Here’s a question I know you’ve asked yourself: what does Mr. Miyagi know about vendor selection
The answer is simpler than you’d think. Mr. Miyagi – the wise mentor from the classic Karate Kid films -- was a fisherman and a martial artist. For all intents and purposes, this meant he knew about the complex nature of vendor selection, as well as how those vendors would satisfy his varying business requirements. In addition, he likely knew whether those vendors were going to evolve with an ever-changing landscape. While you may be right to believe he had a lack of training on digital analytics vendors, remember that even Daniel-san was skeptical of his methods at first…and we all know how his story turned out.
As a technically-minded person, I want to explore how Mr. Miyagi taught the Karate Kid to root out some gems of truth that I think are universally applicable, and tie it back to how this relationship is similar to picking a digital vendor.
Learning to Stand Before Learning to Fly
Whenever a need arises for a new vendor, sales pitches start to fly and all of the bells, whistles, and flashing lights are brought to the forefront. Vendor A can do X, Y, and Z, but Vendor B can do W, X, and Y. It’s an exciting time, and it’s very easy to want to dive right in and do all of the coolest things a vendor can offer. However, did Mr. Miyagi start by teaching Daniel-san how to punch? Not remotely.
Instead, Daniel-san was told to do various chores, and when the time came, he found that the chores made the karate movements feel more natural. So, before choosing a vendor, all of the “chores” should be done first: namely, developing business requirements, which should be waxed till shiny, sanded till smooth, and painted till perfect. Subsequently, when the time arrives to choose a vendor, attention will naturally gravitates towards what is needed, not what is flashy. Flashy implementations have to develop naturally out of a rock-solid foundation, otherwise they will not provide useful insights beyond looking “cool”.
Wax On…Wax Off…
Another useful practice before selecting a vendor is laying the framework for the implementation itself – or learning how to wax on or wax off certain elements. How can this be done without a vendor? As it turns out, many analytics vendors follow a somewhat similar pattern. The code tracks when a page loads, some requirements might want information from that page (in addition to the simple browser-provided information), and user interactions are often desired. Sometimes, a whole slew of functionality is dynamically generated on a single page, resulting in a larger number of custom interactions to track or a greater number of cars to wax.
So, where do the vendors differ? In essence, they only differ in how the information is passed to their tools and reported. They all need the same information from the page. So, with a Tag Management System (TMS), data layer, and some generic callback functions defined, it is possible (and preferable) to build the entire implementation without even thinking about the vendor.
After this process is performed, you have a much more intimate understanding of what you actually need your vendor to collect. Once the vendor is chosen, all you need is someone knowledgeable to slot the tool’s functionality into the implementation that is already in place. All of the data is already being pulled from the page and all of the events you need tracked are passing detail when they are triggered -- so you just have to “wax on” appropriately.
The best part? If you ever need to switch vendors, all you do is wax off the old vendor and wax on the new vendor. No additional development effort is required, giving the user the power to decide what they need, instead of helplessly figuring out next steps.
Wax the car, paint the fence, and the rest flows much more naturally.
The Pesky Cobra Kais
When it comes to tracking analytics, it’s often easy to become distracted by the competition – aka the pesky Cobra Kais. You may find yourself asking what the Cobra Kais are doing, how they are doing it, and how well are they doing it. However, these distractions can be detrimental since they steal the focus away from what is important: improving one’s own program – and ultimately making you the Karate Kid.
The vendor selection process should be a personal decision that aligns with the business goals defined for your organization. If a path of personal growth and development provides end users with a better experience, success will naturally follow, and you’ll know the vendor you chose is right for you. Forget what those pesky Cobra Kais are doing. What works for them won’t always work for you. Do your research, talk to the Miyagi’s in your life, and ignore the Cobra Kai. As Daniel-san proved, they don’t always win.
Winning the Tournament
At the end of the day, vendor selection is about what’s best for your organization. Understanding the fundamentals of your business requirements is the key to ensuring that vendor presentations can be boiled down to what you need, instead of just what the tool can eventually do. A generic implementation can also put the power to adapt back in your hands, giving you the potential to land a victorious Crane when the need arises instead of feeling like you are limited to the particular moves you practiced for a particular vendor.
While it can be difficult to go through this vendor selection process – after all, it takes time – it’s much better to win the tournament by learning to stand before learning how to fly. Finding the most optimal fit slowly is much better than rushing through the process. In the words of the great Mr. Miyagi: “Never put passion before principle. Even if you win, you lose.”
Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures