How to Utilize Your Data That’s Gathering Dust

Create a Learning Agenda to Clean up the Digital Dust | The Sterling Woods Group Blog

I hate waste. When I buy a book, I finish it—even if it stinks. When a restaurant serves a so-so meal, I still clean my plate. When it’s time for a spring cleaning of my wardrobe, I have a hard time parting with clothes, even if I haven’t worn them in ages. Okay fine, maybe I’m a little cheap.

But this is also why I shed a tear whenever I come across stats like, “73 percent of data in an organization never gets used.” Data is an incredible asset, but sadly, most businesses are not using it to its fullest potential. A lot of it sits around, gathering digital dust.

Do Companies Care About Data?

It’s not that companies want to ignore their data. What we at the Sterling Woods Group usually hear from our clients is that it’s overwhelming finding a starting point. Data is scattered in the cloud, on servers, on hard drives, in SaaS platforms they license, from Google Analytics—the list goes on and on.

And according to this article from HBR, the issue is deeply rooted. In a survey of senior executives from 57 companies, a full 99 percent of them said that their firm is attempting to move towards a data-driven culture, but only one third of those respondents felt their company was succeeding. Even as more firms are appointing chief data officers (more than half the respondents to the survey held that title), firms have been unable to actually move the needle on a company-wide embrace of a digital culture.

This study demonstrates that it’s not about creating a fancy new position and spending tens of millions of dollars on the latest technology. While these are important parts of the solution, neither is a magic bullet.

Instead, a shift towards a truly digital culture starts with knowing what you’re looking for. Any self-help guru will teach you that to achieve your goals, you have to start with a crystal-clear vision of what you actually want. The same holds true with data.

That’s Where a Learning Agenda Comes In

In order to gain that clarity, we recommend developing a learning agenda. A learning agenda is a prioritized set of questions that address issues which have a direct effect on a business’s revenue-earning potential. Working towards an answer to each question will create an implementation guide and make results more predictable.

To illustrate what we mean, here are some examples of questions one might find on a learning agenda:

  • Which advertising platform yields the highest ROI for our business?
  • How many pieces of content does a prospect need to see before they raise their hand for a sales call?
  • What sequence of events in the funnel maximizes ultimate conversion rate?
  • What adjacent market would value our goods and services?

How Do You Develop a Learning Agenda?

Start by interviewing key employees. Ask them what questions and answers would help them more reliably deliver results, then catalog this list.

Now as a senior team, prioritize the list. Consider the following criteria:

  • Leverage. Would answering this question lead to a one, ten, or 50 percent increase in our sales?
  • Prevalence. How many people in our organization listed this question?
  • Strategic Relevance. Will finding the answer to this question actively support our corporate vision?

Here’s where the fun starts. Have your data science team spec out analysis projects that can deliver answers. Come up with a workplan for what data sources are needed, what types of analyses must be done (segmentation, predictive modeling, machine learning, etc.), and how long each analysis will take.

We’ve found it’s better to tick off a small number of questions at a time. That way, when you arrive at answers, there’s sufficient bandwidth to execute against the insights.

Think of your learning agenda as a living document. It should be revisited and updated at least annually. But it’s always good to look at it quarterly—or even monthly—as your business changes. Soon enough, you’ll be wiping the cobwebs off your data and putting it to good use, driving sustainable and predictable sales growth!

Do you have any questions specific to your business? Please write, and we may feature your question and our answer in an upcoming newsletter.

About the Sterling Woods Group, LLC

The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to predictably grow sales. We apply data science to help you optimize your sales funnel, improve your marketing ROI, launch new products successfully, and enter new markets profitably.

We use a hypothesis-driven, data-supported methodology to discover insights that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right sales strategies, marketing plans, technologies, and resources to seize this opportunity.

About the Author

Rob Ristagno, founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Starting his career at McKinsey, his focus has always been on embracing digital technology and data science to spur strategic growth.

Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.

He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.

Rob lives outside Boston, MA with his wife, Kate; daughter, Leni; and black lab, Royce.