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by: Zank, CEO of Bennett Data Science

Data science is complex stuff. From problem formulation through implementation and deployment, it requires expert knowledge from (hopefully) highly trained professionals. And for data-driven organizations, data science is felt companywide. But with all that complexity, how are stakeholders meant to get their hands around what analytics has to offer? How can we get the head of marketing pumped up about our latest classification model?

When presented as a “classification model”, well, good luck. That’s not what anyone wants to hear about. And it’s the duty of analytics professionals to meet stakeholders way more than 50% of the way there. I call it Data Science Sales, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch it work. Here’s what I mean.

Data Science Sales

Instead of touting a new “classification model” in the next weekly standup, how about showing the effects of reduced churn and increased LTV on a time-compressed simulation of users on a dynamic map of Europe? What about showing the effects of seasonality on fashion trends in the Northeast of America by showing collections of clothing where stakeholders can choose the month and state? These types of visualization are not (generally) done in Tableau or some other BI tool, because this isn’s BI. It’s data scientists building dynamic web pages to sell their latest breakthroughs to stakeholder, and the effects happen quickly and are long lasting.

The intent is to remove that layer of complexity surrounding data science and replace it with a gut-feeling of how all that tech can affect the business. I urge data scientists to show off. A lot.

It’s so important to make sure that stakeholders understand how advances in analytics could affect their team and products. And the fist step to doing this is to show them with visualizations they’ll immediately understand and remember.

In my first job at Abbott Labs, I made the somewhat clumsy screen on an Abbott Labs hospital pump turn into the full-color screen of a Palm Pilot using Flash (yes, Flash, gasp!). It was such a hit that three years later, at a new job, I got a phone call from an executive who wanted to know where he could find that video. In other words, I lead with feeling. I sold this visualization and it got a lot of people taking and thinking.

Instilling Data Science Sales in Your Organization

How do you instill Data Science Sales in your organization? It’s pretty simple, or at least, here’s what I did in the past that’s worked well.

  1. Ask operations to set up a secure sandbox area and give the entire data science team FTP access
  2. Find someone to run a tutorial (2-3 hours) about how to create bespoke visualizations with HTML, Javascript (Ajax) and CSS and provide one example of a finished page as a template
  3. If possible, ask each person on your data science team to put up at least one visualization that week
  4. Send the pages around to relevant stakeholders in your company

Using visualizations as a central pillar of Data Science Sales has worked for me many times and I like the approach because it empowers the data science team, promotes knowledge sharing and increases cross-functional communication.

Have you had success doing something similar? Please drop me a line and let me know.

Zank Bennett is CEO of Bennett Data Science, a group that works with companies from early-stage startups to the Fortune 500. BDS specializes in working with large volumes of data to solve complex business problems, finding novel ways for companies to grow their products and revenue using data, and maximizing the effectiveness of existing data science personnel.

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