A Simple Guide to Data For Busy Account Managers
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LinkedIn revealed its annual list of top skills employers look for and Account Management wasn’t among them. Data analysis and data presentation were. Should you be worried? With Millenials expected to comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025 and the concept of a “career” being shaken to its core, it’s more important than ever to keep your skills up-to-date. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, learned skills have a shelf-life of only 5 years after which their obsolete; we need to adopt an “always-on” approach to learning experiences to build skills.
Google’s Chief Economist Dr Hal R.Varian says, “The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualise it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.”
“In God we trust; all others must bring data” ~ William Edwards Deming
As an Account Manager, your client relies on you to analyse information and discover insights that help them to make better and more strategic decisions. Devoting some regular time to developing an analytical mindset to help you understand and solve problems is a cross skill that will serve you well in any industry and help future-proof your career.
So if you’ve neglected your analytical skills, read on for some tips to survive in the world of big data.
If you’ve not crunched numbers in a while, then you may need to give the left side of your brain a nudge. Activities like board games (e.g. chess) and puzzles can improve your analytical thinking.
Learning a new language is another fun way to improve your problem-solving. Even if you never get fluent, you’ll become much more adept at finding intuitive solutions because there are many different ways to say the same thing. Grammatical rules aren’t rigid. How you speak in a social situation is different to how you present yourself in a business meeting. The more comfortable you become with your new language the less you’ll follow the rules and the more you’ll follow your instincts. There are plenty of free apps that make this enjoable, easy and a great way to occupy your commute. Try:
You can start training your mind by documenting simple, day-to-day activities, such as your commuting time, or setting up a habit tracker and then looking for what patterns emerge. For example, you may notice a correlation between a sleep and exercise.
Statistician Nathan Yau, in his excellent post How to Think Like a Statistician – Without the Math, shares the important things he learned when playing with data, and they don’t require a Masters Degree:
- Attention to detail: Don’t just look for trends and patterns – you also need to be observant to outliers, data points and inconsistencies
- See the big picture: Zoom out, maybe the story looks different. For example, don’t obsess over one day’s worth of data if you’re reviewing an entire year.
- No agendas: Obviously, you’ve got a purpose for reviewing the data but keep an open mind. You may find patterns that surprise you.
- Look outside the data: The numbers alone may not give you the context – you might need to go to other sources to reveal the who, what, where, when and how.
- Ask why: If you find some data odd, investigate. Mistakes happen.
Data becomes far more interesting – and valuable – when you understand not only what happened, but why. As an Account Manager, you understand your business and your client like no-one else and are in a unique position to bring the data to life. Before you start thinking you hate math, let me reassure you that most Account Managers will only need to understand 4 basic techniques:
- Relationship – determining whether there is a link between two or more variables. For example, ice-cream sales and hot weather.
- Composition – the way in which a whole or mixture is made up. For example, what type of queries generated support cases.
- Distribution – all the possible values of the data and how often they occur. For example how often airlines are on time.
- Comparison – the calculation and display of the differences and similarities between data. For example annual sales this year compared to last year
Your current reporting tools probably give you everything you need. If not then to get to grips with these models, I’d suggest this free training course from Excel Exposure. They offer a superior range of video tutorials from beginner to advanced, covering data analysis and Excel in detail.
If you want to explore further, some introductory statistics knowledge will help you interpret data more easily and reliably. As an Account Manager it’s unlikely you’ll need to get too deep into the subject, so here are the concepts I think are most helpful to know.
- Understanding a mean, mode and median
- Data distribution behaviours. You’re probably already familiar with a normal distribution, sometimes called a bell curve
- How to define a range
- How to find outliers
- How to identify your sample size
Become a Storyteller
Data doesn’t speak for itself. In fact, it can be painfully shy. Account Managers are there to guide the conversation and coax the data to reveal what’s interesting. So how do you get started? Jim Stikeleather, Strategist & Innovation Officer at Dell, outlines some ground rules in How to Tell a Story with Data:
- Find the narrative: Share the facts of course, but also share what story is emerging from the data.
- Think about your audience: Is it someone new to the topic, or an expert. Perhaps an executive that’s only going to skim for the significant facts and conclusions. Know who you are targeting.
- Be objective: It can be hard, especially when the data doesn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear. Present alternative views and importantly use visual choices that aren’t misleading. For example, representing a survey result in a pie chart with “67% agree” sounds like an important observation, but is misleading if you only had 3 respondents.
- Don’t censor: Leave the data alone. Try not to mess with the source if you can avoid it. There may be some cleansing involved, but don’t start adding or excluding data until you know what it’s saying.
- Edit: Less is more. it might look good but if it’s not really saying anything, get rid of it.
Brent Dykes, Director of Data Strategy at Domo, says communicating with data is an essential skill and plays a vital role in your business meetings, internal conversations, and other daily interactions. Data has all sorts of fascinating stories to share, it just takes you to uncover them.
“A data story is an effective combination of data, narrative, and visuals that seeks to explain, enlighten and engage” ~ Brent Dykes
Starting With Charting
Clients are looking to you to organise the data in a way they can understand. As an Account Manager, you’re the subject matter expert on your products and services. How these interact with your client and the successes, risks and new opportunities emerging are key themes your client wants to know.
