How to Measure the Impact of Your Data Team
Learn why you should stop focusing on metrics and why you should start tracking outcomes to measure the impact of your data team.
July 12, 2022
Let’s start with a simple question.
In your company, how do you measure the success of your data team?
In other words, what are the metrics which inform you as to how your data team is performing?
If you can’t provide hard-and-fast answers, don’t worry–you’re far from alone.
One of the ironies of the current “data-driven” business culture is that most companies don’t have straightforward, data-informed methods of measuring the impact of the very team whose purpose is to make the company data-driven.
My colleague Pedram recently wrote about this, suggesting that the loudest calls for better ways to measure data teams may be coming from data practitioners themselves–saying, “It’s been a long-time dream of data teams to be able to measure the impact of their work.”
Pedram’s observation is part of an industry-wide discussion. The proposals have been…. Well… all over the place. They range from Jesse Anderson’s suggested four categories of seventeen different KPIs by which to measure data teams, to Benn Stancil’s claim that one single metric is all we need: “the speed metric,” (e.g. measuring how long it takes for analysts to make decisions).
The many proposed paradigms involve lots of brilliant brainstorming but in reality, they just aren’t very good. How do we know that? The proof is in the pudding–none of them have really caught on.
The Wrong Way to Measure Data Teams
Let’s take a step back for a moment, and look at what the industry seems to have agreed on. There does seem to be industry-wide consensus about the measurement methods that are NOT working.
Many data practitioners have written about their frustration using a ticket-based “help desk” or “service desk” approach.
Data teams using a “help desk” approach inevitably spend much of their time responding to requests from business stakeholders.
Those requests could be for access to datasets/tables, or they could be for sophisticated reports/dashboards. Either way, data teams end up feeling that–in the words of Workstream.io’s Nick Freund–they rarely have time “to focus on what we view as high-value, strategic work.”
What about companies that are doing better than ticket-based workflows? What if a company is determined to measure its data team by the insights they’re providing?
Well, that’s easier said than done. Erik Edelmann, a Senior Analytics Engineering Manager at Vendr, says the challenge is that the impact of a data team’s work is generally many-steps-removed from the work itself:
What’s the value of that dashboard or that report? Is it driving your decisions? Sure. But it’s hard to measure.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact of data teams even in organizations that credit their data teams as having a big impact on the business.
The Proper Way to Measure Data Teams
We agree that the ticket-based, help-desk approach is certainly not the answer; after all, you could have a data team that responds with alacrity and accuracy to many tickets but has little impact in helping consumers of those reports make business decisions that drive revenue, reduce costs, or improve efficiency.
Basing your data team’s success on producing “x” number of reports or dashboards focuses on the wrong metric. The emphasis should be placed on business outcomes rather than activities. The path from insights to impact is long and often difficult to trace.
Our proposal is radically simple: data teams should be measured according to their contributions to tangible business outcomes.
Sounds obvious–and yet, in the vast majority of companies, that’s not what’s happening because until now, there was no simple way to calculate those measurements.
Fortunately, the advent of what we call Data Activation now provides a direct line from the work of data teams to the outcomes of business teams.
Tracking Performance with Data Activation
Data activation is the process of syncing enriched data from your warehouse back into the tools where your business teams work.
When you activate your data, the work of the data team suddenly becomes intimately tied to the outcomes of your business teams.
The best way to explain how this plays out is to look at some concrete examples. Let’s start with Retool, which is a low-code platform empowering companies to quickly and easily build internal tools like custom apps and dashboards.
Retool’s data team built a model highlighting product usage data for self-serve customers. Then, they activated that model using Hightouch to sync that data directly to their marketing team’s email marketing platform.
This data enabled Retool’s marketing team to send highly-personalized emails to customers, leading to a dramatic spike in email reply rates, click rates, and ultimately product adoption. The results were a documented and measurable win for both their marketing team and their data team.
Another great example comes from Zeplin, which is an app that bridges the gap between designers and engineers. Zeplin’s data team built a model prioritizing incoming leads, then used Hightouch to sync that model to their sales team’s CRM platform.
