How to improve data reporting skills – FREE Training

Last Updated: December 16, 2022

What really is data reporting?

Data reporting is about interacting with people and getting your recommendations implemented on time.

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

Following are my secrets for improving data reporting skills:

  1. Be extremely careful with your words
  2. Be cautious. You are holding someone responsible for the results
  3. Getting things done is the most important skill
  4. Learn the art of influencing decision-makers
  5. Argument is the risk that can sabotage you
  6. Learn to control your emotions
  7. Emotional outbursts are a sign of weakness
  8. Develop emotional self-awareness
  9. Talk less, listen more
  10. Learn to ‘THINK’ in the middle of an argument
  11. Use the ‘Sandwich Technique’ to show disagreement
  12. Learn when to use and avoid understatements
  13. Develop multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills
  14. Understand logical fallacies
  15. Find a mentor and learn the best tips and tricks
  16. Question everything you have learned
  17. Become a teacher (time to give back)
  18. Report something business bottom line impacting
  19. Understand who your report is meant for
  20. Be tactful. Avoid arguments and conflicts
  21. Keep it short and simple

Secret #1: Be extremely careful with your words

The life of an optimizer (web analyst, marketer, conversion optimizer), especially the one who works in-house, is not easy.

If major business decisions (like firing) are riding on your analysis, you can quickly find yourself 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 the worst case, can result in a 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 a big responsibility on your shoulders, so you must 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 discreet in avoiding any possible conflict with your co-workers during and after the reporting.

Secret #2: Be cautious. You are holding someone responsible for the results.

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

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

Secret #3: Getting things done is the most important skill

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.

It doesn’t matter how much you know about web analytics, marketing or conversion optimization.

If you can’t get your recommendations implemented promptly, you can’t impact the business’s bottom line.

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

Secret #4: Learn the art of influencing decision-makers

To get your recommendations implemented, you need to learn the art of influencing decision-makers through your data storytelling skills.

If you can’t convince decision-makers, then why should they 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.

Secret #5: Argument is the risk that can sabotage you

Not everyone will agree with your recommendations, no matter how much data back them up.

Expect opposition and disagreement. The sooner you understand that, the better.

However, how you handle disagreement and avoid conflict plays a very important role in getting things done.

When someone disagrees 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 (remaining calm and in control).

Bear in mind that challengers often hold high office (your boss, your boss’s boss, CEO?) and/or have considerable authority (your client).

These are often the decision-makers or business owners. It would be best if you kept on their good side.

Secret #6: Learn to control your emotions

The moment someone disagrees with you, it puts you in the defensive mode, and you feel compelled to defend your recommendation and suggestion straightaway.

Often during such time, the decisions you make and the words you use are not the best and may not work out in your favour.

You need the most self-control when you are 100% sure you are right and the other person is wrong.

Secret #7: Emotional outbursts are a sign of weakness

An emotional outburst is considered a sign of weakness in the corporate world.

And people tend not to work with those who easily get offended or start crying.

When you work with people from all walks of life, different cultures and from all over the world, you will likely meet very outspoken and direct people.

They won’t beat around the bush if they don’t like something. They will tell you exactly how they feel, often in a way you may find very offensive/rude.

It is important to remember that they are attacking your work, not you. Don’t take it personally.

You must develop the ability to withstand criticism without showing signs of any criticism you may receive.

  • Display fortitude in the face of adversity.
  • Develop a thick skin.
  • Study politicians.
  • Exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotions, especially negative emotions.
  • You need mental toughness.
  • Don’t be a crybaby.

Secret #8: Develop emotional self-awareness

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

When someone chooses to disagree, consciously realize that the other has chosen to disagree with you.

Then feel disappointed. It is important to feel disappointed, as you are less likely to lose your calm.

Remember that when you criticize/disagree with someone, you are attacking their judgment, intelligence, pride, self-respect and, most importantly, their sense of being important.

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

Do you really think someone will like you even more once you prove them wrong, especially publicly in front of colleagues/stakeholders/ clients?… No.

Over time, the “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.

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Secret #9: Talk less, listen more

Once you consciously realise that the other person disagrees 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 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 chosen to disagree with me, which is disappointing“. 

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

At this point, you may be thinking, how can I possibly feel differently?

Yes, you can. With a little bit of practice, you can.

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

Now is the time to think about how to proceed.

Secret #10: Learn to ‘THINK’ in the middle of an argument

This is one of the hardest things to do, and not many people can pull it off, especially if you are in your early 20s, full of testosterone and want to prove yourself at any cost.