Presenting your data in a chart is one of the best ways to emphasise important information, tell your story and for that story to be repeated by your client to their stakeholders. If you’re new to charts, I highly recommend Hubspot’s fantastic and easy to follow tutorial How to Make a Chart or Graph in Excel.
Let’s consider this simple before and after example by Birch Studio. Both the report and the charts below compare actual budget allocation. The charts make it much easier for quick comparison of data sets and require minimal processing time in the viewer’s mind.
One of the challenges with visualising numeric data is deciding which chart to use. If you’re not sure, check out this handy diagram, designed by Andrew Abela. the author of Advanced Presentations by Design: Creating Communication That Drives Action.
Just start from the centre and follow your way to the perfect chart choice.
This SlideShare also covers the fundamentals of chart design including chart types and when to use them, as well as design best-practices like colour schemes.
If you struggle with charts and dashboards, think about using an infographic to tell your story. They’re actually very easy to create to visually present your information and very compelling – particularly when you want to communicate your message to a wide audience.
Visme is a drag-and-drop online design tool. They also have an outstanding blog, The Visual Learning Center. It’s a fantastic resource to help you become a better visual communicator and storyteller. If you’re interested in getting started with Infographics, their 3-part series is a must read:
Visme has also launched a free Make Information Beautiful Video Series offering practical advice on communicating visually and improving how you present data.
Tips on Colour and Presentation
Using colour is helpful to highlight the important parts of your presentation. Stick to 3 to 4 colours, and observe colour theory. If you don’t know what analogous, monochromatic and triadic schemes are, don’t worry, neither do I. Either use the themes that come with whatever application you’re using or check out Adobe Kuler, an amazing colour wheel where you select your primary colour and it gives suggestions based on the rule of your choice.
Your business may already have brand guidelines which catalogue things like fonts, colours and chart styles to ensure a consistent theme is applied to any collateral. Check with your marketing team if you can’t easily find it. If there are no brand guidelines, then why not build one or at least use a colour scheme that’s sympathetic with your logo.
Choose your colour themes with Adobe Kuler
Use a Grid System
Moving your charts from Excel into a presentation is simple. It’s just a matter of Copy and Paste. Using a grid system in your presentation can allow elements to be displayed in consistent locations, and helps the viewer absorb information more quickly.
- Statistics How To
This is the only site you are going to need. It’s a comprehensive database of more than 1,000 articles on elementary statistics and help. Their tagline is Statistics for the rest of us!
- Microsoft’s Excel Training Centre
Is a great place to start. it covers everything from worksheet basics, data analysis, charting and formulas in great detail and really helpful tutorial videos.
Microsoft’s help pages will only take you so far. Once you get into complex data or advanced functions, you’ll need to move on. Chandoo.org is one of the best sites around providing great Excel guides for all levels of expertise.
- MrExcel Message Board
More than 30,000 Excel questions a year are answered at this forum. With a massive active community of Excel gurus all generously sharing their wisdom, I return to this site again and again to find the answers I need.
- One Dataset, Visualized 25 Ways
Demonstrates visually how the same data can be presented in different ways, not all of them good. He provides some compelling tips on how to stop your data from saying too much.
- Three Things Great Data Storytellers Do Differently
Powerful read arguing the case that the true power of data comes from conveying the “so what” behind the numbers and inspiring people to probe new questions.
- The Skills You Need To Succeed in the Digital Economy and How to Get Them
A great read on the challenges facing existing and future workforces in developing the skills needed to thrive. What I found particularly interesting is the notion that future generations may have technical skills but lack professional and social skills while the current workforce has strong professional performance but technical skills are lacking. How do we bridge the gap?
- Data Storytelling: The Essential Data Science Skill Everyone Needs
Explains why storytelling makes your data insights more persuasive, memorable and engaging.
- Tell a Meaningful Story with Data
Great post via Think With Google that demonstrates how you can tailor the story to your audience and effectively use data visualisation to bridge the gap between the data and those who need to learn something from it.
- 20 Tricks That Can Make Anyone an Excel Expert
A great list of tips and time-saving shortcuts for beginners.
- 11 Excel Tips For Power Users
Some advanced tips on making tables more effective, reshaping and looking up data and more
- Great list of (mostly free) resources for learning excel online
- Data analysis is here to stay. You need to keep learning and build your skills in order to stay relevant and future-proof your career
- Improve your problem solving with fun board games like chess, learning a new language or setting up a habit tracker.
- Data analysis is less about math and more about detective work. Look for clues.
- You only need to master 4 basic analysis concepts: relationship, composition, distribution and comparison
- Excel is your friend. Spend time getting to know each other better.
- Data needs you to tell a story. Share what’s interesting and has an impact. Leave out the boring bits.
- Tell your story visually. Charts and infographics are an easy and compelling way to share information in a way that’s easily understood.
- Colour and layout are important. Choose a colour palette that observes the rules of colour theory and use a grid system in your presentations.
- Keep learning
I hope you’ve enjoyed the article. If you have any feedback, or tips of your own, please share them in the comments.