good analyst toolbox
August 31, 2019

What tools are in a good analyst toolbox? (part 2 = people skills)

By Martin Squires

Continuing Martin Squires series on the tools that should be in a good analyst toolbox. In part 2, Martin moves on to focus on the people skills that are needed.

I use the term people skills for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there has been some online outrage at the over use of the term Softer Skills. Secondly, because the skills that Martin lists are very people-centric. That alchemy of attitude and interpersonal interactions that can make all the difference.

So, back to Martin to share what has has found is important amongst the many analysts he has lead. It may be many years since Martin has been a “hands on” analyst, but like me he has had many years to spot what makes the difference between analysts who flourish or fail. It is rarely the technical skills.

From analyst toolbox to golf club bag

In theory my list of technical tools should give you a pretty good club bag to get around most courses. But, it does leave me with one thought. A list of tools and resources are all well and good, but you could give me Tiger Woods clubs and I’d still be putting the ball in the next field half the time.

What about the other skills you need as an analyst? The toolbox definitely needs to contain some “softer skills” too. I call them the 4 C’s
Curiosity, Creativity, Communication and Common Sense.

The Softer skills analysts need too (4Cs)


All great analysts have an inbuilt curiosity, a need to understand the solution to the riddle of whatever business problem facing them.

As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious”. Most briefs an analyst get will only ask half the really interesting questions.

The great analysts always starts from what does the person asking me this question really want to know”?


It’s easy to look at analysis as a dry, technical exercise undertaken by people with a Spock like approach to the universe. But analysis has it’s own creativity.

I spent a long time in credit card analysis and one of the key variables everyone uses there is “balance to credit limit ratio”, how much of their credit line a customer uses each month tells you lots about them. But it isn’t a variable that comes straight out of your transaction data, someone (I believe at FICO long, long ago) sat down and thought “what if I try doing this”?

A bit like the ancient cave paintings in France, their name is long lost to history but they were a creative star.


Data storytelling seems to be one of the hot topics of the last couple of years. There is a real truth to the fact that great analysis, that goes unused because it wasn’t communicated well, is far less use than good analysis that gets implemented and drives results.

It’s not just about stunning PowerPoint either, it’s about learning how to get your message across. Working with some great marketeers taught me that analysts often have an issue with expecting to tell an audience of senior decision makers something once and it be understood, acted on and remembered forever. Ask a marketer how often an audience needs to see a message to remember it and they’ll tell you 6-7 times minimum.

Be prepared to craft your analysis message in a number of different formats for different audiences. Be prepared to tell your story as often as you need to to make sure your message lands.

Common Sense

Which I have learnt is far less common than you might hope. Squires first law of analysis: “Every time I find something really, really interesting in a data set then it probably means the data is wrong”.

How do you spot outliers, bad samples and badly designed charts, people who’ve used the wrong base(s) as an index etc?

A good analyst knows when a platypus isn’t a duck!

Does your investment in a good analyst toolbox contain them?

Thanks again to Martin for his advice across those two posts. I echo his plea for more focus on People Skills and have shared before what a difference they can make.

What are you doing to develop such skills? If you are like many Analytics or Customer Insight leaders I know, developing people skills has taken a back seat. New infrastructure or a focus on migrating to R or Python coding has taken up your budget.

If that’s the case, I urge you to take a step back and reconsider. When you look at the whole Competency Framework of capabilities you need in your team, I bet People Skills need to be improved. If that is the case, why not find a provider & invest in training or coaching your analysts to close those gaps?

After all, a good analyst toolbox doesn’t arrive by magic. I recommend taking time now to identify your next step towards it.