Study: Marketers Stumble Over Data-Driven Decision-Making

Published: August 22, 2012

Too Few – Or Too Many – Data-Driven Decisions

CEB used five questions to test marketers’ statistical aptitude, ranging from basic to intermediate. According to the report, 44% of marketers answered almost all of the questions incorrectly, and very few (6%) answered all five correctly.

Although marketers struggle with understanding statistics, there are also a select few (11%) who consult dashboards daily and who rely heavily on data to make everyday business decisions.

Despite their ability to rely heavily on data, however, the CEB report suggests that these types of marketers are actually underperformers who receive much lower performance ratings from their managers than average marketers. The problem, in this case, is a tendency to make “data driven” decisions without really understanding what the data means. As a result, the report concluded, these marketers often overreact to changes in the data they review and lose sight of their long-term goals.

The Secret To Data-Driven Marketing: True Grit

What separates top-performing marketers from their less data savvy (or overly data-conscious) peers? According to the CEB report, the most important trait is the ability to balance data-driven decision-making with a steady focus on long-term goals.

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“Top performers have grit – the ability to stay focused on higher-order goals despite distractions,” noted the report. “Grit is a powerful predictor of success in complex, ambiguous environments. It is also the defining trait of today’s best marketers – the Focusers.” This predictor is designed to enable marketers to “filter out noise and resist distractions in order to achieve long-term goals.”

In an article by Harvard Business Review on the report, the authors – two CEB staffers — noted that this ability to “filter out noise is rare” (only about 10% of marketers excel here), and it is also hard to teach.

“A well-guided [marketing] team environment can protect noise chasers from themselves — by providing blinkers that keep “bright shiny objects” out of view,” the authors commented. “To drive effective data use, the best marketing leaders reiterate critical business goals constantly (to keep them front-of-mind despite distractions), teach marketers to put data front and center in their decision making, and sensitize marketers to common data interpretation mistakes. This enables even the most distractible data lovers to overachieve.”

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