Does Your Data Tell Stories?

I’m going to show my age here…remember the joke:

Question: What time does your watch say? Answer: It doesn’t say anything, I have to read it.

It’s like that with data too:

Question: What stories do your data tell? Answer: They don’t tell anything, I have to analyze and interpret the data to figure that out.

I’ve spent a large portion of my career digging into data, analyzing it, searching for patterns, outliers and exceptions. Why? To help the organizations I was working for to better understand what was driving their business forward, what was holding it back, where they were spending too much money, where they were making a lot of money, and even why their competition gained market share while they lost it.

It took hours and hours to plow through all the data available for analysis in order to be able to answer questions like “Why is printer ink sales down in Modesto?” or “Why do we sell more Adidas than Nike in Chicago?” Even much more complex questions like “How many seats do we need to fill on a Boeing 757 flight from Chicago to San Francisco to break even, and at what average price per seat?” can be answered with the right data. At one of my prior roles, I spent nearly 3 weeks of every month simply prepping the data from the previous month so that I could answer questions like those just mentioned. And then, during that 4th week of each month, I spent my time defending my findings and data analysis to management as I presented the facts about the business that went against their gut feelings.

Of course all this happened early in my career, long before I was a Salesforce user.

When I first started using Salesforce, I built reports and dashboards to see how many times customers called in with certain types of issues relating to their software. I was able to determine how often specific customers called in for support and what they needed help with. That still took time, but it was quicker than my pre-Salesforce days, and often still required some additional analysis and word-smithing before sharing with management.

So that’s better, but still rather time-consuming.

Enter Lexio, from Narrative Science.

Lexio automates analysis and gives you the story hidden in your Salesforce data in plain English, in real-time, and in a way that helps you understand and act on it.

Now that’s your data telling you something!

Narrative Science calls that Data Storytelling. Sounds simple enough, right? Ok, you try to explain just exactly what Data Storytelling is…go!

Listen to what the people who work at Narrative Science have to say in this video.

Want to learn more? Visit with Narrative Science at Dreamforce.

Safe Harbor


So I’m on an airplane, again, and another inspiration seems to have struck me, just as the seat in front of me struck my knees when the passenger up there decided to recline.

Actually, inspiration struck me a couple days ago when one of those emails that most people would call spam hit my inbox. This one was from a university advertising an all new, totally online Masters degree program in Data Analytics. Of course, being an analyst, my curiosity was peaked. So I did what every marketer hopes happens, I clicked to open the email. (Seriously, I didn’t even consider the fact that it could be a scam or some unsavory character phishing for my identity.) I then did what I usually do when I open this type of email, I click the link…no, this time I’m kidding. I hit up Google and did a search for the university in question. What I found was a properly accredited university offering a great, totally online program in a field that I have been wanting to learn more about for a few years now. The tag line of the message in the email about this program was “Big data, big opportunities.”

Big Data.

As someone who has considered himself a data analyst for many years, and one who feels like he has dealt with big data before, the topic still fascinates me. I’ve often told people that my job is to translate data into meaningful information, which means I am a detective, searching to find what story all the data is trying to tell. I’ve worked for a university and helped them install a new student accounting system that took the staff through a leap from a weekly updated set of microfilm, to a real-time, online system, updated instantly. Talk about a leap of faith! This ‘big’ data jump was not without it’s share of problems, and even though we successfully tested (and properly balanced) the new system, and tested the conversion routines not once, not even twice, but seven times prior to doing it in the production system, it still did not balance when we did it for real. $42 Million in accounts receivables, and we were off by $107.25. What a way to cap off several months of hard work. Complete and total failure. Great! (editors note – please be sure you have read that last sentence with the appropriate amount of sarcasm!) This failure kicked off what I thought wa showing to be the start of a long and grueling weekend of cross checking, rebalancing, auditing and caffeine, hoping to discover where the missing $107.25 wound up.

I was searching big data, but without a modern tool to query with. Much to my surprise, finding the missing money was actually quite easy. It was the last record in the file, and out of the millions of records, it was the only one that was exactly $107.25! Yes! We are balanced. TURN ON THE NEW SYSTEM AND LET’S GET ROLLING!

Oh wait a second, we found the money, but not the account it was supposed to be charged to. Too late, we are live. The Vice President (of the university) said we had better go live on time, or we had better all start looking for other employment. Feeling confident that I could solve this mystery, if given enough time, we created a new account: “Unknown Student” and began moving all unidentified dollars to that account. After much searching, and getting down to the smallest detail, we successfully identified the correct accounts for all the mystery money.

A solution.

Customer data. Call it big data, call it small data. I think it really doesn’t matter how much data there is, as long as you understand what it all means.

Here’s a great way to better your understanding of your customer data: attend Dreamforce, San Francisco, November 18-22, 2013. Register at and you too can become a Customer Company.

Save $100!

Use promo code D13MVPREF to save $100 on your registration!

Get to know the Community.

Want another way to help you understand how to make the most of your customer data and your Salesforce implementation? Get connected with a local user group! Find yours at

What can you do with Salesforce (dot)com ?

Some friends of mine who really don’t know much about what I do for a living keep asking me to explain my job. That’s not an easy question to answer. I’m an analyst, and for those of you who are analysts, you can understand why that’s not an easy question to respond to. For those who are not analysts, I’ll try to enlighten you.  An analyst is someone who analyzes thing. Too simple ?  Yes.  Way too simple.  In my case, I tell people that I spend my time looking at data trying to determine the story it is telling. And it really doesn’t matter what kind of data you are looking at, or even what the source is. All data has a story to tell that can reveal some fascinating things about the nature of business, of people, and of society in general.

I have been an analyst for many years and in many industries: higher education; small-box retail; big-box retail; an airline; and a ‘mom and pop’ consulting firm, just to name a few. The one thing I found that was consistent among all that, is that people have a need to understand data and what it means. They want to know more, and more. In today’s terminology, I suppose I could say I am a Data Scientist.

By now you are probably wondering, how does all this tie into…please bear with me just a little longer. I promise to make the connection.

When I started writing this post, my first ever blog post, I had an agenda in mind. I wanted to compare my career as an analyst to the cloud computing / CRM giant, But as I kept writing, I kept coming back to one theme: Asking an analyst what they do, is a lot like asking “What can you do with ?”  The answer to that question is really quite simple: You can do almost, if not everything your business needs to do to succeed with or an app from one of the scores of Appexchange partners.

Perhaps the best response to that question is truely a better question: “What can you not do with” And personally, I think the sky is the limit…the possibilites are endless, so jump in, sit down and start driving. I can’t tell you where your journey will lead, but I can promise you it will be a facinating ride!

So much for a deep, thoughtful, analytics-based reply.  Perhaps in my next post, I’ll delve deeper into the numbers.  Actually, I won’t, since my next post is almost ready.

Here’s the teaser to have you come back to read the next one:  Passion, what matters most and a Fiat 500 crossing the country in preparation for Dreamforce 2012.

Thanks for taking a moment of your day to read my historical first blog post.