Build Your Personal Credibility by Leveraging Your Company’s Existing Assets

Few moments bring more credibility to product managers than when they are able to provide rock-solid market facts to defend their strategy against opinions or third-hand customer single data points raised earlier at the water cooler.

Yet finding truly relevant, uncontested and trusted customer data is a daunting challenge. It is also time-consuming.

Of course there are always industry data or analyst reports available, and these should always be fine-combed and appropriately leveraged. I always maintain a “market facts” database which I can pull out on short notice.

But this outside data does not reflect the intimacy you have developed with your customers: how do they use your product, when can you up-sell or cross-sell and with which products? These questions can only be addressed using internal resources. A process called Data Governance can help a company make sense of this customer data. Let’s investigate data issues before we delve further on Data Governance.

The most valuable data assets are within the walls of your company. You may think that your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system handles all your customer information, but there is a strong probability that it does not. Even assuming that your sales organization does a terrific job of updating CRM records, please consider this:

1) Companies come and go at an increasingly faster rate. Companies merge, fail, or are broken into pieces. Specific vendors provide information that track down these changes worldwide (Equifax or Dunn & Bradstreet come to mind but there are others). How good is your customer information if you are not sure about their current corporate structure? CRM solutions typically do not touch this issue.

2) There is terrific customer information in support, legal/contract, billing databases that is typically not available in CRM solutions. When visiting a customer, can you tell if their support calls were handled successfully? If they have paid their bills on time, what products they have and what is their profitability?

How far could you go if you could readily leverage your sales, accounting, contract, production, support and billing databases to better understand your customer? That’s what Data Governance would allow you to do.

Recent books such as “Data Driven” by Thomas Redman drive home the point that your customer data may be your company’s most important business asset. “Competing on Analytics” by Thomas Davenport and Jane Harris show how B2B & B2C companies use that data to create a sustainable competitive advantage. And that’s where astute product managers need to look first for market insight.

Easier said than done.

The vast majority of companies do not yet view customer data as a key company asset, comparable to intellectual property, cash, talent, or buildings. As a result, customer data is scattered across departments in separate silos, organized with little consistency. In many cases valuable information remains ignored because no one knows it exists in the first place.

In addition, data may be of poor quality. Thomas Redman, in the book mentioned above, cites the seven most common data quality issues that prevent knowledge workers, such as product managers, from leveraging their company’s data asset:

  1. People can’t find the data they need: knowledge workers spend 30% of their time searching for data, half the time unsuccessfully
  2. Incorrect data: 10-20% of data records contain inaccuracies
  3. Poor data definition: Data is frequently misinterpreted
  4. Data privacy/security: All data is subject to loss or risk
  5. Data inconsistency across sources, due to different definitions across departments
  6. Too much data due to uncontrolled redundancy
  7. Organizational confusion: Where is the data? Who owns it?

No doubt product managers cannot tackle all of these issues by themselves. However, it is typical that every department looks at the guy next door to fix this problem until a leader or a big problem emerges. And counting on IT alone is not the answer because while IT can help putting a data infrastructure in place, they do not have the expertise to assess the quality of the data this infrastructure provides. An equally important question of principle is that business requirements should drive IT relative to customer data, not the other way around.

What is ultimately needed is integrated customer data that is trusted by everyone in the company.

Product managers, as the CEO of their products, stand to gain the most from clean, readily accessible customer data. They are in a position to discern good data from bad data. Also they have an analytical mind; they can assess what data is the most valuable and how it can best be leveraged. Finally, product managers possess the leadership skills to bring the state of data to an acceptable level. What product managers miss is the bandwidth and an efficient process to unlock these customer data assets.

While the bandwidth issue cannot be addressed until the customer data assets are deemed worth cultivating by management, a lot can be done about the process. It already exists and it is called Data Governance.

Wikipedia’s definition of Data Governance is as follows: “Data governance is a set of processes that ensures that important data assets are formally managed throughout the enterprise. Data governance ensures that data can be trusted and that people can be made accountable for any adverse event that happens because of low data quality. It is about putting people in charge of fixing and preventing issues with data so that the enterprise can become more efficient.”

Data Governance is not a one-time task. It requires continuous attention and includes tasks such as identifying customer data sources, assessing their value, deciding if a data source must be eliminated or merged to another one, improving data quality, reduce costs or evaluate data-related investments.

What we advocate in this post is that product managers actively participate in or even lobby for the launch of a formal Data Governance initiative because it is good for their company, and it is good for them personally. Consider the following upsides:

  • Obtaining an understanding of which data assets are available to you
  • Gaining first-hand customer insight before the competition does
  • Improving the company’s decision process
  • Generating fresh ideas to cut costs
  • Decreasing the risk of regulatory fines
  • Networking with key individuals from other departments also participating in the Data Governance initiative

Data Governance is here to stay. If you don’t do it, your competitors will.

If you don’t participate to an existing Data Governance initiative in your company, your voice will not be heard.

Product Managers are uniquely qualified to participate in and are most likely to benefit from proper Data Governance. By doing so, they also have a unique opportunity to demonstrate their value to the rest of the company.