January 21, 2014

Data, collaboration and singing off the same song sheet

I often hear "data-driven decision making" cited as a desired tenet of a company's culture. And we all also know that every person on today's marketing teams need to know their way around a spreadsheet (What kind of marketer are you?).

But how do you make being data driven a reality? First, everyone needs to be singing off the same song sheet. Literally.

One song sheet builds a common vocabulary
Ok, I don't mean the team is literally singing, but I do mean using one common dashboard. At minimum, a weekly document tracking the critical business metrics plus the associated driver metrics. And where all sources are clearly articulated and calculated or derived values are clearly defined.

Having one "song sheet" that everyone uses insures that a common vocabulary is used across the business. This is essential for needed alignment across cross functional teams comprising finance, marketing, product, sales and support team members.

Whenever I start a new assignment, this is one of the first things I tackle. And having done this a number of times now, I am no longer surprised when the effort inevitably uncovers a misalignment. It can be as small as a misunderstanding over the definition of a conversion rate or as large as inaccurate source data. In my experience, it has even highlighted executive dissonance around what precisely is the most important business metric: new sales growth, profitability, revenue or acquisition costs?

And, always, there are team members who privately admit to me that they had not previously known what the critical business metrics were nor understood how metrics were sourced, calculated or forecast. Employee engagement increases when individuals understand and can articulate how what they do contributes to the overall success of the business. Creating a common metric dashboard is worth the effort just for the impact to increased engagement alone.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? practice, practice, practice
It's not enough to simply have a common song sheet, everyone has to know how to sing off it. And that takes practice. It will take multiple repetitions and review before your entire team is consistently fluent with the data, its trends and how this knowledge and insight applies to the work they do and decisions they make each day.

I like to establish a regular time each week with the team to review the metrics, current trends, share insights and any planned actions. The regularity and repetition helps the entire team start to understand and internalize the rhythm of the business. And as programs and products launch and/or optimizations are tested, the impact is seen in the metrics. And through regular conversations around this cause and effect, the team learns the activities that positively impact the critical metrics and begin to apply that knowledge in their day-to-day prioritization and decision making.

It's a process, not an event
Create a "song sheet" and "sing" off it doesn't sound like rocket science and it isn't. But you may be surprised about how many organizations say they want to be data driven, but don't take the steps to enable team leads and team members with the tools they need. And a key element of success is repetition and creating a routine around the review of the metrics. Building a data driven competency is process, not an event. And it's well worth the time invested.