to persuade more highly placed employees/stakeholders.

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