Best Practices

How to get C-level buy-in on your data team | Census

Sylvain Giuliani
Sylvain Giuliani February 09, 2021

Syl is the Head of Growth & Operations at Census. He's a revenue leader and mentor with a decade of experience building go-to-market strategies for developer tools. San Francisco, California, United States

Why do so many data teams find it hard to get a seat at the table in nominally “data-driven” companies? This is one question among several we set out to answer when we took part in Snowplow’s “Seat at the Table” coffee chat.

Alongside the amazing Emilie Schario from Netlify and Alex Dean the CEO of Snowplow, we explored the preconceptions and process-related obstacles that data teams need to overcome to be taken seriously in their company.

  • How can they win the trust of the rest of the company?
  • How can they match their cadence to their stakeholders’?
  • How can they score that elusive and all-important C-level buy-in?

What did we conclude? That technical know-how isn't enough to get your data team noticed in your business. It's all about demonstrating and increasing the impact that your data team brings to your company. While you can view the whole session, if you don't have an hour to spare, follow these five steps to get the C-level (and company-wide) buy-in your data team needs.

Get Your Stakeholders to Trust Your Data

Having clear processes to establish accountability and trust in your data team’s work (and its quality) is vital in getting your data team their seat at the table. Unless your product or marketing professionals trust in the data your team’s providing, it'll be impossible for data teams to prove their value within your organization.

Emilie Schario, senior engineering manager for data and business intelligence at Netlify, explained her company’s approach to securing the trust of what she calls “Johnny McMarketing.”

According to Emilie, the first stage of this approach is reporting. Your reporting needs to be accurate and, moreover, needs to be seen as a single source of truth your stakeholders can depend on.

“If Johnny McMarketing sees his customer acquisition cost in Facebook matches what he's seeing in the output of your data teams tool,” Emilie observed, “he's gonna feel really good about the numbers coming out of the data team. Do that, and you'll establish trust at the reporting level.

”From there, move to the second stage: insights. Having gained the trust of your stakeholders, you can deliver insights from a variety of data sources. Your stakeholders will be happy to use this data. They know where it’s coming from, they know where to find it, and their past experiences have told them that it’s trustworthy. With that security, your stakeholders will be all the more keen to make use of your data team’s work.

It’s just as important to give your team easy-to-understand instructions about how to use your data. It can be as simple as including explanations under your charts and visualizations, articulating what they mean in plain English. Making the process of using data clear and straightforward for your stakeholders is key to getting their buy-in.

Narrow Down Your Internal ‘Customer’

To make their presence felt at a company, data teams need to narrow down what areas of the company they can really make an impact in and then focus on those areas. It’s natural to want to serve all your teammates, but, in fact, your data team needs to look at your stakeholders like customers. You wouldn’t try to appeal to every possible customer with your product, so don’t try and do the same as a data team.

Instead, figure out which teams and departments in your company your data can have the biggest impact on. CFOs are an obvious target for getting C-level buy-in for your data team. The higher the quality of data you can serve your CFO, the better they will be placed when it comes to budgeting decision-making and finding lucrative new industry vectors. And, once convinced, they can act as a champion for your data team’s place in your wider company. Alexander Dean, CEO of our host, Snowplow, expressed his belief that “you've got to look for these kinds of personas if you want to accelerate [your data team's standing] in your organization.”

Beyond the C-suite, data teams should primarily be targeting product and marketing teams—these are the areas in your company where access to good data makes the most evident difference. Focus on day-to-day communication, providing those stakeholders with regular data. This should result in your product and marketing people constantly coming back for data from your team. Real success is when those teams stop trying to do things without having had your data team’s input first.

Embrace Your Role As an 'Insights Facilitator'

Your data team is not only valuable for bringing insights; it's also valuable for helping others find insights on their own. Bringing your insights into play proactively generates considerable developmental benefits. It also prevents your data team from becoming a bottleneck.

Data teams have historically been reactive—other stakeholders would come to them when insights were needed, with data teams themselves doing minimal outreach. This has considerable drawbacks. Your other stakeholders won’t have full awareness of the data at your data team’s disposal. Stakeholders can’t benefit from data they don’t know exists! On top of that, and as Schario noted, knowledge workers often spend considerable time finding or verifying statistics and corollary data. This can cause massive slowdowns in your processes.

To get C-level buy-in and beyond, your priority should be to make it as easy as possible for your stakeholders to access data and information collected by your data team. Not only are good tracking plans and clear communication important, but you should aim to actively bring data to your stakeholders. Don’t wait to be asked: Being proactive is key to making data use time-efficient for your stakeholders. Building a reputation as an active facilitator of insights will raise your data team’s standing.

Alexander put it succinctly: “You don’t put yourself on the path [to success] by being a service desk.”

For companies without data cultures, look for those “internal customers” mentioned above, and reach out to them proactively with your insights and your ideas of how to implement them.

Move at the Same Speed As Your Stakeholders

Most data teams we talk to follow the agile methodology; that’s great, but it’s not enough. You need to sync your sprints to your stakeholders’ delivery timelines in order to make your data really work for them.

Putting together two-year road maps is typical for data teams. However, it can also put your data team out of sync with your other stakeholders. Your product and marketing personnel will feel little incentive to make use of your data team’s work if they feel your data team is not on the same page. They think in terms of, “What can I ship in the next two weeks?” As Emilie observed, in order to drive buy-in, data teams need to ask themselves the same question.

Study the pace at which your product and marketing teams iterate and mirror them. Establishing a data-delivery cadence that chimes in with your stakeholders’ own project road maps is a great way to plan your proactive data outreach. The lack of a single driving objective to your data collection may feel unfamiliar at first. However, you’ll learn as fast as you iterate, and your stakeholders will appreciate your data team being able to provide feedback at a rate that works for them. This kind of adaptable pace will also endear your data team to process-driven execs who can provide you with C-level buy-in.

Break the Bottleneck

To prevent your data team from becoming a bottleneck, the results of your work need to be widely accessible to the rest of your stakeholders. If your data team is the only one that has access to your data, and if everything data-related has to go through a data team member, it’s going to slow down and frustrate stakeholders. This will kill your hopes of buy-in.

To break the bottleneck, your data team should make sure your stakeholders have access to both the right tools and the right data for the insights they need. Schario gave the example of a company’s growth team. If they’re running an experiment or a modulation, they should have the tools and the data access set up to run that experiment without having to petition the data team first.

Your data team’s value to the rest of your company comes in the form of tools and processes. Make those processes more seamless, and ensure that data discovery is simple and intuitive for all stakeholders, and you’ll find getting buy-in a breeze.

C-Level Buy-In and Beyond

The best way to get the direction right for your data team is to remember that your customers are inside your company—and those customers need your product! It is, as Dean noted in his closing remarks, a “hot data market” out there. From sales to product development and marketing, all departments in a SaaS company need to be looking more toward data to drive key decision-making.

Once you’ve demonstrated this need to your business, demonstrate the impact your data team’s work can bring. Find an executive who can be your data team’s champion and provide that all-important C-level buy-in. Provide your product team with weekly booster packs of data to shape their development cycle. Establish clear and consistent communication with your marketing stakeholders — show them how much your data has already improved their work and what the data is suggesting they should do next.

Do so and you’ll get buy-in throughout your company—from C-level to product dev to marketing.

If you’d like to find out more about how to prove the value of your data team and secure C-level buy-in for them, watch the whole session here!