Many people cannot suppress the strong urge to justify themselves and become virtually deaf to what the other person has to say, let alone think about the pros and cons before proceeding further with the argument.

Where others fail, you should, and you must succeed. Otherwise, you risk your reputation, relationship, career or, worst-case scenario, your “life”.

Ask yourself the following questions:

#3.1 Can I avoid this argument?

It is never really a good idea to argue with anyone, especially with people who hold high office, authority and/or significant power.

Often such people are decision-makers (your boss, your boss’s boss, CEO?) who can make or break your analytics career/project in a split second.

It would be best if you kept on their good side. If you don’t, then, in the end, it is only going to be your loss.

#3.2 Can I postpone my answer?

When someone disagrees with you, he expects you to either a) justify yourself immediately or b) accept what they have to say and change/abandon your suggestions/recommendations.

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

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.

#3.3 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 that you are in a very undesirable position, which you can not escape.

In addition to feeling disappointment, ‘feel self-pity’.

It would be best if you felt these emotions to control stronger negative emotions like anger or the urge to argue.

Ask yourself the following question:

#3.4 What will I have to pay if I win this argument or make my point?

Often people jump into an argument without consciously realizing who they are arguing with and the price they may have to pay even if they win the argument.

There is always a cost associated with creating resentment in another person.

If that person is a stranger, you may get away without paying any price. And this is what most people do when they become keyboard warriors on social media.

When they decide to troll or harass someone on social media, they know they have no price to pay. They are hiding behind an anonymous profile. They feel safe.

However, in the real offline world, you may pay a heavy price for causing resentment in another person.

If that person happens to be your boss/client/colleague, you make it difficult for yourself to get things done in the future.

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 viewpoint and move on.

You don’t want to win an argument at the expense of losing business, creating lifelong resentments in another person, or destroying all further use of the person.

Secret #11: Use the ‘Sandwich Technique’ to show disagreement

Use the sandwich technique if you have decided to make your point or disagree.

Start your conversation with a compliment, insert your criticism/disagreement and then end your conversation with a compliment.

To find something to praise, look for areas where you can agree with the challenger and 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‘ and ‘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’ and ‘however’, pause briefly.

Remember, it is only human to lose your temper, argue and defend yourself.

I do not always remember what I preach and end up in an argument. 

But now, at least, I can consciously realize what I did or doing or how I can avoid it next time.

Now I can consciously understand when a person starts disagreeing with me. Some people are naturally gifted with all these abilities; because of their upbringing, culture etc., we call them ‘people persons’.

These people are good at avoiding arguments, finding areas where they can agree and very diplomatic in showing disagreement and getting their point across. 

These people rise to the top, and we must be like them.

The 7-step formula for dealing with disagreement at the workplace.

Step-1: Consciously realize that someone disagrees with you and that you have a tough battle ahead. (emotional awareness).

Step-2: Suppress the strong urge to immediately justify yourself or speak by feeling disappointed and self-pity. If you can’t feel that way, then feel superiority. You, after all, have higher emotional intelligence (suppression).

Step-3: Do not become virtually deaf to what the other person says. Let him speak and try hard to listen (listen).

Step-4: Once the other person has stopped speaking, try hard to avoid the disagreement from becoming an argument (avoidance).

Step-5: If you can not avoid the argument, then try to postpone your answer by saying 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. (postpone).

Step-6: If you can not avoid the argument and postpone your answer, then think about the cost you will have to pay if you win the argument or make your point. (think of the cost).

This cost can be in the form of the following:

  • Creating temporary or life-long resentment in another person.
  • Ruining relationship
  • Destroying all further use of the other person.
  • Losing an opportunity
  • Losing your job
  • Losing a business

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 viewpoint and move on.

Step-7: If the benefits of winning the argument outweigh the losses, proceed with your argument using the ‘Sandwich Technique’ to show disagreement.

If you could do this simple cost-benefit analysis in the middle of an argument, you would be surprised to see how often you manage to avoid disagreements, arguments, and conflicts.

Most people jump into an argument (even with strangers) to massage their ego, to feel important and proud, without realizing the cost they may have to pay even if they win the argument.

If you end up in an argument, remember it is only human to end up in an argument. So please don’t feel guilty about it. Move on.

Secret #12: Learn when to use and avoid understatements

An understatement is a statement that sounds like one thing but may mean something else.

For example:
“I hear what you say.” It could mean, “I disagree with you.”

“That’s not bad” could mean ‘That’s good’ (depending upon the context)

“Very interesting’ could mean “nonsense.”

