Three Strategies for Selling Data-Based Decision-Making to Leaders Who Resist Data

In the first of our three-part series about data today, we invite people who typically make gut decisions to consider the value of data-based decision-making. How do you win over the skeptics? Read on for a few ideas.

COVID-19 has made the case for the value of data-based decision making to many association pros who might have previously missed it. After all, given the precarious situations the pandemic has created, who wants to be caught guessing?

“If you can understand the data behind a business and how it ties to the operations, you could really understand how to control the outcomes you’re going to get,” says Association Analytics CEO Julie Sciullo.

Still, not everyone may be on board. So, how do you effectively connect with the stragglers? Sciullo offers a few ideas for selling analytics within an organization:

Narrow your initial focus. For many associations, trying to sell an analytics-based approach to a skeptical board or executive team means building a track record of success beforehand. “I would say start smaller, and start with whatever your main revenue driver is—so if you’re a trade group, with your event; if you’re a membership group, start with your membership,” Sciullo says. During this time, it’s best not to complicate things with data that goes too in-depth, she adds: “Start simple and then show the value.”

Present the data in a dashboard format. In the past, some people might have rolled their eyes at data in part because of the way it was presented—Sciullo notes that data can be twisted to support an argument. But presenting data in an objective dashboard format, she says, can offer a stronger baseline for understanding the state of your organization and its members—something many leaders struggle to capture. “It’s really hard to get a 360 view of your customers—I mean members and nonmembers,” she says. “Typically, you want to know just as much of your nonmembers as you do your members.” An objective data visualization can supply that comprehensive view because of the breadth of information at hand. When presented this way, its value is more likely to click with leaders. “There’s just like this lightbulb that goes off,” Sciullo says.

Set the example at a higher level. What if the data skeptics aren’t in your boardroom but on your staff? Executives need to set the tone. Sciullo cited an example of a client who now asks employees to study the data at meetings before pitching ideas, to ensure the ideas are relevant to the data. “They don’t go in and start an agenda until data is brought to the table,” Sciullo says. “And so if you don’t have data to support whatever you’re bringing to the table, it’s not going to be entertained.” This approach, she says, will encourage data skeptics at lower levels to take the research seriously “because you know your boss looks.”

Once everyone is on board with data analytics, she says, it can open up opportunities, something she has seen in many organizations that have invested in data analytics in the wake of COVID-19. Among other things, she says it discourages a siloed approach and allows decisions to be made from a position of offense rather than reflexively—which matters now more than ever.

“When it comes down to you and your organization and your members and, you know, your future as an association, you have to use your data,” she says.

In part 2 of our series on data today, we’ll look at balancing the data privacy needs of attendees and sponsors of virtual events. In part 3, we’ll help you figure out whether you’re due for a data cleanup.

(g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!