Persuading Senior Executives With Data

jimsterneoct1The bane of an analyst’s existence is to have the numbers–the proof–yet find they’re unable to convince others to take action.

We try showing them where the numbers come from. Their eyes glaze over.

We try showing them how we arrived at our insights. They check their phone.

We try showing them the indisputable math behind our recommendations. They excuse themselves.

What’s an analyst to do??

Steve Patitpas, general manager of and of production studios & event marketing at Microsoft, took the stage at the latest eMetrics Summit in Boston to help analysts get their point across.

Steve is on the Board of Directors of the Digital Analytics Association and shared the four topics his senior executives care about, alongside the four tactics he uses to get their attention so he can get their consensus.

The Four That Score

When Steve takes his PowerPoint deck upstairs (and there aren’t that many stairs up from where he sits) he makes sure he hits some or all of the following issues. Otherwise, he knows his message is not ready for prime time.

  • Revenue & Market Share
  • Efficiency & Costs
  • Customer Loyalty
  • Talent & Capability

I like to talk about the Big Three: Raise revenue, lower costs, and improve customer satisfaction. On these points, Steve and I are in violent agreement.

Rather than talk about how the sausage is made, explain how the insight you have will help the company make more, spend less and/or make customers happier. Do not assume your senior executive audience automatically sees the connection. Do not hand them a pencil and ask them to draw their own conclusions. Draw them a picture. Make it blatantly obvious.

Steve added a new one to the list that I had not considered before, though: Talent & Capability.

Yes, it’s great to fill the coffers, stem the flow of outbound cash and keep your customers loyal. But you can also get executives’ attention when you show your decision-making audience that the fact-based/data-informed decision you are asking them to make will improve corporate capabilities.

The numbers may tell you to open a new factory, try a new promotional channel or, in the example Steve showed, get the company to engage in some competitive advertising. Show those decision makers how valuable that capability can be and you will get their attention.


Microsoft, loathe to directly take on their competitors in advertising, were emboldened by research that showed the public was appalled that Google was reading their mail in order to send them ads. Remember Well, that was their first attempt. Microsoft gained a capability and has since increased their talent. If you haven’t seen this gem about Surface and Siri, it’s worth a moment.

Getting Them Engaged

Steve then suggested four approaches to getting the recipients of your wisdom to truly tune in to your message.

First, start off with things they already know. This is the world’s oldest technique in face-to-face sales. Get them to agree with you about information that nobody doubts. When approaching a complete stranger, you start with, “Sure is a nice/cold/rainy/awful day.”

When dealing with upper management, remind them of things they already know in a way that makes them feel smart and trust you at the same time. In business, you start with conventional wisdom and then walk them, carefully, toward the new information you want to sink in.

Next, play a game of Fact or Fiction. This engages your audience in a way that lets you slip in surprising findings and makes them realize they don’t know everything, all without have to say, “You are so wrong about everything!”

Steve’s third approach is to include third party data, which is always a good idea. Not only does this help you make and bolster your point, it supports any other point you may subsequently make. You just proved that your analysis is as good–or better than–all those name-brand research companies.

The point that really turned on a light bulb for me was Steve’s advice to predict the future. This is a simple technique of changing your language about your insights from imperatives to probabilities.

Rather than saying, This is the way it is, say, This is the way things will be. Customers will be buying more of this and less of that. If we advertise more here, we are much more likely to find more high lifetime value customers. We can expect our mobile app to engage a younger crowd. It’s simple, but effective.

When people as senior as Steve get up and tell you how he uses analysts data to convince even higher-ups, it behooves all of us to listen–and be persuaded.

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