How to Get Your “Data” Program Approved

Data managers, and others performing the role, often wonder why some organizations are able to get initial and ongoing budget and resource approval for their data management initiatives quickly, while others struggle.

While they know there is a business need, data managers often struggle to get and/or maintain buy-in, leading to a lengthy debate where the decision in some cases is to do nothing rather than financially support the initiative.

Even worse, the decision is often made to defund these efforts after substantial resources have already been applied based on an ill-defined or misunderstood vision of the outcome.

The question is, how are some organizations able to communicate the business value of a data management program successfully, allowing them to move forward quickly, start realizing that business value, and eventually grow to full maturity? The answer is far from simple, and in-fact may be quite counter-intuitive.

Stop Calling It a “Data Management” Program

When selling the business on the need for a more robust data management strategy, success comes from NOT calling it a data management program or using any technical language to describe the solution(s). Instead, focus on communicating the effort in business terms. For example, instead of pitching the solution as a Data Management program for the Customer Domain, associate the program with an underlying business initiative, such as a Unified Customer Experience program.

A common offender in this regard is the vaunted 360-degree view of the customer. While this is certainly a valid conceptual and architectural construct, when mistaken for a business vision it can be quite distracting, and ultimately damaging. Many programs that obtain funding for this goal fail to take any of the further steps needed to make it successful. The result is a substantial scope creep, and ironically, failure to hit any target that the business would recognize as valuable. In fact, a substantial proportion of these programs end up being defunded after their first year, and they eliminate any political capital or will to undertake any additional and potentially valuable initiatives in the future. Which brings us to our next point.

Never Underestimate the Need for Executive Buy-In

Convincing executive stakeholders that your data management initiative deserves their attention, support, and in some cases, active participation, can often be accomplished similarly to securing agreement on any course of action. The key is to think of your audience and find the best way to connect around a shared goal. Knowing that an executive’s candle burns at both ends, and that they always eventually focus on their bottom line, is important to help drive home how your data management initiative is relevant to their objectives and can improve business outcomes. As a result, take the time to pre-sell the idea by:

  1. Getting some time on their calendar: Secure a 30-minute meeting with any executive who might be impacted by the data management initiative. Excite them with a one-on-one conversation that highlights the benefits of the data management strategy as they apply to that executive’s scope of responsibility and control. Executives tend to respond well to facts and figures, so prepare a short, high-level presentation and share it with each executive who would be impacted by your data management strategy. If possible, tailor it to the specific pain points and business opportunities in their respective departments.

    In addition, if you will require their active participation—by acting as a member of the Data Governance Council, or by owning a data domain such as Customer or Product data—make sure they know that they will need to do more than just send a supportive email to the masses each quarter. The converse of this approach also applies: if an executive will not benefit from your program, unless their sign-off (or some other form of participation) is explicitly required to proceed, don’t take up their time trying to persuade them on this topic.
  2. Selling the business outcome and/or benefits: When selling your data management program (which may need to be called something else as discussed above), it’s absolutely critical that you speak through the lens of business outcomes and benefits. The second you start to speak tactics and technical language, you’ll likely see the executive’s eyes glaze over and lose interest. Going back to our Unified Customer Experience program example, you could pitch business outcomes such as:
  • Cost reduction through producing a single source of clean, integrated customer data across the ‘customer journey’.
  • Reduced time to market for new products and services by providing an accurate view of customer buying patterns and product/services bundles.
  • Increased customer satisfaction, resulting in lower churn rates and increased profit margins.

What If They Still Say No?

A corollary to this approach is that an executive not buying in to your technical data management strategy is not the worst possible outcome. The worst-case scenario is that their eyes don’t glaze over, and you actually convince them to fund your technical vision without regard to its value to the business, whether or not they fully understand it. This support will quickly evaporate when any contention for your funding arises, paradoxically because the same executive will now begin to ask the questions around business value that they should have surfaced when you first approached them.

In this instance, it’s imperative to explain the risks of not acting or buying-in. For example, as you prepare your presentation, it’s important to build into the talk track the risks of not participating in the data management initiative. Explain how not executing on the data management initiative is potentially hurting the organization by giving relevant examples. In other words, what happens to the business over time if we do nothing about this? If your program is aimed at data quality to lay the foundation for a more “Unified Customer Experience,” then you might use examples such as how duplicate data records across the enterprise causing reporting inaccuracies or how corrupted, inaccurate, and incomplete data causing misinformed decisions.

In order to accomplish this part of your goal, you may have to help your organization become comfortable with employing and evaluating financial concepts such as expected risk and value, as well opportunity costs. It will eventually be quite helpful and maybe even critical to your success to be able to attach an agreed-upon financial value to each business consideration as it arises.

Like Data Domains, No Two Audiences Are the Same

Like any sales situation understanding your audience is the first step to a successful outcome. For example, if you are positioning a more robust data management strategy to sales, you’ll want to focus on how the solution will help them accomplish their business objectives, which is often simply to increase revenue. So how can data management help accomplish that? Here are a few examples:

  1. Provides a Complete Central View of an Account: Using matching to group duplicate records within and across applications, reps can connect the dots and view the complete history of an account. They can also determine what they have and have not purchased, and any preferences they have directly or indirectly expressed in past interactions. With more accurate information, they will be prepared, and can more accurately identify upsell opportunities.
  2. Improves the Quality of the Data: Your sales team can better identify the accounts they should be focusing on, using trusted data for the characteristics that have been determined to be the most effective in this regard. For example, with accurate and consistent contact and address information, enriched with financial and credit information, sales reps can better identify the accounts to focus their efforts on, and have a single set of accurate contact and address information to support their future interactions.
  3. Supporting Data Driven Marketing: By connecting the dots for your customer data across the enterprise, marketing will have better information to feed its digital efforts. The end result will be an increase in both the volume and quality of leads generated, which will ultimately enable sales to win more business. Historically, most data used by marketing departments have suffered from having to use what those business users have come to accept as a reasonable level of data quality. On the contrary, it is sufficiently low that any improvement will provide a significant benefit even to currently defined marketing efforts, and even enable whole new categories of digital marketing once the data are fully trusted.

At the end of the day, the key takeaway for the sales audience is key to closing the deal.  After-all, calling on customers with an accurate view of their data and what other products may be a good fit for them, helps a salesperson get through the entire sales cycle that much faster.

Another common business benefit of managing customer data is that cross-sell and up-sell activities can be scripted more reliably, enabling them to be executed by a more commoditized resource pool. This in turn frees up higher level (and more expensive) sales resources to focus on gaining business with net new customers. Like any sales situation, taking the time to sell the data management story to stakeholders requires a clear understanding of the problem and resulting benefits, an activity that can be accomplished relatively easy with a foresight and planning.

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Bill O'Kane

Bill O'Kane

Bill O’Kane is the VP and MDM Strategist at Profisee (and a former Gartner analyst).

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