Seraph Insight: 5 Biggest Data Challenges for Operations & Finance Executives

We recently held a discussion with several senior decision makers and C-Suite executives in operational and finance roles.

The topic was around the use of data and its adoption in making board room decisions.

According to PWC, one third of executives admit that intuition (or “gut feeling”) is the most important factor in making big decisions.

Not only that, but industry leaders believe that only 12% of the data created and collected by their organisations is being used (Forrester). McKinsey found this to be even lower, at 1% for some large organisations.

Participants of our discussion were asked about the balance between decisions made on data and those on gut feeling:

  • 30% felt decisions were made totally on gut feeling
  • 65% felt it was somewhere in the middle
  • Only 5% felt that decisions were based totally on data

We spoke to finance and operations decision makers from a director and C-Suite level from the following industries:

  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Mass media
  • Entertainment
  • Publishing
  • Telecommunications
  • Banking & Finance
  • Postal Services

In this Seraph Insight article, we’re going to cover the key challenges that both finance and operations decision makers are currently facing when using data to secure boardroom buy-in for key business decisions.

We’ll also dive into the challenges that individuals from specific industries are facing. If you’re targeting any of these industries or engaging with senior finance and operations executives, then you should find plenty of insight for your messaging and content marketing efforts here.

Operational Decision Makers Need More Consistency

When speaking with operational decision makers, they unanimously agreed that storing and using the right data is important.

The key challenge for them, however, is how to keep data from different business areas consistent under one single touch point. Oftentimes it’s the quality of the data that becomes conflicting.

Despite this understanding, they believe that emotionally-driven decisions are still important, such as making key decisions around complex topics.

Focus your messaging around data consistency and singular touch points

Pain: The overarching challenge here is finding the balance between data and emotion, as well as maintaining consistency and integrity of data.

Value: How can you help this audience win over boardroom members who still aren’t sure whether to follow their hearts or their heads?

Start by building trust on an emotional level, then move towards the business case.

“I know that my CEO makes data-driven decisions, but he pretends to be emotionally driven in his decision-making. Things are different in the public sector.” – Finance Director from a large public sector organisation.

Get these executives on board by helping them do this without threatening other areas of their business.

Data-Driven Challenges for Financial Decision Makers

Finance executives are also struggling to store their data in a singular place. They feel the need for one touch point for the collection of all data across their entire organisations.

Another challenge they face is using data to back their stories up when presenting to emotionally driven decision makers. They need methods of using this data to logically enforce emotionally-driven stories that resonates with those they are trying to persuade.

There are also concerns on conflicting data coming from various parts of the business. They’re looking for the correct source of data in the form of “the one truth”. Not having access to the right data is a serious complication.

Cater to more emotionally driven executives

Pain: There are departments who do not wish to see financial data. As a result, finance executives repackage and position it for the more emotionally-driven areas of the business.

Value: Create content around how best to do this. When using data to get boardroom buy-in, it must support an emotionally-driven story in order to be persuasive. As you’ll soon see, not all executives look at things in black-and-white.

Now let’s take a look at the individual insights given by individual professionals in certain industries. These are key points made during the discussion, and any overarching patterns will be touched up in the conclusion.

1. Finding the one source of truth

A current and common theme shared among executives is finding the right source of data. The term commonly used to describe this from a data perspective is “the one truth”.

This becomes an issue when there are conflicting sources of data coming from different parts of the business.

One C-Suite finance executive from the telecommunications industry expressed there was a huge problem in managing different teams who bring in different and conflicting numbers for an attributed data point.

2. Balancing emotions vs. data-driven arguments

The importance to lead with good data is understood, but there is a belief in needing to be emotionally driven for more complex topics. Several opinions were put firmly in the middle of the data-driven vs. emotional scale.

When it comes to leading with something tangible, data is imperative. It’s when executing something new and innovative that they feel data can be distracting.

The focus is currently on using data to measure and optimise the customer journey. One challenge is to pull quantitative AND qualitative data together to make those decisions.

This approach is also helping to drive innovation. Being able to adjust processes for the customer’s gain is very convincing at a boardroom level.

3. Managing arguments in boardrooms that are emotionally-led

A challenge that was common among finance executives was using and storing data in a convincing way at the boardroom level. Currently, they’re investigating new ways to place the right data into a persuasive story.

It’s a matter of using that data in order to guide people towards the conclusion they want them to reach. In this case, it’s a matter of using data to be persuasive.

4. Using data to build trust

One particular example of this point comes from the public health sector. Data can only go so far when the stakes are high. In this case, when presenting data to doctors, the doctors will always win if it’s a matter of life-or-death.

In the context of this report, doctors are very emotionally driven people. The key challenge, therefore, is finding the middle ground between illustrating cost efficiency and the risks that could put patients at risk.

Where is the middle ground between data and emotion where emotion is always going to win? Answering this question can make for a compelling story for your brand.

5. Speeding up go-to-market strategies due to lack of quantitative data

This theme was backed-up by an operations leader from a US based company. They see the UK as a small yet innovative market. Because of this, using data to quantify decisions is key in order to convince the rest of the business to follow them.

Right now, they’re investing large amounts of budget to analyse revenue streams. They wish to understand which systems yield investment from those who manage it.

When it comes to entering new markets, data to help inform key decisions is paramount. Help this audience to retrieve and act upon the right data and make more informed business decisions.

Conclusion

There are several overarching themes here, but the biggest one is the relationship between storytelling and data.

At a boardroom level, you’re going to have a mix of individuals who are driven by data and gut feel. The key is to create a message that caters to these two vastly different audiences.

The opportunity from a marketing perspective is in enabling operations and financial executives to use data to arrive at a desired conclusion at the boardroom level.

If you can tie this with your value proposition, proving that you understand their challenges in this space, then you should be able to guide these decision makers through your sales cycle and convert into opportunities.

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