Explaining analytics is essentially a sales process, says Jeff Zeanah, President of Z Solutions, Inc. Early in his 21-year career as an analytic consultant he took the advice of a colleague who said, "The only reason you would ever fail at this is if you do not recognize you have to sell it over and over. We are all in the sales business."
Since that time, Zeanah has continued to refine his process for explaining his analytics results to executives and decision makers. Speaking to a packed room of attendees at Analytics 2012 in Las Vegas, Zeanah first described four important realities:
- We live in a non-quantitative world. For example, Zeanah cites a completely inaccurate quote from a reputable investment program that stated, "Facebook trades at 70 percent of what it's worth." You can find hundreds of similar examples in the news every day.
- Most executives do not like statistics. "It was taught to them in business school in a horrible manner and that hatred has been reinforced over and over," says Zeanah.
- Decision making is not all logical. "Business decisions are hard," says Zeanah. "There is not usually a clear answer. Gut instinct is honored and often should be."
- Absorbing new information is change, and change is hard. This, explains Zeanah, is the most important reality. He insists, "You are in the change management business. You are not in analytics business. Analytics is merely the tool you’re going to use to make change."
- Recognize that numbers are hard and even analysts make mistakes. Use graphs and repeat information as often as needed.
- Use business terms, not statistical terms. Take this to the extreme. You can say average, but do not talk about the mean. If you have to use a statistical term, preface it with a layman's explanation first by saying something like, "This is a graph of two variables. You can start to see a pattern here between the variables. This is what we call a correlation.”
- Design presentations not to show what you found but to help your audience find it with you. Show the charts and explain what they mean until the decision is obvious in your audience's mind. Help them come to the decision themselves so that it is their decision, not yours.
- Avoid presenting new information cold, especially in front of a crowd. Use foreshadowing, provide information periodically in one-on-one conversations and diligently try to share information beforehand with everyone before you present formally. Tricks for doing this include calling ahead and saying, “I’m not so sure about this," or "Let me go over this with you, or "Can you fill in a detail for me?” Again, Zeanah says you have to lead them down the path to the decision, and doing that in an iterative fashion makes it easier.
If you follow these four tips, you will help your audience discover the results for themselves. In fact, says Zeanah, by the time you get to the end of presenting your results, you should be able to say, "I really don't have to show you the last two slides since you've already come to a logical conclusion."