October 26, 2023

Anna’s adventures in making a bigger impact (5 = sign-off)

By Paul Laughlin

Over a year ago, I began the adventures of Anna Liszt, we now return to continue her story with a focus on the sign-off stage. Faithful readers may remember that the heroine of our story (Anna) works in a large London office as an analyst.

During parts one to four of her story, we learned the importance of a range of softer skills with Anna. Her interactions with a range of stakeholders, including her jocular teammate Bob, have brought to life what each of these might mean in a workplace.

In part one, we learned why Socratic questioning is used to determine what your stakeholders need. Part two then focussed on planning your approach and learning from the past. In chapter three of our story, we learned with Bob about the need for stakeholder buy-in. Before pausing our series, part four moved on to the challenge of generating useful insights. Let’s now continue our tale…

Never forget the terrible tale of Tony

Bob was visibly excited. His fidgeting and periodic grins gave away a person impatient to start something. After 30 minutes of trying to focus on her work, Anna gave in to the distraction. “Ok, Bob, what is it?” she expressed with some obvious irritation but also a smile of her own. “I don’t know what you mean!” came the playful reply. “Come on Bob, you’ve been bouncing about on that chair like a cat on a hot tin roof for ages. What’s happening to get you so excited?”

Visibly delighted to have the audience he craved, Bob unleashed his full demonstrative presence. “Well, as you’ve asked. I’ve finally finished that evaluation of our text marketing campaigns and I’ve been asked to present at the Marketing Board. My chance to shine I guess!” he added with a broad grin on his face. “Interesting…” Anna played along, “So what did you find? Any interesting new insights?” Bob’s reaction revealed this was the question he had sought. “Oh yes. Complete waste of money. With control groups & a fallow group, I’ve got all I need to prove we should stop this spending & save over £1m a year!”

“Very interesting” said Anna but could sense a concern rising within her. “Have you chatted through your analysis with Lucy?” Bob was clearly surprised. “No, why would I? The CMO asked me to do this analysis, she’s not going to like the results anyway so is bound to be defensive.” Bob straightened like a man trying to pull himself up to his full height. “Once I present the facts in the meeting she won’t have anywhere to run.” “Exactly!” Anna almost shouted, “Please Bob, never forget the terrible tale of Tony!”

What Tony got wrong (a cautionary tale)

At the mention of that name, all the colour drained from Bob’s face. He felt like the temperature in the office had dropped a few more degrees. Everyone knew the terrible tale of Tony. His spectacular fall from grace & subsequent firing was a cautionary tale passed on from one generation of analysts to another. Ever since that fateful day when Tony presented to the Executive Committee in 2018.

Anna had been right to draw the parallels. Back in those safer-feeling days, Tony had been the lead analyst on a review of marketing effectiveness. Looking back, future analysts who have heard of his demise are surprised how good his slides look. His analysis was comprehensive & robust. He presented results from econometric modelling of above the line advertising, together with uplift modelling of all below the line media spend using control groups. Why did it all go so wrong?

Those who were present at that fateful October 2018 Executive Committee meeting tell this tale. As all the senior leadership team gave them his attention, Tony presented his well designed slides. The key message was clear & compelling. The analysis showed that one media, direct mail, was massively under performing despite testing a wide variety of targeting and designs. Tony calmly presented a compelling argument to cut this spend whilst still achieving sales. Unfortuantely this was half the budget & team led by Lucy. You could almost see a wave of realisation sweep around the table as this landed. Not surprisingly Lucy went on the attack. Her infamous rebuttal dismantled the quality of data, his lack of understanding marketing & even Tony’s personal credibility. He never recovered & the spend continued.

Navigating vested interests a key part of Sign-Off

Anna could see Bob’s fear. “Don’t worry Bob, there is a way through this” she shared in as optimistic a tone as she could manage. “It doesn’t have to be like that meeting you’ve heard about. You do see what Tony did wrong don’t you Bob?” He still looked concerned & slightly puzzled. “Take on Lucy?” he suggested. “No” replied Anna laughing, “although she can be fearsome when riled. His mistake was not engaging her earlier. He shouldn’t have ambushed her like that.” Bob nodded but still looked unsure.

Anne continued “it’s like you mentioned earlier about her having nowhere to run. You were probably thinking that prevented her getting out of it by backroom deals. But look at it from her perspective. Don’t you think you’d feel disrespected and trapped? Remember cornering a tiger is never a good idea. Flight or fight and all that.” Bob nodded more convincingly this time, “sure I can see that and always thought she was a bit of a maneater.” Anna shook her head “I’ll ignore your sexism for now Bob keep focussed, what else could you do?”

Bob concedes and gets braver

Bob ruminated. As much as the last thing he wanted to do was face Lucy by himself, he could see the wisdom of where Anna was going with this. “Ok” he said, mock raising his hands in surrender, “I give up, I’ll meet with Lucy and talk her through it. But I bet this just gives her a chance to get out of it!” Anna sympathised (given Lucy’s reputation for being a tough negoatiator), but continued. “Perhaps, Bob, but you’ll face a pushback either way. You need to decide what matters more to you. Proving Lucy wrong or helping her make the right decision?”

Bob’s nod conceded the point & encouraged Lucy to continue. “If you offer to go to her one to one first, you can present it as an opportunity to work together on the way forward. She needs a trusted advisor in this team & you won’t be that if she doesn’t trust you. Ask for her help. Openness, humility and a willingness to let her position the thinking as her idea can help you here”.

What did Lucy do next? Sign-off results

Well our story is not over. Stay tuned to further episodes of Anna Liszt’s adventures. But for this chapter, suffice it to say that Anna was right. Bob steeled himself and met with Lucy one to one. She was smart enough to clearly see the evidence and the risk of it getting out anyway, plus she appreciated Bob giving her the opportunity to shape the message together.

He conceded some operational points and she agree to transition to that saving as long as the budget stayed in her division. This win win worked out wonderfully for the company. Personalised experiences on the site have increased income over 100%. Plus, there is one analyst Lucy now goes to for advice. Bob is becoming that trusted adviser.