“Water water everywhere, Nor a drop to drink…” is a famous line from Coleridge’s “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.”
At a recent lunch, my friend, Tim Ohai, and I were talking about problems we see with too many managers. Today’s tools provide sales people and leaders more data than we have ever had before.
We can measure about every activity we undertake, every engagement with our customers. We have endless pipeline, performance, customer activity, competitive and other data. We have data going back years, enabling us to understand shifts or changes over time. Analytics and AI enable new ways to look at data, and provide, potentially, new insights.
Yet despite all this data, we are often unable to figure out what going on or what corrective actions to take.
What happens, why are we unable to “see” despite the abundance of data and information?
There are several factors contributing to this.
First, we tend to look at too much data. The data that’s really useful is hidden in plain sight. It’s there, but we miss it in all the other data that’s available. Because we can collect so much, we do so, at the same time masking that which is most important.
The second is a bit of a corollary to the first point. If we don’t know what we should be looking at, that information that’s most useful; we collect everything. We look at all the data, hoping the answers will emerge. If some data is good, more data must be better. In reality, it may just be distracting, confusing, or misleading.
This leads us to the third point. The data, even the right data points don’t tell us what’s causing the results we are measuring. We have to dig below the numbers to understand what, why, how things are happening. So the data is just the starting point. Too often, managers look at is at the end.
Bad win rates, improve your deal strategies. Weak pipelines, prospect. Not enough new opportunities, prospect more. Doing more always seems to be the answer to any numbers problem. Yet doing more seldom focuses on the root issues or causal factors.
Leveraging data effectively means you have to be curious about the data, what it means, why we get the numbers we get, and what we can do about shifting the results.
The corollary to this is that once we dig under the data, understanding what’s really happening and why, then we have to do something about it. We must act, we must change, we must determine what we must do to shift the numbers in the desired direction, and how to do it most effectively. Then we have to have the courage to stick with those decisions.
And now we come to a fifth point in our journey to understand how to effectively leverage data. No data point is forever. Sometimes, we need to shift our focus and look at different things. For example, activity metrics have limitations. Just focusing on them, may be useful for some time, but when we’ve leveraged them as much as possible, continuing to focus on them won’t improve things–and may cause us to miss other things.
Periodically, we should shift those data points we key on, extracting what we can for as long as we can, then moving on to focus on something different.
Then we have to understand the difference in data types and how we leverage them. There are process indicators, output indicators, leading, and trailing indicators. Each tell us different things, we leverage each differently.
In my experience, there are only a small number of data points critical to understanding and driving performance. The trick is understanding those that are most useful for the situations we must address. The human mind–both our own and our people can’t deal with more than a few things. We best use the data available to us when we determine the few metrics most critical to success right now, focusing viciously on those, then moving on.
We are both blessed and cursed by data. Used well, it is a blessing.