Understatements are integral to British work culture but are often misunderstood by foreigners.

And by foreigners. I mean anyone who is not familiar with the British work culture.

So if you are doing business with a British firm, you must develop the ability to spot understatement and get the real meaning. Otherwise, there could be miscommunication.

On the contrary, if you are a British business dealing with a foreign client, do remember that, by and large, people do not understand your understatements.

It is a very British thing and should be avoided at all costs when dealing with international clients. Sames goes for sarcasm.

Secret #13: Develop multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills

Working with Brits (British People) is not the same as working with Americans, Australians or Indians.

Before I begin, there is one caveat.

I am doing a gross generalisation to oversimplify something as complex as ‘culture’.

That is required because this article is not meant to be an encyclopedia of world cultures. So bear with me.

Working with Brits

I have been living in the UK for the last 13 years.

When I say Brits, I consider the people born and raised in the UK. 

I am not counting the people who migrated here from other countries. Because those from other countries come with their own culture, you would need to “study” their culture to understand them.

So just for the sake of understanding different cultures, I have excluded migrants (which also include me).

British culture considers it polite to leave people alone and rude to ask personal questions or interfere/intervene.

This unwritten social protocol exists because most Brits constantly worry about being rude and making others uncomfortable. So much so that they would rather not talk/engage than risk offending someone or making them uncomfortable.

You may sit next to a Brit for hours on a train, plane or restaurant, and they still may not say a word to you. If there is going to be small talk, it is likely to be about the weather.

It is all perfectly normal here though such behaviour may appear cold and aloof to a person who does not know the British culture.

Don’t expect conversations which discuss professional and personal lives.

For many Brits, giving direct feedback is very difficult and challenging (remember their constant worry of offending others).

So they avoid it as much as they can. But if they can not avoid it, they beat around the bush, use understatements, and give indirect suggestions or clues.

Only when the understatements and indirect suggestions do not work, do they reluctantly but cautiously give direct feedback.

Understatements are an integral part of the British work culture, and if you do not understand them, you may have difficulty doing business in the UK.

Another unwritten British social protocol dictates that all instructions need to be in the form of a question and should include the word ‘please’ wherever possible.

For example:
“Will it be possible for you to do it today?”

Instead of saying something like:
“Can you do it today” or worse ‘do it today”.

Otherwise, it is considered a rude command.

When a British boss asks you, “Will it be possible for you to do it today?” he is not asking for your permission or giving you the option to do it another day.

He is expecting you to complete the work today. He is just being polite.

You are expected to use the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ even to your spouse and family members without fail. Otherwise, you are just being rude.

Even our signboards include the word ‘please’ somewhere and are considered rude otherwise.

Now there is hardly any email I send out that does not include the word ‘please’.

In fact, I tend to repeat the word ‘please’ way too much in emails, to the point that now I have to find a way not to overdo it consciously.

Brits show displeasure through sarcasm. So if you do not understand sarcasm, you may have difficulty reading them.

While there is no concept of privacy in India and most of Asia, privacy is paramount for the British and most of Europe.

You can’t just go around and ask someone about their life off work if they don’t know you really well. And by really well, I mean since their childhood (at least in the UK). You will be considered ‘rude’ and ‘nosy’.

Interestingly, this is not the case in India or the US.

Americans will happily tell you their entire life story in a heartbeat : )

Working with Australians

I worked for an Australian company full-time for over a year, and I have also worked with a couple of Australian clients.

I understand that Australians and the British share almost the same culture. The same is the case with New Zealand.

The big difference is the lifestyle. With all-year-round sunshine and the hot climate in Australia, you can do many more outdoor activities.

Working with Americans

America is my biggest target market, and I have been working with Americans since the very beginning of my career.

The only thing I have found common among the Brits and Americans is the ‘English’ language. And that language is also not that common. 

American English is not exactly British English. Both use different words, phrases, slang, and idioms.

The culture is entirely different, which may surprise some of you who have never lived in the UK.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Americans are the opposite of the British.

They are loud, ambitious, overtly friendly (by British standards), outspoken (by British Standards) and outgoing. And they don’t get ‘sarcasm’ and ‘understatements’. 

You should not have a hard time befriending or chatting with an American.

American work culture has nothing much in common with the British work culture. The former is more informal but fast-paced.

American bosses are much more approachable than their UK counterparts.

Most US companies tend to have flat organisational structures. But this is not usually the case with UK companies esp. the big ones. 

They could have a tall hierarchy and multiple layers of commands, making it difficult to bypass your immediate boss if they are no help.

