numbers
Digging through bits and bytes to find information that can be used to grow your business, improve service, or reduce costs is not for the weak of heart. Contradictory opinions about the importance and how to use data are everywhere. Navigating from raw data to useable information is a minefield that can derail the best laid plans.

I’ve been playing with numbers all of my adult life. It is one of those things that engineers do for fun. Numbers can be manipulated to explain anything. They can also be used to confuse and mislead. Data manipulation used to be an internal company issue. Presenting departmental information in best possible light is not unusual. It is almost expected.

Things have changed. Data manipulation is a global issue today. Companies are dependent on third party sources for information that will be used to identify problems and opportunities. Access to raw data to double check the conclusions is limited. The inability to confirm accuracy forces management to navigate a highly competitive marketplace on wings and a prayer.

There are only three types of metrics to be found in analytics. Identifying them improves the odds of making the right management decisions. They are:

  1. Actionable:Information that has been proven to increase sales, improve satisfaction, or reduce costs is actionable. This includes customer behavior, service levels, fulfillment costs, and anything else that can be tied to cause and effect. Response rates, average order, lifetime value, and other marketing metrics that can be validated are actionable too.

    As a rule of thumb, actionable metrics are results oriented. They measure the data that directly affects the bottom line. If in doubt about the validity of the effect, start with profitability and work backwards to verify that the selected metrics influenced the results. If verification is not possible, move the metrics from actionable to interesting until the numbers can be tested. After all, do you really want to make management decisions using unverified data?

  2. Interesting:Before information becomes actionable, it is interesting. Trends may be spotted in the data but the meaning and application isn’t clear. Or, it could be a number that indicates action on the part of customers and prospects. Technically, likes and follows could be placed here, but let’s not go there right now, okay? People liking and following are hard to qualify as prospects or customers. The platforms work hard to prevent those qualifications from happening by limiting access to information that allows companies to identify customers and prospects individually.

    Statistics are also interesting. People have discovered that they can ask a few questions, manipulate the answers into some form of statistics, and “Voila!” they have a press release that presents them as an expert. The data isn’t empirically sound and the conclusions serve the creator instead of the recipient. Statistics are only useful if they apply to your business and can be used to make it better.

  3. NSFW (Not suitable for work):Some information simply isn’t suitable for work. It may be interesting in a “Can you believe what I just saw?” way but it does nothing to move your business forward. Every social influence ranking service falls into this category. The metrics they share do nothing to help you grow your business. Likes and follows usually fall in this category too because the entry threshold is too low to adequately qualify people as prospects.

    NSFW metrics may make good cocktail conversation if you are in the company of people easily influenced by appearances. The rest of the world will find the references laughable. Ideally, no one in your organization will invest resources in information that doesn’t improve the business.

While some information has to be exact, there are metrics where close enough provides benefits. They can be monitored for trends to identify problems and opportunities. In a world where access to raw data is routinely denied, managers have to find ways to work around the challenge. Monitoring trends is one way. Using social media to acquire contact information is another because it provides actionable information. To insure your analytics investment isn’t wasted, identify the type and what you are going to do with it before spending the money.