I remember being unpleasantly surprised when I started my analytic career that policymakers were not the eager consumers of my products that I assumed they’d be. I was writing on interesting topics and providing what I thought were valuable insights, yet most of my intended customers remained potential customers. I failed to realize one of the fundamental challenges of being an analyst: your customers are highly skeptical and have plenty of reasons not to read your analysis, let alone finish it, absorb it, and act on it. You face this problem whether writing for the Secretary of Defense, a CEO, or a CSO. I’ve designed my first free online course at E38 Academy, Ten Tips for Improving Your Analytic Writing, to help analysts deal with this problem.
This customer skepticism has several sources:
- They are incredibly busy. Your customers are all under pressure to deliver on the programs and organizations they run, and they put in long hours to do so. Their inboxes are bursting and their schedules packed. They might see reading an analytic product as a luxury they can’t afford or, less generously, as a tedious task they can skip.
- They are experts, or at least think they are. Many professionals believe they have a firm grasp on their area of responsibility, particularly if it’s a field they’ve worked in for years. They trust their instincts and don’t always see the value in someone else’s opinion, particularly someone from outside their circle.
- They have their own information sources. Most customers have well-developed networks that are feeding them the same type of information as you. These sources range from trusted news outlets to outside experts and old friends. In their mind, why do they need you? In the worst-case scenario, which I faced many times in my career, you have to present analysis about a figure your customer knows personally, pitting your secondhand read against the customer’s firsthand knowledge.
- They don’t like what you say. If you’re doing your job as an analyst correctly, you’ll often have to tell your customers inconvenient truths that make their jobs harder. Enlightened customers will recognize the value of this, but unfortunately you’re going to find a lot of unenlightened people out there who would prefer to only hear good news.
- They don’t know you. This last one is a big problem in the private sector, where many companies are adding analytic units that must serve customers who have never dealt with analysis before. They don’t know how to use it, and you must convince them of its value.
Defeating customer skepticism is a time-consuming process where analysts must create a track record of useful products that demonstrate value and build trust. This process at its core requires you to get your customer to do four things:
- Read. This is the first and most basic hurdle, but also the hardest, as you must overcome the average customer’s desire to not have to read yet another report. The most common source of failure here is a product your customer thinks is too long. To clear this hurdle. you must be concise. Respect your customer’s time by taking up as little of it as possible.
- Understand. Your customer doesn’t want to struggle to follow your argument or decipher confusing prose. You must use a language they speak and avoid unfamiliar jargon or acronyms. If they get confused, they might stop reading. To create this understanding you must be clear. The flow of your argument and your choice of words should never cause a customer to wonder what you mean or leave something open to interpretation, allowing them to take away a different meaning than you intend.
- Believe. They need to accept that the argument you’re making is credible and compelling. You must convince them you are correct–or at least might be. To produce belief you must be credible. Your argument must be logical and supported by relevant and believable evidence whenever possible. You build credibility and authority over time, yet one really bad piece or disastrous analytic call can ruin your reputation and your customer’s willingness to listen. That isn’t fair, but being an analyst in any field is tough.
- Care. You can have the most brilliant, well-sourced analysis ever written, but if it doesn’t address your customer’s needs, they won’t find value in it. In fact, if they don’t find the title or first sentence engaging, they might never read your product. To make them care you must be relevant. This requires you to understand your customer’s needs and, whenever possible, produce actionable analysis that helps them make decisions.
To overcome customer skepticism you must work to make every analytic product as concise, clear, credible, and relevant as you can. This requires attention to detail in the prose of your products. I’ve crafted my first free course at E38 Academy, Ten Tips for Improving Your Analytic Writing, to help analysts focus on these details. Drawing on over 25 years of experience in writing and reviewing analytic products, my tips target the most common mistakes I see. Successful application of these tips should help analysts overcome even the most skeptical customer. Please check out my one-hour course here and let me know what you think.