Having these insights directly in their CRM tool helped the sales reps be more efficient in their customer outreach, leading to an increase in conversion and closing rates–an outcome that was clearly attributable to both the sales team and the data team.
It’s important to point out that Data Activation itself is not a new concept; companies have been trying to activate their data for years, but until recently, the process was expensive and time-consuming (requiring weeks or months of work by data engineers.) With Data Activation, that work is reduced to just a few hours, and often to just minutes.
Examples for Data Teams
As we saw in the Retool and Zeplin examples above, the impact of Data Activation is two-fold. First, companies quickly see measurable business results—in terms of product engagement, marketing campaign efficacy, or sales efficiency. And since those results are so clearly tied to the work of the data team–companies suddenly have a new way of measuring the success of data work.
Let’s look at a couple more case studies that flesh out how much of a game-changer Data Activation can be in bringing about transformative business outcomes to gauge the true impact of data teams.
Vendr is a buying platform used to help companies purchase software. Thanks to a Hightouch sync, Vendr’s customer success team is now able to automatically send thousands of messages to customers–messages which, in the past, had to be manually curated, requiring dozens of hours of work every week.
Erik Edelmann, a Senior Analytics Engineering Manager at Vendr, says that syncs like this have allowed his team to “literally quantify our impact to the business: saving dozens of engineering hours and creating meaningful engagement with thousands of customers, each and every week.” That’s a lot more impactful than shipping a few dashboards.
Another example from Vendr involves syncing customer data to Salesforce, which the company recently launched as their new CRM:
Previously we didn’t have a mechanism through which to take our really important product data and enrich our CRM records with it. Now, if a customer service manager wants to talk to a customer about renewal, and they need a full picture of product usage data, we can not only provide that full-picture data, we can do it on an hourly basis. What’s more, the CSM never has to jump between dashboards or reports to get that picture. It’s all right in the CRM.
Edelmann says that the sales, customer success, and other business teams at Vendr are thrilled with the impact that Data Activation is having on their results. And, he adds, the business teams are more than willing to share credit for the improvements with their colleagues from the data team: “At Vendr, the data team is consistently blowing minds, and Hightouch is a big part of that.”
Another company, Gorgias, reports similarly dramatic results from Data Activation. Gorgias is a customer support platform for e-commerce companies, helping them connect all their customer service channels including email, chat, and social media.
Gorgias implemented Data Activation by syncing enriched data from its warehouse to all its major ad platforms. Prior to Hightouch, the workflow consisted of manually uploading CSVs of Hubspot customer data–an imperfect, labor-intensive process that was often incomplete and could include inaccurate data.
The new, automated workflow saved valuable time. Even more important than the time savings was the boost in accuracy. The streamlined and automated process led to higher data quality, resulting in a near-doubling of customer match rates on ad platforms.
Syncing data into Hubspot has also resulted in powerful outcomes for Gorgias. According to Max Sutra, a Growth Marketing and Demand Generation Lead at Gorgias, activating data into Hubspot has led to the following, easy-to-measure outcomes:
- A nearly 2x increase in quarterly revenue from outbound channels;
- A 60-70% increase in outbound pipeline;
- A 60% increase in net new customers.
Once again, we’re seeing impressive results for business teams–results that can be clearly and directly traced to the work of the data team.
Why Data Activation Is the Obvious Choice
Sometimes, the best solutions are the ones you stumble on.
The ones that arise organically out of the work you’re doing.
With Data Activation, the initial goal was certainly NOT to use it as a way of measuring the impact of data teams.
It just so happens that the business impact of Data Activation is so powerful that it makes sense to tie the data team’s impact to those business results.
Will Data Activation become the only way of measuring the impact of a data team? No. Just like with any team, the work of the data team is too complex and wide-ranging to be reduced to a single metric. But, Data Activation serves very well as the primary method of measurement.
So, enough with the mental gymnastics stretching in all directions to try to find how to measure the success of your data team. While pundits have been busy over thinking the topic, Data Activation has naturally emerged as the obvious answer.
Interested in seeing how Data Activation can bring you business results, and provide a game-changing method of measuring the impact of your data team? Sign up for a free Hightouch account today, or talk directly to one of our data experts!