Are You Sabotaging Business Data with Inaction?

c-335-snailI ran into a past colleague of mine the other day and stopped to catch up on clients I used to work with and see how things were going. He said things were good, but he also expressed a complaint that I’ve learned is far too common among digital analysts.

He said he was spending over 70 percent of his time creating reports, but felt like nothing ever happened as a result. He was giving his clients the metrics they requested and the insights they asked for, but never saw improvements or changes actually happen.

In this column, I want to focus on one of the biggest detractors in our industry: inaction.

Inaction occurs for a number of different reasons, but regardless of the underlying cause, prolonged inaction can lead to serious long-term problems. Of the factors that contribute to inaction, I’d like to focus on a major one: report/metrics misunderstanding.

When analysts create reports and deliver insights to their clients, as my friend did (whether in an agency or corporation, I consider whoever the end user of your work is to be a client), there is often a disconnect in either the understanding of the data in the reports, or in the importance of the metrics and KPIs included. While this is typically less an issue for smaller, close-knit teams of marketers and analysts, it becomes an issue rather quickly in larger agencies and organizations.

Analysts should use the action items below to help correct any misunderstandings in regards to reporting:

1) Try to Understand Both Sides of the Situation

Schedule some time with your client (face-to-face is best) and let them know that you are interested in learning about their goals in the organization. You are primarily there to listen and let the client talk. You may find yourself wanting to interject with new metrics or report designs that would help them out, but hold back.

All of this information can be very overwhelming and you don’t want to risk offending someone by telling him or her all the things you think they are doing wrong if you haven’t heard their reasons first. You also want to make sure you are actually listening to them and taking in reasons or use cases that you may not have thought of yourself before.

2) Present Thoughtful Insights

Once you’ve met with your client(s), take some time and think through what they said. It can help to think of this process as an analysis project of its own: You have the problem of inaction that needs to be solved. You have identified potential causes of the problem. Now you need to analyze the data you collected in your meeting and create recommendations on how to proceed. The end goal is a revised report structure that you think fits their needs better than that currently being delivered and that you will walk them through in-person (at least the first time).

3) Preempt Objections

Be prepared to justify any changes or additions you make. Think of the reasons they’re likely to give for not changing how things are done, and be prepared with your counter-rationale. If the client has a track record of success with how they currently do things, they will be less likely to want to change things up and risk hitting their goals. Make sure you have thoughtful responses that highlight the potential gains they could achieve by focusing on different metrics.

4) Repeat 

After you’ve solved your client’s problem, move on to others in your organization. Chances are, your client has a boss or a colleague that receives portions of the reports you create. Meet with these individuals as well and talk about their frustrations and goals as you did in step 1. When you provide them with insights into improvements that can be made, make sure to include any gains in performance your client saw as a result. Having strong internal case studies and someone to champion your work can go a long way in convincing resistant clients to take action.

Your approach may not look exactly like my outline above, but the main thing to remember when going through this process is to remain open to others and try to see things from their point of view. We all have different challenges and face tough decisions every day; stepping back to see the bigger picture and consider all sides may be just what is needed to spur clients into action.

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