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In this episode, Scott interviewed Scott Taylor AKA the Data Whisperer.
From here forwards, “Scott T” will be used to represent Scott Taylor to differentiate from your host. It’s also important to note Scott T differentiates ‘data management’ from ‘analytics’, so things like data governance and infrastructure fall under data management.
Some key takeaways/thoughts from Scott T’s point of view:
- To actually reliably successfully obtain funding for data management initiatives, you need to articulate the value of the work to the business – why does this matter? Storytelling is key.
- The quickest way to lose your shot at securing funding for data initiatives is to focus on the how instead of the why. Most execs do not care at all how it gets done. They hired you, the data leader, to handle that.
- To get funding, focus your messaging on tying your data strategy and proposed data initiatives to the business strategy. Why does this matter – how will this drive the business strategy forward?
- Be prepared for cynicism from the business side – many have heard about how this or that data/technology initiative will be the silver bullet for far too long.
- Digital transformation is an enormous opportunity to change how your organization deals with data. Use that as a good point of leverage for funding your data management – it’s a necessary foundation for a digital enterprise.
- ‘Story’ is about constructing a narrative and ‘telling’ is about effectively communicating. So storytelling is about effectively communicating what is the target outcome and why will this drive value.
- Data storytelling is an art, not a science. You need practice to get good at it. Don’t make your ‘practice’ be overly high stakes. Talk to a lot of folks on your side to hone your talking points. You don’t publish the first draft of a book do you? Find your editors.
- Focus on empathy and listening to find your audience’s aspirations and pain points. Then tie your messaging about your data initiatives to those aspirations and pain points.
- When you get to a yes, stop talking. Is your point to get the yes or is it to tell them all you planned to tell them?
Scott T shared a bit about his history and seeing the same patterns repeatedly, especially the need effectively communicate to get funding for data initiatives. To actually obtain funding for those data management initiatives, you need to articulate the value to the business of the work. And many data people do that pretty darn poorly if at all.
Where do things typically go wrong in getting funding for data management? Per Scott T, it’s when the person asking for funding focuses the conversation on the how – e.g. how exactly are we going to implement data governance? Generally, the audience cares only about the why. Why is this important? They want to trust you to execute on the how. The how is crucial, but that’s why they hired you – to take care of the how.
So Scott T recommends again starting from the why. Show them how this data management initiative will enable the business strategy. Because why have a data strategy if it doesn’t drive the business strategy? Scott T has seen a number of times where data folks don’t focus on how the data strategy ties to the business strategy and the perception – and often the reality – is that the data folks don’t really understand what the business does and/or what drives the business results. That’s obviously going to hurt chances of getting funding.
So what actually is data storytelling and how does it work? According to Scott T, there is the storytelling with data – which is not his focus – and storytelling about data, that data management side. Breaking it down into 3 component parts. Data – you are talking about data initiatives. Story – constructing a narrative. Telling – how you actually communicate what you are doing and why. It’s an art not a science unfortunately but gets much better with practice. You need to get your audience emotionally attached to the outcome to get them bought in to funding it. This isn’t a movie or a novel, you don’t get a chance at exposition – it’s a pitch, get their attention. And be prepared for – and welcome – the interruption. It means they are at least engaged if not bought in just yet. Your objective is to not get through all your slides because they were too interested.
To prepare your pitch for your data initiatives, Scott T recommends you really focus on what the decision makers are talking about – both their aspirations and their pain points. Then look to tie your data initiatives to those. What are they trying to do and where are they trying to take the business? How can your initiative get them there faster/better/cheaper/etc.? What are the problems they are having? Talk to those exact pain points and how your data initiative addresses them. What are the strategic intentions of the organization? This will take a fair bit of empathy and learning how to really listen and then, again, practice to tie your pitch back to their aspirations and pain points.
Scott T shared his 3 ‘V’s of data storytelling – playing off the 3 ‘V’s of big data -: vocabulary, voice, and vision. You need to combine all three to effectively tell your story. Don’t talk in data language, use the language of the business. Make it an interactive conversation, not you talking at them. Show them why this matters and why doing your initiative will drive business results. Again, your data strategy must be about the business strategy.
Scott T finished on his mantra: Truth before meaning.
Quick tidbits from Scott T:
Be prepared for cynicism from the business side – many have heard about how this or that data/technology initiative will be the silver bullet for far too long and they haven’t delivered.
Digital transformation is an enormous opportunity to change how your organization deals with data. It’s a major potential accelerant for the business. Use that as a good point of leverage to pitch your data initiatives.
There are 4 ways data can add value according to Scott T. 1) grow the business, 2) improve the business, 3) protect the business, and 4) sustain the business. Be clear on which ones your initiative focuses on.
There are a number of sales and marketing techniques people can learn to become effective at data storytelling. You want to take your audience from “what are you talking about” to “we can’t live without this”. But it takes practice.
Data management is the less attractive side of data and analytics but it’s the foundation. You can’t build a stable building, a stable home without a good foundation.
When you get to a yes, stop talking. Is your point to get the yes or is it to tell them all you wanted or planned to tell them?
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