How to become Champion in Data Reporting

 

Data reporting is all about interacting with people and getting your recommendations implemented in a timely manner.

What data reporting is not really about, is creating fancy charts and tables and/or stoning the innocent (the non-geeky people) with industry jargon.

The life of an analyst esp. the one who works in-house is not easy…..Why?

Because if there are major business decisions (like firing) riding on your analysis then you can quickly find yourself being alienated from the rest of your team.

What you say and what you report can result in the firing of an employee, can even result in the closure of the whole department or in worst case, can result in large number of layoffs across several offices (depending upon the size of the company you work in).

You are the Judge and the people you report to are the Jury. You have big responsibility on your shoulders. So you need to be very careful with the conclusions you draw from your analysis.

You need to be very careful with the words you choose while you present your reports and even more tactful in avoiding any possible conflict with your co-workers during and after the reporting.

Every time you present a report, you are holding someone in your team responsible for the results (whether good or bad).

And people will do everything in their power to defend themselves, to protect their jobs and their perceived abilities and skills .

As odd as it may sound, being an analytics ninja has nothing much to do with being an all around geek in analytics. It has much more to do with “getting things done”.

Getting things done is the most important skill of an analyst. 

It doesn’t really matter how much you know about web analytics. If you can’t get your recommendations implemented in a timely manner then you can’t impact the business bottomline.

Without showing results you can’t keep your job/client for long, let alone carry the big heavy title of being a Ninja.

In order to get your recommendations implemented, you need to learn the art of influencing decision makers through your data reporting skills.

If you can’t convince decision makers, then why they should implement your recommendations.

Your recommendations and analysis will then have no commercial value and sooner or later your boss/client may start questioning the validity of your role as a consultant/employee.

 

Tip #1: Take disagreement as a Challenge

When someone disagree with you, he is throwing a challenge at you.

However the challenge is, not to prove the challenger wrong, the challenge is, now how to make your point, without offending the challenger and at the same time, keeping cool (remain calm and in control).

Bear in mind that challengers are often the people who hold high office (your boss, your boss’ boss, CEO?) and/or have got considerable authority (your client). These are often the decision makers or business owners. You need to keep on their good side.

The very first challenge that you will have to face, is how to keep calm.

The moment someone disagree with you, it put you in the defensive mode and you feel compelled to defend your recommendation / suggestion straightaway. Often during such time, the decisions you make and the words you use, are not really the best and may not really work out in your favour.

It is when you are 100% sure that you are right and the other person is wrong, you need the most self control.

The first thing that you need to consciously realize and understand is that the other person is disagreeing with you and you have tough battle ahead. 

When someone chose to disagree with you, say to yourself, “oh my God, the other person has chosen to disagree with me“. Then

feel disappointed. It is important to feel disappointed, as then, you are less likely to loose your clam.

Bear in mind,

that when you choose to criticize/disagree with someone, you are attacking other person’s  judgement, intelligence, pride, self respect and most importantly his/her sense of being important.

Even if you win the argument, made your point, it won’t do you any good. Because your win will be at the expense of causing resentment in other person.

Do you really think, someone will like you even more, once you proved him/her wrong esp. publicly in front of colleagues / stakeholders/ clients? Overtime, “I can’t be wrong” attitude will alienate you from the rest of your team, making it more difficult for you to get things done.

 

Tip #2: Talk less, listen more

Once you have consciously realized, that the other person is disagreeing with you and you feel disappointed, now is the time to listen.

But before you are in a position to listen, you must suppress the strong urge to justify yourself and you must not become virtually deaf to what the other person has to say.

Say to yourself, “I will not interrupt the other person. I will let him speak. I will listen to what he has to say. He has choosen to disagree with me, which is disappointing”

It is important to keep feeling disappointed, all this time, to control stronger negative emotions like anger or the urge to argue.

 

Tips #3: Make your case

Once you have successfully listened to your challenger, admire yourself for a second, for being able to reach so far, without loosing cool.

Now is the time to think about how to proceed. Ask yourself following questions:

#1 Can I avoid this argument?

It is never really a good idea to argue with anyone esp. decision makers who can make or break your career/project in split second.

 

#2 Can I postpone my answer? 

When someone disagree with you, he is expecting you to either a) justify yourself immediately  b) accept what he/she has to say and change/abandon your suggestions/recommendations.

In the heat of the moment, when you are battling with your own demons, trying to stay disappointed and calm, it is often very difficult to take sensible decision or come up with the right answer.

So if you can, try to postpone your answer. Say something like “You have raised a very good point… I need some time to think about it”.  Take your time, when you feel more relaxed and calm, carefully think about your answer,

 

#3 Can I afford to argue or disagree?

You could end up in a situation where a) you can’t avoid the argument and b) you can’t postpone your answer. This is a very undesirable situation to be in. The first thing you need to do in this situation is, feel ‘self pity’.

Consciously realize the fact the you are in a very undesirable position, which you can not escape. In addition to disappointment , feel self pity,  It is important that you feel these emotions in order to control stronger negative emotions like anger or the urge to argue.

Ask yourself following question?

