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4 Steps to Make Your Data Useful, Not Big

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Having spent my career growing-up in the online advertising industry, I’ve had to suffer the intolerable term of “big data”. This is vague and widely used in many different industries. The term big data bred many more micro buzzwords, which is what motivated us to create our “Big Data Buzzword Bingo” game. This is aimed to expose some of these annoying buzzwords, and have some fun with our community at the same time. Enjoy!

Anyway, back to the point. Businesses undoubtedly have more data than in the past, but here at Geckoboard we believe in useful data, not big data. As such, we wanted to share some top tips to make your business data useful rather than big, to help you build a data-driven culture and ultimately enable growth. So, here goes.

1. Focus on the business KPIs

Often forgotten in the “age of big data” (yuck), KPIs are your most critical business metrics. They are a great way to bring focus to your data strategy, and ultimately build a data-driven culture.

If you haven’t already, sit down and match your overall business objectives and strategy back to a handful of top-line business KPIs. If you’re a startup, I’d recommend reading our investor Christoph Janz’s advice for startups on choosing the right KPIs at different stages of growth.

Here at Geckoboard some of the top-line business KPIs we focus on are:

  • Customer numbers
  • Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)
  • Conversion rate from trial to paying customer
  • Churn rate
  • Customers added
  • Trials started

These may not be right for your business, but give you an idea of the level of data points we are referring too. These are all KPI targets that multiple teams within the business can have an impact on, which brings me onto my next point.

2. Waterfall KPIs through your business

Like most elements of business strategy, KPIs should start at the top and waterfall through the business. So now the management within your business needs to take those top-level business KPIs and apply them to their teams. As an example, the marketing team at Geckoboard take the metrics I mentioned above and track KPIs including:

  • Website visitors
  • Website visitor to trial conversion rate
  • Average revenue per account
  • Trial nurturing email open and click rates
  • Newsletter subscribers, open and click rates
  • Inbound links
  • Social shares
  • Social followers
  • Top performing blog articles in terms of visits and engagement

A lot of these may sound like vanity metrics. However, they’re an indicator of our reach, which as it increases drives trials, which ultimately feeds into all our top-level business KPIs. That’s an important note: Make sure KPIs can be connected to the overall business objectives. If they can’t, it’s likely that you’re measuring the wrong thing. This will quickly result in misalignment and frustration across your business.

If you get this stage right, everyone in your business will feel increasingly motivated. This is because they see how the work they do impacts overall business performance.

3. Visualise data for humans

It sounds obvious, but bear with me. Traditional data visualisations are not designed for how the human brain digests data. A sweeping statement, but it’s backed up by science. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and explain the science of the cognitive brain, visual cortex and the backs of our retinas. That’s because our CEO Paul Joyce does a much better job in these two articles than I ever could:

However, there are a few major mistakes made when visualising data for the human mind:

  • Trying to make visualisations beautiful, not digestible
  • Too much colour, which means the human brain can’t use the colour to process the data
  • Overusing different fonts, font sizes and movements, creating too much distraction

Ultimately, you need to strip your data visualisations back-to-basics using colours, fonts and font sizes sparingly.

4. Make the data available to EVERYBODY

“What gets measured gets done” is even more likely to be true when what gets measured gets shared. Often what gets measured doesn’t get shared, which means it doesn’t get done. This is because team members can’t see how they’re tracking against their KPIs. If the data and KPIs are shared, then they can track progress and prioritise their actions to achieve their goals.

You’ll be surprised how your team members appreciate transparency. Adult treatment is often rewarded with adult behaviour. If you really want to ingrain the KPIs and data within your culture, think about putting it up on a TV screen. You’ll be impressed how it becomes the new office water-cooler as discussions break out about the data and how to improve performance.

To sum up, the way to make your data useful and build a data-driven culture isn’t to keep mentioning big data buzzwords in meetings and diving deep into data without knowing what’s important to your business. It’s to:

  • Focus on the KPI’s that are critical to your top-line business
  • Filter those KPIs into achievable KPIs for different areas of your business
  • Visualise the data in a digestible manner
  • Share the data

We’d be interested to hear what steps you’ve taken to make your data useful and how these steps work for you, so please go ahead and share any feedback in the comments section below.

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