CEOs in every industry are driving their organisations to become more data-driven and to make decisions on the basis of hard evidence derived from customer analytics. And the task of turning this aim into reality often falls on the CIO.

In functional areas traditionally accustomed to using numerical data accounting, finance, product development and supply chain, CIOs generally find they are pushing against an open door in promoting the benefits of analytics-based decision-making.

But in customer-facing functions such as marketing, CIOs often find the door firmly shut in their faces. Indeed, many executives in these areas positively pride themselves on applying intuition rather than hard evidence.

This challenge is underlined by a recent Accenture Customer Analytics Survey of executives worldwide. In it, some 35% of those respondents responsible for marketing, sales or customer service said experience and intuition were the key inputs when making decisions. In contrast, only 22% placed the same reliance on data analysis, and a mere 15% on consultation with colleagues.

So, marketers like using gut feel. What's wrong with that? Aren't managers supposed to use intuition and personal experience in decision-making? Don't companies hire managers for their experience?

No experience needed
The short answer is no. True, there is nothing wrong with using intuition and experience to aid decision making but only when these are supported by data analysis. Even advocates of intuition admit it is most effective when conditions are stable and the present mirrors the past. Clearly, stability and consistency are hardly the hallmarks of today's global markets or customers.

The changes on both fronts are profound and pervasive. Markets are in a state of upheaval from the emergence of new competitors and market consolidation. Growth is increasingly coming from emerging markets. Product lifecycles are shrinking, along with margins.

On the consumer side, new technology has transformed the way consumers research and buy products. Brand loyalty is eroding, as consumers demand ever more relevant and personalised messaging and experiences. And companies who fail to meet consumers' expectations around customer service can read about their failings on social media along with millions of other consumers.

At the same time, the explosion of geographic markets, products, customer segments, marketing media and distribution channels has driven an exponential increase in the complexity of customer-facing investment decisions.

And there is a growing imperative for customer-facing functions to help drive product and service innovation.

All of these changes are creating growing tensions in the marketing function, where the legacy as a creative discipline is still strong and where taking time for data analysis can be seen as a sign of weakness and indecisiveness.

In our study, almost 40% of the respondents in sales, marketing and customer service said the culture within their own group was a barrier to improving customer management and decision-making.

However, it would be wrong to apportion the blame entirely on the creatives.

Data access, quality and timeliness are real challenges for most organisations. However, our research shows that those companies with the most advanced analytic capabilities are the most likely to be dissatisfied with the shape of their customer data.

Despite data issues, these firms have pressed ahead with analytics and have then found creative ways to compensate for the bad or missing data.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn't wait for perfect data, because your competitors certainly won't.

So, how can the CIO help overcome these barriers and get marketing executives using data analytics in their decisions? Here are six key steps:

1 Find a business partner. Select a group within the marketing functions that is ready for and open to new approaches, and examine its culture and ability to change. Take time to discuss its objectives and expectations, and identify the resources needed to spearhead the driving of data into decision processes.

2 Find a problem. Select your decision targets carefully. Look for problems that lend themselves to analytics and where better decision-making can have a measurable and sizeable impact. Ideally, target operational, recurring decisions that provide the opportunity to demonstrate progress over time.

3 Identify the metrics that matter. Determine and define the key metrics that will be used to measure the impact of data analysis on decisions. Decide what success will look like, and how the financial impact of improved decisions will be captured through both leading and lagging performance indicators.

4 Understand the current state. Meet with managers tasked with decision-making. What data and processes do they currently use? How good is their track record of successful decisions? What would help them make better decisions? The answers will help provide a roadmap to improvement.

5 Pilot a solution. Take a solution that can be rapidly implemented, and pilot it to measure the impact of analytics on decisions and build the appetite for sustained change. Proving the case for data analysis paves the way for permanent infrastructure and process changes.

6 Don't sweat over mistakes. Remember, successful firms don't make fewer mistakes. They just correct course faster. So expect some bumps on the road to data-driven decision-making.

It has never been more important for the marketing function to make smart decisions and the CIO has never been better placed to help.

Marketing executives need to wake up to the power of analytics.

If they don't, they are ignoring an opportunity to gain a significant competitive advantage and maximise their organisations' market potential.

Marianne Seiler is senior principle, customer analytics at Accenture

Pic: Wm Jas cc2.0