How to Present Data to Leadership That They Actually Care About
Time is a commodity, and when it comes to your firm’s leadership, it’s even more precious. As an accounting marketer, you don’t often get enough time to present data to firm leadership. Keeping the attention of people who have a lot on their plate can be difficult. The last thing you want to do is present a dry, pages-long report that makes their eyes glaze over. You may have one or two people listening who are excited about the details you provide. The rest are looking for the summarized version. How can you keep the attention of everyone in the room and present data to leadership that they actually care about?
I reached out to some data analysts, and drew from my past experience of working in data analytics for 5 years at an advertising agency, to bring back some useful nuggets to AAM.
Present data to leadership with these tips in mind
Keep it simple
Stick to 5-10 metrics if your partners, principals, and management are strapped for time. Challenge yourself to keep all of the essential information to a page or two. If you have some people who are hungry for more, you can always send them a follow-up report with more details.
Tie data to relevant goals and initiatives your audience cares about
If you’re presenting results from your latest blog posts, or your LinkedIn page, be specific. Tell your audience which business lines or campaigns are doing well, directly tying results to their business development and revenue goals. For example, if you did a recent content push on 401(k) audits and it resulted in winning some new emails from people downloading a checklist, share that in the report, as well as any returns on investment you were able to connect. The more your audience can see themselves and their efforts in your reporting, the more they’ll care about what you have to say.
Include interactive elements and animations
A static image or report can be so boring, even for people who look at spreadsheets all day. One of the best things you can do is make your data interactive. Using a reporting tool such as Tableau can give your stakeholders the ability to manipulate the data and view it from different angles. They may even make a connection that you haven’t yet.
If you can’t manage to put together an interactive presentation, including some exciting visual elements, like animated or more colorful sections, can draw the eye and help hold attention. If you’re presenting qualitative information, Dr. Philip Adu, Founder of Center for Research Methods Consulting, LLC, recommends using a tool like NVivo to generate word clouds, word trees, and other visual representations of qualitative results. For marketers just starting out with visualizing qualitative information, check out web tools like WordClouds.com or a list of free tools Dr. Adu has gathered.
Present in front of leadership at least a couple times per year
It isn’t enough to send a report via email and hope your leadership team reads it. You should be getting out in front of it and presenting on a video call or in the same room at least a couple times per year. By going through it with your recipients, you can find out if they have specific questions you could answer by including other report sections or metrics. You can also help them understand things that may otherwise not make sense to them. Forming that rapport can go a long way in building value for your reports.
Common reporting pitfalls
Reporting is an afterthought
I spoke with Claudia Pilgrim, ICP-MKG, Business Intelligence Architect and Marketing Strategist for Capital Consulting Group, LLC, about common reporting pitfalls and advice for getting leadership more interested in marketing. She told me that one of the main reasons reporting can be difficult is that it’s almost always an afterthought. Reports tend to be developed in isolation without a clear idea of how the recipients will use them. The look and feel of the report should be informed by the end recipient. This ties to the point above of connecting the reports back to revenue and firm goals as much as possible.
However, this is easier said than done. Claudia talked about the importance of truly understanding business objectives to better report on them. What are our annual and quarterly goals? How do we quantify what our efforts are doing for these business objectives? Tracking users through the funnel, mapping the customer journey, and tying them to desired activities all work to make reports come alive, adding context and detail to numbers that may otherwise mean little to your audience.
If you’re able to show that a post converted 25% of the time, meaning that out of every 4 views, you got one email, and then that 25% converted to 12% of sales for the quarter, you’re able to make a connection between a campaign or activity and a business objective in a way that’s clear for leadership. The more you can do this, the more you’re also able to sell how marketing is impacting company revenue.
Data management issues
Data management is also another hurdle that some firms never get over. The best way to gain new insights at your firm is to harmonize your data across platforms to match everything up. Claudia has a background in SAP and uses SAP Business Warehouse to bring data together. This way, she’s able to pull from a larger, well-connected data pool and build reports from there, using a front-end tool such as Business Objects or Tableau. Doing this will also bring in automatic involvement from other departments, encouraging buy-in for reporting that goes beyond typical marketing metrics. It can also add more ownership to the data that’s being reported, and the marketing and BD initiatives happening at the firm, the more you’re able to connect those dots.
Need for more representation in data
When key players all have a stake in the data, whether that’s coming from IT, accounting, or marketing, their representation in the process will help get everyone on the same page about what you’re trying to do, and may even generate new ideas for how to present the data.
However you deliver the reports, don’t skip the all-important onboarding or orientation to your reports, either. If you provide an interactive tool, that’s great, but if your readers don’t know how to use it…they won’t. Don’t have them asking “So what?” Show them how it can be useful to them and encourage adoption.
Forgetting about leadership buy-in and adequate resources
Finally, Claudia emphasized that the reporting won’t matter without two important things – leadership buy-in and the adequate resources to do data analysis right. Analyzing, managing, and reporting on data is a full-time job. It should be given to a team dedicated to setting everything up for a certain amount of time. A dedicated team can work with other departments, choose data points, evaluate tools (likely, more than one will be required to answer your questions), implement, and iterate.
It can be hard to convince leadership to allow one or several people to take dedicated time to work on a project like this. However, analyzing your data properly and tying it to business objectives in the most complete way possible is one of the best ways to build revenue and ensure the health and longevity of your firm, providing insights as to what’s working and how to build better, faster. The selection and report creation process can even turn into a marketing story to attract new business!
Ideally, there should be data analysts sitting in each department, representing the priorities and goals of that department. Many accounting marketers run up against budget constraints. Claudia stressed that this is the kind of investment that leads to further innovation and growth. The more well-represented business objectives are, the more your firm can accomplish. Claudia believes that data strategy is what differentiates a company. She said firms that don’t have a strategy won’t be around in 10 years. I can’t agree more.
What approaches have you taken to reporting at your firm? Any obstacles you’ve encountered? How have you “wowed” leadership? Share how you present data to leadership in a comment below.
About Sammi Dittloff
Sammi is a Marketing Consultant for Needs More Fiber (needsmorefiber.com) and is dedicated to adding substance to marketing for mission-driven companies. She's had over 15 years of marketing, advertising, copywriting, and analytics experience. She was the Marketing Director at Chortek LLP for 3 years and is currently the AAM Blog Committee Chair.
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