Words like ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ are not used as often as in the British workforce.

I have found Americans to be highly ambitious, hard-working, risk-taking, innovative, competitive, and take pride in their achievements.

All such characteristics are unfortunately lacking in the British work culture. You could say there is a drought of “ambition” in the British workforce.

That’s one big reason you don’t see companies like ‘Facebook’ and ‘Google’ originating from the UK.

For Americans, the feedback needs to sound negative for their disapproval to be understood.

Americans, by and large, are direct communicators (telling it like it is without mincing words). They don’t beat around the bush.

If they don’t like something, they just tell you exactly how they feel.
“I don’t like it. It is BS”.

They don’t think of it as being rude or outspoken. They think they are being honest with you.

And this is also true for people in most countries. If you do not give direct feedback, you are being dishonest.

Working with Indians

First, let’s define Indians.

Indians live worldwide; some have been in foreign countries for several generations (like South Africa, the UK, etc.). So when I talk about Indians, I am referring to the Indians in India.

I am not referring to the people of Indian origin who were born and raised in foreign countries and have never stepped foot in India.

Because those who were born and raised outside of India tend to adopt the culture of the country they live in, at least to some degree.

Indians are hardworking and can go to great lengths to please their employer or client.

That means staying late in the office, skipping lunch (if required to complete the work on time), doing overtime, etc., even without being asked to do so.

However, if they are asked to stay late in the office or work on weekends, they will almost always never say ‘no’ to it.

In the Indian work culture, you can not disobey your boss or anyone higher than you in the organization hierarchy.

You can not address a person by his first name if he is higher than you in the organization hierarchy.

The organization hierarchy acts more like a power hierarchy.

Just like Indian families, Indian companies have got a strict chain of command. Those at the top of the chain will not do the work they consider beneath them.

Indian employees love their job titles, and they almost always never say ‘no’ to anything.

So even if they can’t complete a task on time and need more time, they may still say, “yes, it will be done on time”.

Even if they can not complete the task, they usually never say, “no it can’t be done”. They believe in saying ‘yes’ and then figuring it out later.

The word ‘no’ has got no place in the Indian workplace. You may need to dig deep to make sure that the promise being made can actually be delivered.

Expect some uncertainty and plan accordingly, as the concept of ‘time’ is somewhat loosely defined in the Indian work culture.

Suppose you work in an Indian company and you get an invitation from your boss or colleague to attend some social event (party, wedding, business lunch, etc.). In that case, you should not decline it because that is considered very rude and disrespectful.

Since data reporting is a form of communication, you need to be aware of the multicultural aspect of your workplace and teams. Otherwise, you may have a hard time getting things done.

You need this multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills to work effectively with cross-cultural teams.

And the best way to do that is to go out and travel/live in a foreign country—experience and study different cultures.

Secret #14: Understand logical fallacies

A logical fallacy means an error in reasoning. It occurs when an argument is not valid.

Awareness of logical fallacies is important because they can lead to flawed conclusions.

People use logical fallacies in reporting and in general communication to safeguard their views and interests in manipulative or deceitful ways.

The’ straw man’ fallacy is one of the most used logical fallacies.

Consider the following scenario:

Me: There is no point paying for web analytics tools when they face the same browser and privacy restrictions as the free tools and do not provide keyword data.

Opponent: GA360 cost $150k/year. Adobe Analytics is a better option.

Me: We need to increase our ad spend to target a new audience. We are exhausting our existing audience.

Opponent: So you can not increase our ROAS without increasing the ad spend.

Me: Branding is not the future. De-branding is. Appear less corporate, more personal and approachable.

Opponent: I completely disagree. People buy brands. It’s all about brands.

What you just witnessed is called the “Straw man fallacy”.

The straw man fallacy occurs when your opponent does not understand or address your actual argument and creates another, often oversimplified/distorted/demonic version of it, which is easier to attack and refute.

The straw man fallacy occurs when your opponent answers your question with a question, “what about this…” or “what about that…”

Your opponent’s objective is to keep deviating from your original argument to the point where you can no longer defend it.

They will open several new fronts to distract you.

Now instead of defending one viewpoint, you are forced to defend several seemingly unrelated viewpoints. Don’t let them do that.

In your work life, you will most likely encounter people who would try to discredit your work/viewpoint by creating a straw man.

They will try to put words in your mouth. They want to discredit you by any means necessary.

They will give you a label (sexist, racist, fascist etc.) to shut you up if everything else fails.

Instead of falling for their trap, try to understand their motives.

