How to Present Analytics that Speak the CSuites Language

Everyone has a solution. Visualization vendors tout dashboard technologies that pull data from all of your sources and display it beautifully, with segmentation and filtering that enables you to get to the most granular of data points. “Storytelling” has been in vogue at conferences I’ve attended as the messaging technique that gets to the hearts and minds of the most data challenged.

I don’t have an argument with the use of visualization or storytelling, or any tool or approach that helps people use data for guidance. I just rarely see these tools and techniques used with an understanding of their intended audience.

With this in mind, I’m going to share four techniques that will help you reach more people, more effectively than you are today with analytics data.

1. Know the difference between tactical and strategic data

Many organizations, large and small, approach the use of digital analytics the same way -- implement tool, develop reports, send them out and/or provide access to the tool.

These organizations spend most of their time and resources on implementation and report development, and precious little time on putting real thought trying to understand results.

While organizations may be able to get by with this approach if they develop dashboards with metrics that focus on marketing and site optimization goals, it fails miserably when trying to communicate real findings and recommendations to senior executives. And, executive dashboards do not solve this problem. Here’s why:

Creating dashboards for marketing managers, brand managers and content editors is relatively straightforward because the metrics are easily defined and the data generated provides findings that readily suggest actions. Your email test to segment A did better than segment B -- do another email to more prospects like segment A. Search term A resulted in higher conversions than search term B -- buy search term A next month. Article A had more shares than article B -- test more content like article A. The data is all operational and tactical.

What do you present to executives? I think we’re all on board that you don’t present the same data that you would to the marketing team, the granularity isn't of interest and pretty much a waste of time to someone who is running an organization, business unit or an entire program.

2. Understand what drives your organization's strategy

It surprises me that many analytics managers and analysts do not know their organization’s strategic goals and objectives. If they do, they have not figured out how to tie the data that they collect to these goals. And yet at the same time, they wonder how to present their data effectively to senior leadership.

What’s a strategic goal? Generally speaking it is an articulation of organizational purpose -- make money, serve customers, change the world. But you don’t stop there. You need to figure out how to tie what you measure to this goal. So, you role up the campaign data into one number on the revenue being driven by all digital campaigns, or you focus on the success of expansion into new markets by highlighting site registrations from a specific geolocation or visitor segment.

3. Understand executive concerns

Figuring out organizational goals and objectives are requisite items to building relevant executive level reports. But there is more. I find three items of high interest to the C-Suite:

  • Competition -- Understand how your organization’s performance stacks up to the marketplace and whether you’re ahead or behind. This can be as simple as site visitor numbers, to share of voice on social media channels, to understanding digital channel features and functionality that you do or don’t have relative to your competition. Benchmarking studies are of huge interest.
  • Voice of Customer -- Bringing the voice of customer to life in your reporting through surveys or social media commentary adds an element of humanity that executives value, as they generally don’t have direct contact to the customers who are buying their products.
  • Risk -- Is there data that you are collecting that suggests negative market or product changes? Is negative social media or mass media having an impact on digital channel activity? These are among the risks that keep C-level execs up at night. Even in organizations where the digital channel is still considered “less important” than offline, executives want to understand all areas of potential exposure.

4. Understand the person

If you’re in the world of dashboard and report distribution, chances are you are looking at your audience as a “role” like marketers, product managers, editors or SEO managers.

It’s a bit different when you’re presenting to an executive. You have an audience of one, and the research should reflect that. It’s more personal. Do you know the person you’re presenting to? What type of presentations they like and don’t? Do they want you to provide a point of view and recommendations? Or do they want to come up with the conclusion themselves?

You also want to know how they are going to use what you present for their own presentations. No matter where you are in the food chain of business, you have to figure out the best way to communicate “up.” If you’re an analyst, you need to communicate to your manager, as a manager you communicate to your VP, as VP you communicate to the CEO, as CEO you communicate to the board and shareholders ... The point is, the same data has to tell a different story to different people, and it’s all based on their priorities -- both for the overall business and their personal business agendas.

Where to go from here

Communicating data is a lot more complex than most organizations would like to think. As a “soft skill” it doesn't get nearly the same attention as technology or data. If you want to have a successful analytics program, you will need to spend more time on this part of delivery and roll out then you are likely spending today.

Title image by Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock)