10 Qualities a Data-Friendly Business Culture Needs

[ New Perspective ] Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku, Tokyo, JapanUsing and continuously optimizing data with the long-term goal of providing customer value and increasing conversion sounds easy; it can be difficult to execute. Getting the most from your data requires hard work and a willingness to adapt, to experiment, to learn from mistakes, to correct those mistakes as quickly as possible and to keep doing the process over and over without end. But, no matter the scale, crunching data to generate information and insight is valuable only if the organizational structures are in place to support the effort.

One of the most important problems corporations face is creating, at all levels of leadership a framework of support for and participation in new technologies that can help refine and expand how they do business. As pressure to adopt big data technologies grows stronger, many organizations have understandable fears concerning the integrity of their businesses. At the very least, leadership often perceives these technologies as threats to institutional knowledge and continuity.

Alex Miller of QVC, Anthony Bucci of RevZilla and Slava Sambu of Office Max have offered insight into the benefits of staying current with data processing technologies. They have discussed some of the stumbling blocks they have faced. But, as these three suggest, stumbling blocks are not dead ends. Organizations able to confront problems toward finding solutions soon begin to reap the rewards associated with using data effectively.

One of the goals—and it will become increasingly important—is corporate agility. With the ability to analyze and operate in real-time, a business can be far more responsive to its customers. It can quickly evaluate what is or is not working and correct the problem. It can identify problems and fix them immediately. For example, some data a business collects is going to be “dirty.” This is, and has always been, a common problem. Implementation of information derived from problematic data can potentially create a large problem with a large impact on the bottom line. A company needs to be agile enough to catch these problems, evaluate their nature and devise appropriate solutions as quickly as possible. As in right then; better still, an hour ago. Waiting while information makes its way slowly up the chain as each management level makes a decision—even waiting as long as it takes to organize a meeting of department heads—is not an option anymore.

Businesses are accomplishing this every day, and some have been employing these practices for years, decades. Amazon operates like this. Online newspapers operate like this. Alex Miller’s discussion of the need for immediacy in real-time data management of live broadcasting is particularly relevant. Real-time responsiveness is possible and advantageous with a sympathetic business culture.

What makes for a corporate culture that can successfully welcome and accommodate the emerging landscape of using data?

  1. An ability to understand a data-driven focus can out-perform many, if not all, previous business solutions
  2. An open-mindedness that supports the research, development and experimentation necessary to make best use of big data
  3. A perspective that supports the idea operating in real-time is an excellent way not only to enhance the customer experience but also monitor for problems and quickly correct them. However difficult it can be to negotiate at all levels, business agility is critical
  4. A marketing optimization framework that allows marketers to use the data effectively to make marketing decisions in real-time. Companies with higher conversion rates almost always have better marketing efficiency ratios (net contribution/marketing expenses). These companies understand it’s hard work to accomplish better marketing efficiency ratios, but it’s considerably more lucrative to do so.
  5. Higher standards of accountability throughout the organization, up to and including the CEO. Does the CEO know which factors of the customer experience impact sales, which projects or departments to favor, what truly needs to be done to optimize the marketing efficiency ratio? In a data-driven business climate, the CEO must know these things
  6. Leadership that promotes higher levels of communication, even collaboration, across all teams
  7. A willingness to grant certain decision making powers to smaller teams
  8. A commitment to employing conversion rate marketing principles
  9. An emphasis on making sure data as well as information and insight derived through analytics are flowing to individual teams across the organization so each can make clear decisions and execute in real- or near-real-time
  10. People and processes that foster a culture of risk-taking and ongoing testing

It took very little time to list (or read) these qualities. It will probably take much more time to internalize them so they become ingrained business practice. If you hope to stay competitive, however, just don’t let it take too long.

Using Data in Realtime: an Interview with Alex Miller, QVC

Entering HyperspaceLucky are those who do not need to convince their business’s leadership of the value of using big data strategies to shape relationships with the customer within and across digital platforms. In 1986, the shopping channel QVC began broadcasting—in essence, operating in real-time. As Alex explains,

If you’ve ever gone backstage behind QVC and you’ve watched the live show from the producer’s desk, you understand you are in data Nirvana. It’s flowing data on three or four different screens; they are helping us understand: What is the customer really thinking right now? What are they interested in? What they like, what they don’t like? As a company, we’ve always been awash in data.

In taking the next step from analytics to the possibilities the big data era offers businesses, even organizations that value data-driven stories to improve customer relationships will have kinks to smooth out. The biggest challenge Alex identifies is how to balance the ways of using enormous amounts of data while continuing to place a high value on twenty-seven years of institutional knowledge. At times, it comes down to “letting the data tell you what it is really trying to tell you and not trying to shape the data to tell you what you want to hear.”

Listen to Alex talk about testing and experimentation as a data-driven company negotiates becoming more data-driven.

photo by: Éole