Sitecore Analytics - The Adoption Story
Sitecore users are a wise bunch, so why do they avoid speaking, seeing and hearing about Sitecore Analytics? PHOTO: Dean Moriarty

During her time as CEO of Seattle-based marketing technology agency Beyond Vigilant, Kristine Stebbins noted a curious trend among her clients, namely that scant few of their Sitecore platform clients were actually using the built-in Sitecore analytics functionality. It was there for the taking, offered valuable insights and in many ways underpinned the more sophisticated marketing functions of the Sitecore platform, but adoption was not really happening. 

"Why not?" she wondered.

The Sitecore platform has a strong analytics functionality and adoption of the base Sitecore platform has been rising. “What I noticed was that either people were not using Sitecore Analytics at all or were not using it to its fullest potential,” Stebbins told CMSWire. Stebbins is now a managing director with the San Francisco-based Hero Digital, which recently acquired Beyond Vigilant in October of this year.

Kristine's speculation turned into active curiosity and she began interviewing Sitecore customers. Some were from the IT side, others from marketing. Stebbins took her investigation a step further and surveyed five partners, whose names she would not disclose. What she found was about 20 percent of customers were heavy users of Sitecore Analytics. Another 40 percent were light to moderate users. About 20 percent weren’t using it at all and the final 20 percent couldn’t even answer the question, which is telling in itself.

Hitting a Sitecore Nerve

Kristine StebbensStebbins presented her findings to a crowded audience at the annual Sitecore Symposium event, held last week in Las Vegas. Her research had clearly a hit nerve. The feedback she received after the conference echoed what she had just shared. “People were telling me that they deal with the same issue, trying to get marketing to use the platform,” she said. After Stebbins established that a sizable constituency of users weren't taking full advantage of Sitecore Analytics, she delved into the reasons. 

While no one particular answer emerged, there were some recurring themes.

Lack of Training.
Fortunately, the solution to this is simple: Get trained. “When I work with customers, I always encourage them to take responsibility for learning what you can do with a platform,” Stebbins said. “It sounds like an obvious solution but there it is: Get trained and actually start to use the product.”

Culture Shift.
Many marketers are simply accustomed to using another analytics tool, typically Google Analytics (GA) or Adobe / Omniture. “I would hear some variation of 'I built my career on GA,'” she said, the subtext being "Why do I need Sitecore analytics then?" “What’s important to get across in this case is that it is not an either/or matter — you don’t have to stop using GA because you are learning to use Sitecore Analytics,” she said. 

Tools Alignment.
The role of Sitecore Analytics versus GA is not clear to users. Stebbins tells the case story of Innogy, which has successfully combined GA and Sitecore. “They understand the role of the two data sets, which is phenomenal. But they are the exception, not the rule.”

Metrics Alignment.
The analytics definitions change from vendor to vendor. Again, this is a problem for marketers who cut their teeth on GA and are now branching out. “The definitions used in the two packages are very similar but they have some important and subtle differences, and it causes no end of confusion with marketers to try to figure out,” she said.

Resource Constraints.
The marketing team isn’t properly staffed. “I would often hear, ‘Our one person who really understood Sitecore Analytics left the company and we haven’t restarted that.’ Literally, I heard that multiple times. Or I would hear, 'Well, we have our one or two analytics people and it’s in their queue to start to use the platform but they haven’t gotten to it yet.' Clearly there is a resource issue,” she said.

Culture Shift (again).
It’s hard to break out of the day-to-day grind. Marketers are creating and publishing content on a regular basis. If something comes up in the middle of the crunch and they can’t figure out how to solve it, they default to something they know, which is usually GA. “They’re caught up in just operating the system — just getting the basic, ‘I have to create, manage and publish content’ — and don’t have time to look beyond,” Stebbins said.

Solving the Analytics Adoption Problem

Simple answers are sadly elusive — the solutions to these issues are as varied as the original problems themselves. With some of them, the answer is obvious: assign more resources to marketing, for example, or insist that the marketing staff receives comprehensive training on Sitecore. In other cases the answer, at least partially, is to make one person responsible for analytics on the marketing team. “Again, it sounds simple but that doesn’t always happen,” Stebbins said.

This conference made clear that Sitecore is looking to simplify the technical side of the equation as well. The announced Sitecore 9 release is moving away from a reliance on a separate MongoDB database (previously called xDB) for Sitecore Analytics data. There may be multiple reasons for this, but in part it seems to be a move to reduce the number of moving parts required for things like Sitecore Analytics to operate. It's makes the analytics and marketing functionality that much more "out of the box." Sitecore 9 is expected to ship in ealry 2018. But the adoption solution will be multi-pronged and leadership will be key.

One piece of advice addresses all the reasons why Sitecore Analytics does not have as high an uptake as expected: Develop a comprehensive strategy for the application, Stebbins said. “If I were the GM and this were my team I would say ‘we have to have strategy for how we’re going to utilize all of our analytics data, inclusive of Google Analytics and Sitecore and anything else we may have in our ecosystem.'”

The lack of an overarching strategy, Stebbins said, creates the problems with tactical execution.