What is the cost, I will have to pay if i win this argument or make my point?

Remember, you can not win an argument without proving your challenger wrong, without causing resentment in him.  Nobody likes being proved wrong, not your colleague, not your boss, not your client and not even you.

If the benefits of not winning the argument, outweigh the losses, accept your defeat, admire yourself, for the sacrifice you are making, by accepting your challenger’s view point.

You don’t want to win an argument at the expense of losing business or creating life long resentments in other person or destroying all further usefulness of the person.

 

#4 Disagree in the most tactful manner possible

If you have decided to make your point, choose to disagree, use the sandwich technique.

Start your conversation with a compliment, insert your criticism/disagreement and then end your conversation with a compliment. In order to find something to praise about, look for areas where you can agree with the challenger and then start your conversation by agreeing with him on those areas.

For example:

“Hi John! You have raised a good point. I agree with what you have to say about this …. that.. I think differently about this…, that… Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Really appreciate it”

Avoid using words like ‘but’, ‘however’ in your conversation. These words immediately negate all of your compliments and make them sound insincere. For example:

“Hi John! You have raised a good point. I agree with what you have to say about this …. that.. But i think ……

Instead of using negative words like ‘but’, ‘however’, take a brief pause.

 

Remember, it is only human, to loose temper, argue and defend yourself. I do not always remember, what I preach and end up in argument. But now at least, I can consciously realize, what I did or how can I avoid it, next time. Now I can consciously understand, when a person start disagreeing with me.

Some people are naturally gifted with all of these abilities, because of their upbringing, culture etc, we call them ‘people person’. These people are good in avoiding arguments, finding areas where they can agree and very tactful in showing disagreement and getting their point across. These are the people who rise to the top and we need to be like them.

 

 

Tip #4 Find a mentor and learn the best tips & tricks

I am very impatient when it comes to acquiring knowledge. I don’t want to wait for years. I don’t want to do hit and trial or fail first to learn things the hard way.

I want to learn everything right now, if possible. I believe in head starting, by learning from the best in the industry.

Why repeat the mistakes which others have made before you? It doesn’t make any sense.
Learn from other people’s mistakes, avoid them and make your own original mistakes.

You need to make mistakes in order to grow.

So the first step in becoming ninja in data reporting or in anything is finding the right mentor and make mistakes under his/her supervision. You will learn a ton, every time you make a mistake in the presence of your mentor.

I did this by finding ‘Avinash Kaushik’ and by learning the very best skills, tricks and tips from him.

 

 

Tip #5: Question everything you have learned

If you never question, you will never grow. It is as simple as that. Question fundamental beliefs and best practices.

I did this by questioning a well know practice called Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) through my articles:

  1. Here is Why Conversion Volume Optimization is better than CRO
  2. Case Study: Why you should Stop Optimizing for Conversion Rate
  3. What Matters more: Conversion Volume or Conversion Rate – Geek Case Study
  4. 2 Powerful Reasons you should STOP doing CRO Right NOW

Keep on refining your learning and streamlining your processes.

You are here to perfect the system, not to stick to the old system.

Don’t just blindly believe whatever you learn from others. A good student never blindly believes whatever his teacher says. Moreover

You are rewarding your teacher poorly, if you remain always a pupil Friedrich Nietzsche”.

 

 

Tip #6: Become a teacher (time to give back)

I learn best when I share, what I learn. We call this ‘learning by teaching’.

Learning a topic is one thing but teaching it, is totally a different ball game.

Teaching forces you to get your thinking clean, to make it simple. This is one of the primary reason I blog. The more I will teach, the more I will learn. If I get the time, I will blog every single day.

That’s why I urge you to blog. Share what you have learned. The more you give the more you receive.

“The easiest way to get what you want is to help others get what they want.” – Deepak Chopra

Don’t hold back your knowledge. The more you will hold back, the more you will loose. This is because you are going against the nature. You learn things and you pass it on.

Once you become a teacher, you will experience a dramatic improvement in the understanding of your subject/area.

This understanding will reflect in your reports/presentation.

If something is difficult for you to understand then how you can expect other people to understand it with relative ease. So make it simple, by teaching others.

Here is a small exercise for you:

  1. Spend some time in explaining a concept like “Bounce Rate” to your colleagues.
  2. Once you have explained the concept, ask for the feedback.
  3. Now measure their level of understanding.
  4. If they can’t explain ‘bounce rate’ back to you in plain english then it means you have failed as a teacher.
  5. Try again.

 

 

Tip #7: Don’t make the insight obvious. Spell it out.

We often hear this phrase ‘make the insight obvious’ or make that obvious. But the bottomline is that there is no such thing as obvious.

What is obvious to me and you may not be obvious to someone else. So don’t make the insight obvious, spell it out.

obvious-insightI know the insight from the chart above is obvious to me because I did the analysis and I made this chart.

But is the insight obvious to you? No.

This is because you don’t know the context. Often the people who end up reading your reports are not you. So if they missed the context they missed the picture you are trying so hard to present.

So what is the solution?