By having a basic understanding of this logical fallacy, you can more confidently present your viewpoint, safeguard your interests and get your recommendations implemented in the workplace.

Secret #15: Find a mentor and learn the best tips and tricks

When it comes to learning, there are two ways: The easy way and the hard way.

The hard way is that you learn things on the job, but with an incredibly slow pace, over the years/decades, by doing hit and trial, stumbling or failing countless times, along the way to success.

The easy and smart way is to go through a crash course and learn to avoid even those mistakes you have not made yet. 

Why repeat the mistakes which others have made before you? 

It doesn’t make any sense. Learn from other people’s mistakes and avoid them.

Find a mentor if you believe in head-starting by learning from the best in the industry. 

Reading blog posts and attending conferences are good, but they can never substitute for good mentorship.

So the first step in becoming a ninja in data reporting or anything is finding the right mentor and making mistakes under their 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 learning his best skills, tricks and tips. He helped create the right foundation, and I built my house on top of that.

I have learned so much in the last couple of years that I am the author of four best-selling books on Amazon.

However, bear in mind that the right mentorship is often not free. 

Your mentor is likely a very busy person, and he is more likely to charge not for his expertise but for his time. So be prepared to pay hefty fees.

The other reason for charging hefty fees is to make sure that you are really serious about being mentored and not just wasting your mentor’s time. 

You are more likely to pay attention and follow what is being taught if you are charged, say, $5000 than when you are charged, say, $500. 

People pay attention and learn when a lot of money is at stake.

Secret #16: 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. What Matters more: Conversion Volume or Conversion Rate – Geek Case Study
  3. 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.

You are rewarding your teacher poorly, if you remain always a pupil

Friedrich Nietzsche”.

Secret #17: Become a teacher (time to give back)

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

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

Teaching forces you to get your thinking clean, to make it simple. 

This is one of the primary reasons 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 lose. This is because you are going against nature. You learn things, and you pass them 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, how can you expect other people to understand it relatively easily? So make it simple by teaching others.

Here is a small exercise for you:

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

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

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

obvious-insight

The insight from the chart above is obvious to me because I did the analysis and 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. They missed the context. They missed the picture you are trying so hard to present. 

So what is the solution?

First, present the context, 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.

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

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

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

Secret #18: Report something business bottom line 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 the CEO of a company. CEOs don’t care about bounce rates. They care about the big picture, i.e. the business bottom line: Gross profit, ROI etc.

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

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

If you want your reports to impact the business bottom line, 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.

Secret #19: Understand who your report is meant for

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

  1. Why am I 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 should the recipient(s) take based on this report? I am presenting this report so that he takes this action………

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

  • 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 the CEO should take based on the bounce rate, why are you reporting 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).

We should avoid presenting tactical dashboards (like copy-paste versions of Google Analytics screenshots) to senior management and present them only business bottom line impacting insight, possibly in a few lines of plain English.

Secret #20: Be tactful. Avoid arguments and conflicts

The best way to avoid any possible conflict is to keep your team in the loop of your findings. 

Please don’t give them any surprises, especially the nasty ones 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 of thousands of dollars each day, don’t disclose this insight from your team or the people directly responsible for managing the campaign until the last minute.

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

Help them optimise their campaigns even if it is not your job. They will thank you for that. 

They will thank you for showing team spirit and for being considerate.

Explain to them that it is your job to present correct marketing performance reports to the senior management. 

Tomorrow, their job could be in jeopardy if they continue to manage the campaigns as 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.

Secret #21: Keep it short and simple

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

If your reports are not easy to understand, they won’t have any impact. It is as simple as that.

Stay away from using industry jargon 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 days before I could successfully retain the definition of a bounce rate in my memory.

These technical terms are not as easy to remember as you think, especially for 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, no one will read them, let alone take any action.

  1. Best Excel Charts Types for Data Analysis, Presentation and Reporting
  2. Making Good Marketing Decisions Despite of Faulty Analytics Data
  3. Ten tips to analyse data trends in Google Analytics
  4. How to become champion in data reporting via Storytelling
  5. Google Analytics Dashboard Tutorial
  6. Data Science Vs. Data Analytics – An In-Depth Comparison Of Similarities And Differences

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Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
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About the Author

Himanshu Sharma

  • Founder, OptimizeSmart.com
  • Over 15 years of experience in digital analytics and marketing
  • Author of four best-selling books on digital analytics and conversion optimization
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Awards for Excellence
  • Runs one of the most popular blogs in the world on digital analytics
  • Consultant to countless small and big businesses over the decade

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