Author: Chad Buckendahl
When asked what my typical workday looks like, I’d usually say diving into a good spreadsheet as part of my answer for the last 20 years of my career. If you’re like me, you enjoy the journey that data analysis can take you on. From learning to asking the right questions to ultimately solving difficult problems, the process of finding solutions through analytics motivates me to explore more. And, the way that I’ve always explored data over the years is through spreadsheets.
A few years ago, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Finance Pros Say You’ll Have to Pry Excel Out of Their Cold, Dead Hands.” It struck me. There are very few articles that I can recall details after a few weeks' time, yet this one still has me thinking today. Reading this article was the first I’d heard about the adoption of business intelligence (BI) in exchange of spreadsheets. Back then, I had a hard time believing that I would be able to replace spreadsheets with BI. Even using BI as a daily part of my routine, I still needed spreadsheets throughout my day to conduct final analyses and make decisions. After seeing how BI could self-serve 100% of my needs, I began to keep mental notes of when and why I choose to use spreadsheets over the BI dashboards at my fingertips.
A recent study in Inc. Magazine suggests that up to “73% of company data goes unused for analytics.” At the same time, a 2019 study in Forbes indicates that an all-time high of “48% of organizations say cloud BI is either ‘critical’ or ‘very important’ to their operations.” It should come as no surprise that data is not yet strategic for many organizations. Analyzing data is an activity that often gets deprioritized in the complexities of business. There is no shortage of demands that compete for resources and attention. Although there are endless success stories that confirm data can add enormous value, it is hard to know where data fits in on an everyday basis. Today, the rise of technology and SaaS solutions has made it easier for companies, more than ever, to acquire data analytics capabilities in a variety of ways.
Four BI Habits for Success
Over the years working with sticky.io, I’ve had the opportunity to consult with hundreds of our DTC clients on data analytics to better understand their consumers and business performance. I started taking note of the top habits our successful, and more advanced, clients employ within their online businesses. I often find myself sharing these success stories in daily conversations with our clients and was recently encouraged to write them down. I hope that they will help you fine-tune your analytical processes and become a sophisticated BI user. I won’t attempt to convince you to remove spreadsheets out of your daily routine, but if you keep an open mind, I think you will see where BI can fit into your organization’s culture. If you heed these four habits, you will see that it’s possible to create a data-driven culture and accrue the competitive benefits that result.
- Have a daily routine: In talking with one client, he explained to me his organization's “analytics routine.” This client had daily stand-up meetings with his team. Each person on the team was responsible for bringing information related to a specific KPI. From conversion rate (total orders ÷ total visitors) to customer lifetime value (CLTV) by traffic source, each person was charged to bring a brief update, finding or learning they had in the previous day. He told me that, “This routine played a critical role in establishing a culture of curiosity that drove my team to know more about the KPIs in my organization than anyone. I could now count on them to watch and make decisions that positively impacted my company’s financials.” That’s a powerful testament to the power of a daily routine instilled into an organization. They look at reports daily and count on their teammates to monitor trends and act in a data-driven manner.
- Stay curious: When I was very young, I asked a professional that had a great deal of success in her life what she felt was one of the more important traits that had carried her through her successful career. She told me that curiosity helped to keep her motivated to find solutions to problems that her competitors couldn’t solve. So, when I kept hearing feedback from our top clients that they encouraged curiosity, I took note. In these clients, it seemed that everyone, from the leadership on down, valued surprises despite the difficulty of predicting when and how often they’ll occur. When organizations take time to study the trends, concepts, performance and news each day, a culture of curiosity will prevail, and people will see failures not as costly mistakes, but as opportunities to learn.
- Be methodical. When I say our top 1% are methodical, what I mean is they create strategic programs to improve key components of their businesses. I was talking to one of our clients a few years ago that was doing very well and asked if I could attend a few of his key meetings throughout the month. He obliged, and what I learned was earth-shattering to me. I learned that every area of his company that he felt had a chance to positively impact revenue had an “improvement program” assigned to it. Examples of these critical pieces of the company include refund rate, customer lifetime value (CLTV), customer churn and decline percentage. They created measurable activities to try to positively influence the metric and then track, monitor and take corrective action. Each of these areas of the company had specific programs driving improvement. While this was a simple concept, it took discipline and a high level of commitment to strategically think at all levels. Since that time, I’ve witnessed our top clients engaging in very similar program initiatives.
- Create and measure KPIs that reflect their strategic priorities. If you’ve never heard of Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s book, “In Search of Excellence,” I would encourage you to give it a read. One of their most noted observations I took away from this book was that companies were “data-rich and information poor.” A big advantage that ecommerce companies have over traditional retailers is the data they have available to help make decisions. But just because you have data, doesn’t mean that you’ll make better decisions. To this point, a few years ago, I surveyed our clients asking them what functionality they wanted to see added to our Analytics product within our platform. The ability to create and monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) was at the top of the list. Since adding this functionality many years ago and seeing how top clients use it, I now realize the importance of creating and monitoring KPIs plays in the success of our top 1%. While the idea of creating and monitoring KPIs is not a new concept, what I see is that these top performers take advantage of the information gleaned from this data-rich channel and are diligent about positively influencing progress toward an intended result. These top performers are not information poor. They create KPIs that are tied to their strategic priorities to keep a close pulse on their strategic priorities.
Complexity and abstraction are the enemies of business strategy. That’s why I appreciate these four simple concepts. While there is no silver bullet that guarantees success, I hope that these habits will have the same impact that I’ve seen them have on numerous clients.
While I do think that spreadsheets still have their place and will maintain a staple in the average analyst’s day, I do see a time when BI dashboards are used more than spreadsheets. I’m already there — I currently use BI dashboards twice as much as I use spreadsheets on a given day to help make strategic decisions. Staying on top of the data allows you to continually make improvements.