3 Key Ways Data Visualization Can Better Your Business

Although it might have an intimidatingly jargon-y name, data visualization is really just a matter of presenting complex information in a visual form—be it graphics, pictures, charts, or something else entirely. It is already a significant part of our everyday lives, and it has been for hundreds of years. If you’ve ever used a map, you’ve directly benefited from it.

Its popularity is unsurprising: Research demonstrates that the human brain processes videos and images 60,000 times faster than text. If information is dense, complicated, or otherwise difficult to parse in its raw form, it will often work better in graphical form. At its best, data visualization reaches information design expert Edward Tufte’s ideal: “complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency.”

It forms an essential part of business intelligence, which helps companies identify patterns, seize new opportunities, overcome frustrating challenges, and capitalize on trends. Used correctly, data visualization can assist in making better, more informed operational and strategic decisions at all levels of the organization.

Here are three key benefits of using data visualization effectively.

1. Condensing information.

By 2025, the world will create 180 zettabytes of data, according to IDC—that’s 180 trillion gigabytes. To understand exactly how much that is, it’s worth realizing that the world’s collective data was less than 10 zettabytes in 2015. Big Data is a popular, contentious, and widely misunderstood buzzterm, but it’s fair to say that it applies here.

At both a macro and micro level, the future will involve parsing a lot of information. Visualization is a way of asserting control over it and making it useful for your business and your customers. As data sets grow larger, so too will the need to pare them down and make them coherent.

Doing so manually is boring for the person doing it and for the person viewing it, and can also lead to errors. Automated data visualization tools can enable you to present this information in several different forms and in varying levels of detail—allowing you to condense and customize information according to your target audience. It can also highlight information that you might otherwise have missed.

2. Developing insights for understanding and predicting.

Sales and marketing teams are becoming increasingly data-driven. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because these departments will be working from better and more reliable information. It’s bad because they’re often ill-equipped to use it.

To be fair, there has never been any expectation that salespeople and marketers should possess the same technical knowhow as a data scientist, and nor should there be. Sales and marketing is the business of understanding and engaging customers—before, during and after the buying process. The more time they spend looking at spreadsheets, the less time they’re spending on making money.

And yet, the data your business collects is important and useful—far too useful to lie dormant. Visualization provides a convenient means of making it immediately accessible and comprehensible. Professionals who require fast insights as well as deep ones will benefit from it immensely.

A food service business, for example, can use a graph or a chart to identify time-sensitive seasonal purchasing behavior—allowing them to know which product lines are selling best and when. Visualization can also help said business gauge customer sentiment around an underperforming or new product, allowing them to know who is buying it and who isn’t, as well as how, when, and why.

If data visualization is not being used to boost your sales and marketing team’s level of insight—and ability to answer important questions—then it’s not being put to effective use.

3. Aligning and sharing data across your business.

Finally, data visualization should strengthen the ties between professionals at all levels of the business. Information that is useful to sales, for instance, can often prove useful to marketing, IT, customer service, and other departments—and just as often, that information is isolated and confined to the purview of that one department.

The idea is that each department is the only one capable of understanding the relevance and significance of the information. But this view is wrong, and detrimental to the wider performance of the business.

When a company integrates its CRM, ERP, and other data management systems, it can effectively eliminate silos. Information can then be collated and visualized, to the point where it presents a holistic and transparent view of operational considerations across the entire business.

Senior executives can understand how back-office functions like service, finance, and manufacturing feed into functions like sales, customer relationships, and marketing. This provides a means of gaining superior visibility into how the business actually works. If manufacturing delays are impacting customer satisfaction, for example, you’ll know about it.

As you can see, data visualization can benefit your business in a number of ways. Companies just need to open their eyes and take advantage of them.

Kevin McGirl is president of sales-i, which offers business intelligence software to simplify and improve the sales process.

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