Continuing our discussion on how to get from data to insights, our expert panel give their top tips on how companies can build an insights-driven culture that leverages the most from their data.
While most businesses today have access to mountains of data, many still struggle with putting it to work and maximizing the value they can get from it. More often than not, this struggle comes down to company culture.
The reality is that leveraging the most from your data requires adopting a business-wide approach that not only embraces data and the insights it can provide but also has the sort of culture that encourages individuals and teams to act and make decisions based on those insights.
In our previous blog posts we covered what being insights-driven actually means, and why is it crucial for business success. Here, our panelists explain how to build a company culture that embraces insights based on data as the key component of their strategic planning and tactical operations.
Insights-driven companies need insights-driven people
“First and foremost,” says John Veichmanis, COO at Carwow, “hire curious minds”. Building an insight-driven culture requires insights-driven mindsets, and businesses should do their best to hire individuals who are passionate about data and willing to disrupt the status quo.
“You need people who just challenge things,” says Andy Lark, Senior Marketer at Dubber, “There’s a great quote from Jim Rohn, ‘There are only two things that hold us back in life, the routine of the present and the regret of the past.’ I'd argue that data is the weapon to challenge the routine of the present and all of those around you with the regret of the past.”
“At MarketShare we were obviously data-driven,” adds Wes Nichols, a partner at investment firm March Capital, “and if we hired people by mistake that weren't that way, they were gone very quickly. The culture and the hunger for innovation were key.”
Crucially, this mindset needs to be embedded at the C-level and among other leaders. “It literally starts from the top,” says Wes Nichols, “I've been in companies whose CEOs don't have a computer on their desk and still have their secretaries print out an email. You've got to run screaming from a business like that if you work for such a company because they are an endangered species.”
“The board and thus a CEO has to be data-driven,” he argues, “they have to see a vision of how to disrupt their own business, how to challenge and reposition the business. The companies with the CEOs that get that are the ones that win and the companies that don't have that, lose.”
Make data an everyday conversation
While having the right people with the right insights-driven mindset is essential, it’s not enough on its own. Leaders need to ensure that exploring the data and using it to drive decisions is a regular activity at the everyday operations.
“Metrics should be used on a day-by-day basis,” says John Veichmanis, “We spend 10, 15 minutes just walking through the metrics every single morning. And if we can see something is starting to move off trend or if there's an opportunity emerging, we quickly dig into the underlying data and the underlying trend.”
Nonetheless, for many organizations, this is not always the case. “Do you think data or generating insights is important for your company?” asks Andy Lark, “Okay, now open up your calendar and show me how many meetings you've got that are actually about data and how much of that time are you drilling into and trying to understand data. If you’re not having those meetings, then you've decided that it's not important.”
Scheduling regular, daily, meetings that actively focus on your data not only helps place new insights at the center of your decisions, it also helps you become more agile as a business enabling you to pivot much more quickly and trends emerge or conditions change.
“One of the things that's key to culture is agility, the desire to make a change quickly rather than sitting on a problem,” says John Veichmanis, “When I started working back in 1995, you’d get to the end of a quarter and review everything that you've done. I encourage my teams not to do that. If we find a problem in a quarter, let's change direction quickly and adapt to the circumstances and the learnings. It’s a very different culture that allows you to really drive a competitive advantage at pace.”
Test, test, and keep on testing
For insight-driven individuals to thrive though, it’s crucial they have the right environment to succeed. According to Andy Lark, this means understanding that you're trying to create an environment where you're building hypotheses and endlessly testing and learning. “Data is not there to help you make fast decisions,” he says, “Data is there to help you make the right decisions, it's there to explain why outcomes are occurring and how you can achieve better outcomes. And once you get that shift in mindset going, all kinds of weird things happen.”
And teams and individuals should be encouraged to come up with hypotheses based on the data and then test them without fear of failure. “You've got to create a safe culture where everyone is comfortable saying, ‘Yeah, it broke yesterday. And I was at the wheel when we drove the car into the wall,’” says Andy Lark. Indeed, failure itself should be seen as valuable insight itself from which further actions can be derived.
“I remember sitting at Xero in London with my head of marketing,” continues Lark, “I said, ‘I want you to imagine that I cut Google spend by 50% to 60% and gave you all that money to do home advertising and radio instead. What would you do? How would it work? Tell me what you need,’ and he went away and worked on it.”
“We weren’t necessarily going to do it,” he adds, “I just want to know what would happen if we did. But we assembled a lot of data and did it and sales went up. Double, triple digits. The hypothesis worked. Now, the hypothesis might not have worked, which is interesting, but we were in a position where we could recover and walk it back if it wasn't working.”
Take the initiative
Of course, unless you are the CEO, not everyone can change how their organization works. However, there are still steps that individuals can take to gently move company culture in a new, insights-driven, direction.
“What you can do is show some initiative,” says Wes Nichols, “Read a book on the weekends about this stuff. Maybe think outside the box and go, ‘Hey, maybe I'll try something. Or maybe I'll see if I can maybe bring in an intern who's a math person and put them to work and see what they can come up with’. Push for change, little changes. You've got a lot of data. Are there some interesting little things that you could try to experiment with that could help make your company smarter or more efficient?”
Andy Lark agrees, “Go and talk to real marketers solving really hard problems and get intrigued with how they're doing it”, he says, “and read real academic papers, read the science of marketing because there's a lot of great content out there in those journals and publications.”