First present the context, then the insight and then the data (table, chart, graph etc) to support your insight.

first-the-context

We often don’t present the context assuming that the recipient of our reports already knows about it. This is a serious flaw in data reporting.

And to make the matter worse, we present the data that support our insight before we present the insight. This can result in serious misinterpretation of your data.

No matter how hard you try to lay out your data in a hope that it is not misinterpreted, some people will always find a way to interpret the data in a way that they think is correct.

To avoid this problem,always present the insight first and then the data to support your insight.

In this way you are telling the recipient of your reports about how the data should be interpreted.

Always create your reports with this thing in mind that you won’t be there to present your data or point out the so called ‘obvious insight’.

Note: if you don’t want people to question your data then always specify data source and the time range.

 

 

Tip #8: Report something business bottomline impacting

Marketer: The bounce rate is all time low

Boss: And so are the sales. Off you go, grrrr.

Marketer: Boss, the number of facebook fans is all time high.

Boss: So is our cost of Facebook Campaigns, off you go, grrr

The marketer here is making two fatal mistakes:

1. He is reporting something as trivial as ‘bounce rate’ to a CEO of a big company. CEOs don’t care about bounce rate. They care about the big picture i.e. the business bottomline: Gross profit, ROI.

2. He is not reporting something business bottomline impacting. You need to tie every metric you report to the business bottomline metrics like revenue, cost, conversions and ROI. And if you can’t tie it then why you are reporting it?

A wise man once said, reporting without solid recommendations is data puking.

If you want your reports to impact the business bottomline then make sure your reports include solid recommendations.

Because no amount of analysis and reporting is going to move the corporate needle if it doesn’t include solid recommendations.

Check out this post to know more about making solid recommendations: Excellent Analytics Tip #101: Getting your things done right now

 

 

Tip #9: Understand who your report is meant for

Before you create and send any report always ask yourself following three questions:

  1. Why I am reporting, what I am reporting? I am reporting because …..
  2. How does this affect the recipient(s)? I am presenting this report to the board of directors because……
  3. What actions recipient(s) should take on the basis of this report? I am presenting this report so that he takes this action………

For example, when you choose to report ‘bounce rate’ to a CEO then what actions you want him to take?

  • Do you want him to optimize the marketing campaigns and reduce the bounce rate?
  • Do you want him to fire the marketing manager because he is responsible for bringing crappy traffic to the website?

If you can’t think of any action that the CEO should take on the basis of bounce rate then why you are reporting him the bounce rate?

As we move up in an organization hierarchy (esp. in big companies) we tend not to bug senior management with minute details.

Minute details are for the managers (because they have to manage the campaigns) or for the colleagues (because they are directly working on optimizing the campaigns).

So we should avoid presenting tactical dashboards (like copy-paste versions of Google Analytics screen shots) to senior managements and present them only business bottomline impacting insight, possibly in few lines of plain English.

 

 

Tip #10: Be tactful. Avoid argument, conflicts

The best way I have found to avoid any possible conflict is to keep your team in the loop of your findings. Don’t give them any surprises esp. the nasty one and that too in front of the senior management.

If you know that a certain marketing campaign is not performing well and the company is losing hundreds thousands pounds each day then don’t disclose this insight from your team or the people who are directly responsible for managing the campaign till the last minute.

Tell them as soon as you know about it. Give them the opportunity to rectify their problems.

Help them in optimizing their campaigns even if it is not really your job. They will thank you for that. They will thank you for showing the team spirit and for being considerate.

Explain them that it is your job to present correct marketing performance reports to the senior management and tomorrow their job could be in jeopardy if they continue to manage the campaigns the way they have been doing so far.

Your analytical insight should first benefit your team before it benefits the ‘C’ level executives.

It is wise to take a second opinion before you present a report which can have a huge impact on the business or a particular individual or group.

 

 

Tip #11: Keep it Short and Simple

I can’t put enough stress on the importance of simplicity.

If you reports are not easy to understand than it won’t have any impact. It is as simple as that.

So stay away from using industry jargons and ambiguous words as much as possible. If you can’t avoid using a technical term then explain it first each time you use it. Don’t assume people already know about it because you trained them once.

It took me several weeks before I could successfully retain the definition of a bounce rate in my memory when I first started to play with web analytics.

So these technical terms are not as easy to remember as you may think esp. for the people who know little to nothing about web analytics.

Another way of keeping reports simple is through ‘data visualization’.

Visualize your data wherever you can through diagrams, graphs and charts.

Present less fluff and more substance. If your reports are 50 pages long then no one is going to read them let alone take any action.

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Himanshu Sharma

Certified web analyst and founder of OptimizeSmart.com

My name is Himanshu Sharma and I help businesses in finding and fixing their Google Analytics and conversion issues.
  • More than ten years' experience in SEO, PPC and web analytics
  • Certified web analyst (master level) from MarketMotive.com
  • Google Analytics certified
  • Google AdWords certified
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Award for Excellence
  • Bachelors degree in Internet Science
  • Founder of OptimizeSmart.com and EventEducation.com
I am also the author of the book Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization If you have any questions or comments please contact me