Are You A Data Bully?

Whether or not someone is a fan of martial arts films, it’s safe to say that Bruce Lee’s famous line in “Enter the Dragon” is one of the most referenced in pop culture. Early in the film, Lee comes head to head with another martial artist, who performs an impressive board break to try and intimidate Lee. Stoic and sure, Lee’s dismissal of the demonstration is simple: “Boards don’t hit back.” 

Breaking a defenseless piece of wood is not nearly as impressive as going up against someone who can fight back. At face value, the obvious response might just be “well, duh.”

But that’s exactly what many of us try to do when it comes to marketing, and business in general. We try to beat numbers into submission, strong-arming the data until it tells a story you want to hear.

But numbers don’t hit back. Bullying the data until it paints a more flattering picture of your business will never get you to the truth about what’s working – and what’s not. 

Data Bully Graphic

Ask yourself, honestly: Are you a data bully? 

Are you insisting that the numbers you’re seeing can’t be true, and manhandling them until they start telling you what you want to hear? Is the actual truth so beaten down that it doesn’t argue with you anymore? These can be tough questions to answer when you’re so invested in the outcome.

Two main indicators that you’ve been bullying your data are:

1. When the data shows a pattern that scares you, you question it, make excuses, or focus on individual exceptions to the rule.

  • “No, that lead was garbage. We never had a chance from the start, so it doesn’t count.”
  • “That client was the worst! We never should have taken them on. It won’t happen like that again.”

2. You’re laser-focused on the positive numbers, but have blinders on when it comes to the full picture. 

  • “Our website is converting at 10% – so obviously we don’t need to change anything we’re doing.” 
    • The full picture: Your conversion rate is inflated because you’re counting newsletter sign-ups and webinar views as conversions, and weighing them the same as sales.
  • “Our blog gets a ton of traffic, with sessions increasing every day.”
    • The full picture: Your blog covers a breadth of topics that aren’t tied to your larger business goals, so the majority of blog traffic comes from users who are unlikely to move further down the conversion funnel.

Does this sound familiar?

Let’s say you’re a client service business. Your team is presented with this analysis: 

Over the past 6 months, we’ve seen our average number of lost clients increase from a rate of two lost clients per month, to three per month. Our target is a 36-month engagement duration, but at the rate of three lost clients per month, our average engagement duration has dropped below 30 months.

The team takes client relationships very seriously, so obviously, this isn’t what anyone wants to hear.

So the fight is on! One team member pulls up the list of recent clients that have been lost, and raises the question of whether they were ever a good fit to begin with. 

Another tries to distract from the issue by poking holes: “Right, but we’ve kept one client for 13 years – there are no real issues keeping clients here!” 

A third chimes in with an excuse: “Well, we lost team member Kate during this period, and we were covering her stuff too. That’s why we lost client XYZ.”

Sales points at marketing, marketing points at operations, and operations points at both sales and marketing. By the end, the truth and the team are both woozy from going 9 rounds of combat without solving anything.

Here’s the truth: assuming the data tabulation was triple-checked and confirmed to be correct, the numbers are real, and must be treated as such. Period. 

The data shows that you have a client retention problem. Now it’s time to approach the problem with a solutions-oriented mindset, rather than a defensive one. 

What’s the root cause behind the recent increase in lost clients? Is your company accepting too many clients who don’t fit your target market? Is the problem high employee turnover or understaffing? What makes the client relationships that do last for years so successful? 

What’s amazing is that when you finally swallow your pride and accept the facts at face value, you’ll start asking the right questions to actually find solutions.

So where do you go next?

Bullying the data into submission might make you look better. It might even make you feel better. But when you don’t let the facts speak up because you are afraid of what they might say, the only thing you’re doing is preventing your organization from growing stronger.

So start by checking your assumptions at the door. Face the big questions about your organization that you’ve been too scared to ask, and challenge yourself to truly listen to the answers the data gives. By having the courage to check your ego at the door and face uncomfortable truths head-on, you’ll identify your weak spots and uncover the opportunities you’ve been missing.

Looking for an outsider’s interpretation of the story your data is telling about your business? Contact us today to schedule a free appraisal of your digital marketing accounts (and get our take on the potential for growth you may have been missing).

Kyle Mealy

Kyle is a passionate and driven leader with a talent for building connections and amplifying communities, people, and businesses. His unique background gives him the confidence to adapt and find success in any environment.