Data is the New Black

There’s nothing like being stuck at home all year to make you finally face up to the things you’ve been putting off. Everyone I’ve talked to has spent the summer doing home repairs or upgrades — that dining room you’ve just put up with for years, that spare bathroom that never looked right, the backyard trees that needed to be taken down — staying in place has given us the time to look around and see what needs to be fixed. We can’t just ignore it any more.

That extends to our computer screens. In between endless Zoom meetings, we don’t have the same office interactions or customer visits to stay on the pulse of the company. Idle minds are looking for something to sink their teeth into, and so folks are looking at their reporting in ways they haven’t done previously. And we’re discovering that we have fundamental knowledge holes. We’re discovering that we don’t have the data we need, the answers aren’t at our fingertips, and our reporting is just tantalizing us to the hidden truths. And that’s creating a new demand — the need to be more data-driven.

This shouldn’t be a shock. Rarely is the reporting system built by the sales and marketing team. Most times the developer will interview people, think they hear what the users have to say, and think they deliver what they asked for. Busy sales people say it’s fine and go back to their normal habits of running things on instinct or finding out when needed. I’ve mentioned in the past about data whisperers — those folks who can traverse both the world of sales and marketing, and the world of database analysis. They’re rare, and they’re essential. More often than not, they’re not in charge of the reporting system you’ve purchased, they’re just the guys who’ve spent the time to figure out how to get the real answers out of it. Those are the people you need to be listening to right now. Pull up a chair at the big table and let them tell you all the things they’re asked. They’re your diagnosis for what’s missing for your employees right now. Every company has a data magician — it’s time to listen to what they’re doing every day.

No one can claim they know what the long term effects of COVID will be. There’s more unpredictability now than at any time in the modern era. Perhaps we will return to normal, but it’s looking increasingly likely that we won’t. We might be facing years of remote interactions, less travel, more working from home and more self management in our workforces. And this year of pause has given us the time to look around and see some of the fundamental things we’re missing. Like the drapes in the guest bedroom, once you notice things aren’t right, there’s an inevitably that changes will have to be made.

I’ve been saying for a while that the answer to everything is in your data. Mileage varies on that depending on your own experiences. However, here’s another more pressing truth: the only place where you might be able to find answers going forward is in your data. Data Analytics will change from a supplemental information feed to the primary information feed. This might be the way we work for a long time to come. Like it or not, now is the time to get good at data. The burden of choice has been removed from you.

The rest of this year is budget season. Last year when creating budgets and forecasting 2020 no one saw what was waiting around the corner. That kind of rug being pulled out from under you will make you cautious and conservative. It’ll take a long time before we forecast with confidence once again. Our budgets will limit travel, will plan for a tough 2021, won’t take a lot of risk. That said, you’ve got to invest now. Consider it a way to improve the productivity of your entire workforce.

If you’re closing 2020 and not making a major investment in data analytics, you’re making a mistake. It’s that simple. Let me put it this way: a report can tell you which customers have rising and falling sales. But does it tell you where the customers are up and down? Or what aspects of their businesses are up or down? And most importantly, WHY they’re up or down?

Your old reports answered the first part, and your sales force figured out the rest. They found out the expensive way – face to face visits, asking for custom reporting, investigating like a revenue detective. In 2020 you haven’t had those same options while we’re all confined at home. And, for at least half of next year, we’ll still be spending most of our time at home. And if we’re honest with ourselves, perhaps we want to put more answers in their hands in advance and have them spend less time figuring things out.

Data Analytics isn’t a sunk cost. It’s not a waste of money. It feels like it’s not as easy an investment as a new sales person or increased marketing. Making people better at their jobs is a tough thing to measure. But it can also be an investment that’s used every hour of every day by the bulk of your employees. It could be the biggest upgrade you make to your entire business infrastructure. Take a moment and think about your experience working from home this summer, and how often you didn’t have the analysis you needed at your fingertips. Think about how much time you spent finding the answers. Multiply that by your entire workforce. And then ask yourself if this isn’t an investment you have to make a priority in 2021.

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Mark McGready

Mark McGready

Mark McGready has been working with data analysis for over 20 years in the electrical industry. For the last 10 years Mark founded and ran Jigsaw Systems Inc, a successful data analysis and process improvement company that focused on key sales and marketing challenges like SPA contracts, pricing matrices, inventory analysis and harnessing Point of Sale. Recently Jigsaw was acquired by SPARXiQ, formally Strategic Pricing Associates, in order to widen the services and capabilities available to the industry. Mark brings a combination of understanding data with a commercial sense of real world applications. His tools have generated millions of dollars in top line and bottom line results with his long list of clients.