If you don’t consider yourself data-literate, you’re not alone. Despite the fact that we are in the era of big data, many professionals today shy away from the use of data in their everyday work. In fact, this big data skills gap was recently illustrated in Wikibon’s “Big Data: Hadoop, Business Analytics and Beyond," which warns that the U.S. is likely to “face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the big data analysis to make effective decisions” by 2018.
Regardless of your occupation, you can start to bridge this gap. Taking even the smallest steps toward learning how to use data will make you more insightful, productive and earn you the reputation of someone who is impacting the business and can drive performance.
1. Don’t let the numbers scare you.
It’s easy to push data away if you’re not proficient in Excel or don’t like working with numbers. However, there is a certain basic level of comfort with numbers and data that every professional needs to achieve. Start by looking at the most basic business numbers you can get your hands on -- maybe it’s the company revenue numbers per channel partner or how many visitors your company’s website is receiving.
Get your hands dirty by exploring numbers and metrics that matter to get over the hump of distancing yourself from data -- who knows, you may even develop an interest in it. If you do find that your interests are piqued, you may take some time to check out a self-paced online course designed for people who want to learn more about how to structure, visualize and manipulate data.
2. Keep it simple.
Trying to get your head around the lion’s share of your company’s data is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. All too often, people agonize over analyzing hundreds of products or customers or regions. It’s almost impossible to identify patterns in data beyond five to seven sets. Look for ways to make groups, i.e. by product color, price point or type of product line. Ask yourself: How can categorizing simplify my analysis?
3. Find the 80/20’s in your business.
Data is your ally when it comes to learning how to work smarter, not harder. The 80/20 rule indicates that 20 percent of the activities you do account for 80 percent of your results. If you can use data to identify the few actions that drive the bulk of your results, you can focus your efforts on making a much bigger impact.
Too many people spread their time evenly between tasks and get overwhelmed trying to do too many things. For example, if you’re a web marketer and you zero in on the three parts of your website that are getting the most traffic -- and focus on those areas -- it will make an enormous difference in your performance.
4. Track trends over time.
You can stay in tune with your business by identifying a handful of key statistics, such as average sales price or revenue per customer, and forcing yourself to track them over time. Soon you will see patterns in the data and identify trends much earlier. Trends that don’t seem to change much week over week may change significantly in the course of three to six months. Tracking over time gives you powerful insights that will help you to improve your business, making you an invaluable asset to your company.
5. Ask yourself the tough questions.
Even if your boss isn’t asking for it, ask yourself: What’s the return on investment I should expect from this activity, and how can I measure the return I’m actually getting? Create a hypothesis and follow the data to see the results. For example, if you’re going to roll out a new marketing campaign to replace an old one, look for opportunities to test the new campaign versus the old one. Pick a city and send half of the city the old campaign and half of them the new one in order to measure the effectiveness of each campaign.
If you follow and track the data and can quote statistics-based results, it will position you as an informed and focused individual with sound decision making. In fact, even if you don’t get the results you were looking for in your test, the fact that you can point to data-driven insights will make your boss see you as someone who can impact the business and drive better performance.
As you become comfortable using data, experiment with intermediate to advanced tools that will help you dive deeper into various pools of information. Once you see data deliver meaningful insights and you receive recognition for your enhanced performance, you’ll be hooked! Luckily, there is no end to the amount of data analysis you can do. In today’s data-driven age, the sky is truly the limit!