Will the real analysts out there please stand up?

Why do analysts exist? Why do people pay us for our work?

Lots of people would answer this simple appearing question with “to run reports”, or “get data out of a system” or <gasp> “provide numbers.” If your first instinct was to answer with any of these explanations, then I’ve got some bad news for you: you’re going to be out of a job in the near future. Machines will be able to do these tasks far better and faster than any human.

Here’s why I believe analysts exist: to influence decision making so that the business that you’re working on is always improving. Businesses constantly need to improve (the Japanese call it Kaizen) or risk dying, and the analyst is there to prevent that decay from happening. I say this nearly every day to at least one person who’s willing to listen to me: if you’re not providing value to the business and influencing decision makers to think about how they can improve the business, then you shouldn’t call yourself an analyst.

Being this sort of analyst is tough work, and won’t make you lots of friends. In fact, I would argue that in order to be a great analyst, you’ll need to ruffle some feathers. People won’t always like you because you’re telling them things that they don’t want to hear, all in the name of improving the business. If you’re a people pleaser, don’t become an analyst.

Now this doesn’t mean that you should demand that people listen to you because you’re a mighty analyst and know everything. But it does mean that you will be expected to start some very uncomfortable conversations where people will get defensive. If that’s not your cup of tea, there are many other professions that are meant to cater towards what people want. Being a great analyst is not that career.

Speaking of unexpected traits of great analysts, I would put at the top of the list influencing skills. You have the nearly impossible task of trying to get someone to listen and trust you, understand that what you’re saying is true, and after all that hard work, getting them to actually implement your recommendation so that the business improves. Do you think you can do that, or do you even want to try? If not, don’t become an analyst.

Now that you understand that being an analyst isn’t going to make you popular and you have to persuade some curdmudgeonly people with lots of ego to move ahead with your recommendations, what about the actual work? You know, the analyzing part?

Unfortunately, things don’t get easier here either. Providing actual insights that connect the dots in the data and lead to the right actionable recommendations is a skill that takes years to master. Most “analysts” believe that describing what they see in the data is good enough to call it a day. Observations such as “conversions are up 33%” or “bounce rates have steadily been decreasing because this graph says so” are assumed by some analysts to count as analysis. This is false. Real analysts take these descriptions as a starting point to begin their deeper investigation in to the rabbit hole known only as “the why”. Why did bounce rates decline? Why are conversions up? And if those questions are hard to answer, connecting the why to the insights that will improve the business, and translating those insights in to tangible and actionable recommendations, is even harder.

So if I haven’t made it plainly clear, being a real analyst is hard, takes a lot of time, and requires a near superhuman ability to mix persuasive soft skills and analytical hard skills. Still ready to take the journey? I hope you say yes, because the business world is dying for more real analysts. Companies are desperate to hire people that can do all of the things I mentioned above. The great businesses recognize that without real analysts, their businesses will eventually wither and die. So if you’re ready to jump on this exciting bandwagon of becoming a real analyst keep reading!