Getting the budget needed to ramp up data visualization operations is a challenge I see many companies, even the most progressive and deep-pocketed, face. In this post, we will walk through how to apply a marketing approach to selling your boss on investing in data visualization by highlighting the function’s value proposition as it relates to the business.
Let’s start by sharing a story from my experience in the field as a data dashboard consultant.
Years ago, I was hired by a director of analytics to help steer him and his team in the right direction when it came to data dashboard best practices. It was made clear from the beginning that the company wasn’t entirely keen on moving to a “new a way of thinking/doing things.” The company was wildly successful and had been maintaining profitability for the last 10 years. The executive team was very risk-averse and had the mindset of “if it’s not broken, it doesn’t need fixing.”
During the workshop sessions, the analytics director, let’s call him Steve, came to me and wanted a few minutes of my time outside of our workshop.
Steve was brought onboard three months prior and was considered “progressive” by his company’s definition. He explained to me that he wanted to sell his boss on a more effective and efficient way the analytics team can take the workshop knowledge and implement it into a software program that was currently only licensed out to a few of the team members. Added licenses were a significant financial jump and required an account upgrade, but to meet expected demand and to scale their analytics business function, the entire analytics team needed to have their own software license.
During their last directors’ meeting, Steve had presented a detailed cost-benefit analysis of adding licenses and upgrading the current account for entire analytics team. He had also looked at the company’s leading competitors and analyzed their output which clearly showed the competition was beating them by both volume and quality. He ended the presentation with simple math executives like to hear: if you invest in X now, you will receive Y business impact, which will result in higher quality deals, customers who stick around longer, and better annual revenue numbers.
Yet, the other directors remained on the fence about the purchase decision, causing Steve’s boss to still be unsure about the investment.
Does this sound familiar?
In my experience, leadership buy-in for data visualization has two components:
- A clear and well-articulated value proposition; and,
- Education on what data visualization is and what it can do not only in the short-term but in the big picture strategy of the business’ growth trajectory.
To learn what a value proposition is, take the lead from your marketing department.
Without getting too granular with marketing terminology, a value proposition essentially is a summary of why someone should buy a product or service that is different from similar products or services offered by other companies. You can think of it as the hook that makes people choose to purchase from company A over company B.
In this use case, the value proposition of data visualization is entirely unique to your company and its main objectives. Perhaps for your business, investing in data visualization will:
- Contribute to the company’s competitive advantage
- Retire manual processes and create more efficient and effective ones bringing products to market faster and with more accuracy
- Enable smarter and more precise decisions to be made
- Offer deeper and more detailed insights into product development
Once you list out what the core differentiators of data visualization are at your company, summarize them into a few short succinct sentences to form a value proposition statement. This statement should explain the relevancy, quantified value, and unique differentiators of data visualization.
If you find yourself struggling deciding what makes a data visualization program different from other potential company investments competing for budget dollars, think of how marketing teams list out a product’s value propositions in preparation to market a product to consumers.
For example, say you’re getting ready to market a pair of running shoes. The competition is high for this product, so you must clearly differentiate it from other running shoes for consumers to see value in purchasing them from your company versus another. Your company’s running shoes are:
- 5 x lighter than the leading competitor
- Locally manufactured and handcrafted by retired athletes
- Eco-friendly, but durable — lasts an entire running season without loss of tread or grip
- When the soles do wear down, our company will give you half off your next pair
- Free shipping and guaranteed delivery in less than 24 hours
- 30-day trial period — you hate ‘em, return ‘em at no cost to you
- Bluetooth enabled — connect your shoes with the fitness app of your choice for a more accurate tracking of your activity. This feature adds no weight to the shoe.
When you look at this list, make sure none of the differentiators are offered by your competitors. If they are, they are not considered a differentiator and should be removed from the list.
Start your pitch with clear benefits and the importance of data visualization to the business.
Every data dashboard workshop I run begins with a short set of slides that clearly lay out the benefits of why data visualization is important and how it translates data to business value.
It’s wise to keep these benefits simple and clear. Don’t over complicate and always have supporting evidence to your projections.
In short, make the investment’s high-level data visualization benefits crystal clear to your boss and in layman terms, such as pitching something like, “If we make our data look this way, our customers will not only understand it better, but they will begin to change their purchasing behavior, which increases our net margins by X% over X amount of time. To make our data appear in an actionable way, my team and I need these tools. Your investment of $X now will bring you $X in one year, $X in two years, and $X in three years.”
The aim is to make the value proposition so enticing that it would be illogical not to invest. Value statements can come in many forms:
- It will allow us to improve sales, margins, etc.
- Our competitors are doing it, we’ll get left behind. We lost 7% market share last year and we need to get ahead.
- It will reduce our costs by X% year over year.
- We will free up Y number of staff to do higher value, higher impact projects.
- We can reduce our licenses in legacy technology and replace with a lower cost dashboard solution.
Ideally, there will be examples you can point to in your company. If not, running a low-risk, low-cost pilot, can be used to demonstrate the value.
The exercise here is about negotiation and making your case — don’t back down, and always bring data and evidence to the table while being respectful.
Use terms and benefits that are applicable to your boss and what matters most to him/her.
When constructing your pitch, go through line-by-line of it and conduct a litmus test of sorts that challenge each statement against the following:
- How can data visualization help my boss look good?
- How can data visualization help my boss get a promotion?
- What will make my boss look like an innovative leader in front of the other executives?
Positioning the investment to your boss’ benefit will ultimately benefit you the most. Often times, however, a boss only hears what will help them and make the business more money. Pitching your value statement using these parameters will go much further than saying you or the analytics team needs some tool the executive is likely never going to see or use.
Eliminate any uncertainty. When getting buy-in, always think two or three steps ahead so you will be prepared for any follow-up questions.
Go through the exercise of what you expect your boss to ask immediately following your pitch to them based on your experience with them in the past. What do they usually hone in on? Have these potential objections solve for and in your back pocket.
Not only will you be more prepared, but your boss will see you’re looking at the big picture and not just your own needs.