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PHOTO: Susan Holt Simpson

Back in 2008, I took a graduate-level statistics class that was eye-opening. It was eye-opening for two reasons: one, it showed me how easy it is to manipulate data and two, it showed me how hard it is to manipulate data. 

What my professor couldn’t have known in the fall of 2008 was the onslaught of data we’d soon be facing, which means the Excel tricks he showed us aren't quite the magic they were back then. 

A data-driven culture should ensure a team is running efficiently, that customers are being treated to the experience they deserve and the products that people are being marketed are products that are meaningful to them. But how do you get there?

The following are some common sense approaches to creating that culture. If you’re looking for something groundbreaking, I’m sure you won’t have to look far, but my experience is many people start with groundbreaking and forget the common sense, then are overwhelmed and fail as a result. I speak from experience. Having had to strategize how to work with data from a marketing agency perspective, I have certainly put the cart before the horse on a number of occasions, but it never worked out well. Much like you don’t run 26.2 miles on your first day of marathon training, don’t try to get too much out of your data on the first day of your project. 

A common sense approach at the beginning will lead to more innovation and creativity around your data in the end, because your team will find new talents and creative outlets around data as it becomes accustomed to the culture.  

So, with no further ado, here is what and how to get started moving toward a data-driven culture. 

Internal Data Is Invaluable

Every company uses data. Frequently when businesses think about becoming data-driven, they turn to external, customer data, while ignoring the rich array of data they collect internally. Using this internal data to monitor and improve efficiency is the best place to begin putting data to work, in my opinion. I'm not suggesting you use it to lay off people, rather, use it to help your employees improve their own efficiency.

While efficiency is hard to measure, data never lies. For sales and marketing start with the CRM. Your CRM probably has a lot more data than you give it credit for. While you may be looking at CRM data to decide what the next deal should be, you can also turn to it to identify what's working, where to better devote resources and more. 

By starting with data to help your internal processes, you will have a clear example of the power of data. From there, you can learn to take advantage of it at higher levels while also generating a healthier bottom line with higher productivity.

Related Article: The Data-Driven Organization Is an Endangered Species

Hire a Professional

Data is hard. Interpreting it is one thing, knowing what’s important is another, and knowing how to actually use it is an entirely different challenge. But before you even can start on that, is the data you have even legal? 

While it probably is, new privacy regulations are quickly changing the boundaries of what's allowed and what isn't. Last year, the (in)famous GDPR law went into effect and in 2020 the California Consumer Privacy Act will take effect. Do you know how to navigate the steps to ensure compliance with these laws?

A data-driven company doesn’t just happen because it has data. A data-driven company is one that uses data appropriately and understands the ramifications of its misuse. It’s not that your marketing team, who likely collects most of your external data, isn’t good at getting great data, or even utilizing it for cool personalization efforts which in turn is helping your bottom line, it’s that they can’t know what they don’t know, and they likely aren’t versed in the nuances of data management. (Before you say they should do a Google search, consider that even Google struggles with this).

Bottom line: having someone on your team who knows their way around data, both laws and stats, would go a long way in creating a data-driven culture.

Related Article: 3 Tips When Hiring Data Scientists

Scale Your Data

Once you've established the power of data and have people who understand data, you can invest in the tools needed to scale your data. It could be that simple marketing automation could work. If you have a large marketing department with a lot of creatives, you may find that a digital asset management (DAM) system will help you cut costs, or if you are an ecommerce retailer that a product information management (PIM) platform will help you get the right products in front of the right audience. 

To scale your data properly an investment in technology is likely the logical next step. Only once you know how you should be scaling your data to fit your company, can you know the logical investment(s) to make that happen.