The Three Brick Walls Between You and Your Data

Melaney Smith

Updated · May 31, 2002

I loved my ClickZ colleague Mark Sakalosky‘s article “Customer Data? We Don’t Have Any Customer Data.” Chances are you could claim that story as your very own. Most of us have found ourselves needing some critical customer data to make a decision, only to hit a “Brick Wall” when we try to obtain or use it. I’m sure you’ve all been busy working on your yield models since my last article was posted. Perhaps now is a good time to discuss how one scales that seemingly insurmountable Brick Wall.

Classifying Your Brick Wall

A Brick Wall is a person who has the ability to thwart your efforts to use customer data to improve your business results. There are many different kinds. Today, let’s deal with three:

  • The Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper is a Brick Wall who physically prevents you from accessing the data you need. Frequently, the Gatekeeper is a technology professional. Managers who assign priorities to projects can effectively become Gatekeepers if they don’t assign your data needs the priority they’re due.
  • The Skeptic. The Skeptic is a Brick Wall who simply doesn’t believe analyzing customer data is a worthwhile activity. Skeptics come in many shapes and sizes and may not be skeptical about every aspect of customer data analysis. Some are executives more used to face-to-face customer contact. Others are co-workers threatened by the thought of being held accountable for the results of their marketing programs. And don’t forget those who have had success with a certain approach and believe no further modifications are necessary.

  • The Know-It-All. Know-It-Alls are the craftiest kind of Brick Wall. They are convinced they know everything they need to know about your customers. All this wisdom is stored in their brains. A Know-It-All will pretend to know the answer to a business problem and will sometimes even go so far as to fabricate it. This type frequently morphs into Gatekeepers and Skeptics. A frustrating bunch!

Identifying Your Brick Wall

To classify your personal Brick Wall, you first need to correctly identify who it is. This isn’t as easy as it seems, particularly in a large organization. You may think your problem is a Gatekeeper who refuses to give you the data you need. Look deeper. Is the Gatekeeper forced into the role by a Skeptic manager? It can get complicated, so stop and think about your Brick Wall so you focus your efforts correctly.

Next, try to figure out what kind of Brick Wall you are facing and why. (The worst Brick Wall I ever faced was a high-ranking Know-It-All who was also a vocal Skeptic and became a Gatekeeper. If you work for one of these, you have my deepest sympathy.) To develop the appropriate strategy, you need to know why the Brick Wall is there. More often than not, people become Brick Walls unintentionally.

Some Gatekeepers have wasted time on requests for massive amounts of data that led nowhere. Others are afraid that you might discover errors if you’re allowed to look at data. There are Gatekeepers who love having control and power over you. Some simply don’t understand the business reasons for your request.

Skeptics can be hard to figure out. Most often, I find they are simply too busy to stop and listen. They are reasonable people with good intentions but have complicated schedules and too few resources. In their quest for time, they tune you out. There are certainly Skeptics who have a set way of doing things and are afraid (or unwilling) to change. Others may be afraid of being proven wrong.

Know-It-Alls are easy to figure out but difficult to address. You probably know at least one. The Know-It-All is often driven by ego or insecurity. Dealing with one often requires a certain amount of groveling. Be warned!

Why am I going into the psyches of the people keeping you from your goal? To develop a strategy to overcome the obstacle, you must know what’s really in your way and why. Just categorizing these folks has been a form of therapy for me — a way to put to rest all those years of jumping hurdles and begging for data.

Next, we’ll get to the heart of the matter: practical approaches to dealing with these difficult people so you can use your customer data to improve your business.

Melaney Smith is a freelance marketer with more than ten years of experience in marketing, finance, and data mining. She evangelizes the need for businesses to mine their data and make it easily accessible for decision makers. She specializes in helping businesses utilize customer, transaction, and other data to improve or create sales and marketing programs.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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