5 Ways Data Analytics is Like Going to the Dentist

People are more concerned with painless dentistry than a painless death. Interesting.

“I love going to the dentist” — said no one, EVER.

Okay, I admit it, the reason I am writing this article is because I just came back from the dentist. My gums are sore, my spirit is defeated.

Not only did the dentist scrape my delicate teeth with her metal implements for more than an hour, causing massive amounts of suffering, she also offered me a “friendly” warning at the end: “If you don’t clean your teeth more, we might have to remove your wisdom teeth during your next visit.”

During my recovery, I realized that my experience with the dentist is exactly how small and medium sized businesses’ (SMBs) feel about data.

Here are 5 reasons why:

1. It’s painful

One annoying part about going to the dentist is that you don’t only suffer during the appointment but also for at least a day afterwards. If you get your wisdom teeth taken out, you’re probably going to suffer for at least a week!

While SMB owners might not experience physical pain when analyzing data, the psychological pain they suffer is severe.

So far, I’ve talked to more than 60 SMB owners and data analysts as part of the customer discovery process for my new company Humanlytics. Over half of them have ended up with the interviewee ranting about their frustration with data.

Common complaints include:

  • Confusion about what questions to ask using the data
  • Lack of certainty regarding what metrics to track
  • Lack of understanding regarding how to use the different tools
  • Uncertainty about how to integrate different sources of data
  • Confusion about how to distill actionable insights from data

Even after the analysis is complete, SMB owners/analysts often wonder whether their findings are sound, and whether the metrics they have chosen accurately reflect the goals of their businesses. Like my sore gums, those worries never seem to go away…

2. It’s difficult to see short-term value

Regarding the dentist, it’s a little more “difficult” to see the short-term value of going to the dentist. In fact, I don’t see ANY value at all besides pleasing my parents so they know that I am “taking care” of myself.

My dentist always tells me “If you don’t come to the dentist consistently, you’re going to start losing your teeth in 30 years.” So, to prevent something that is going to happen in 30 years, I have to spend an hour a day flossing and brushing my teeth? That’s ridiculous, I have much more urgent things to do than worry about what might happen in 30 years…

SMBs think the same way when they think about data. For SMB owners, especially the entrepreneurs who have just begun their business, data is not immediately urgent.

This is because they feel as if there are always more important things to do, such as “putting out fires”, than sitting down and thinking about their data. This bias prevents businesses from taking advantage of the massive long-term benefits of data analysis.

3. It’s expensive

My dentist appointment today set me back over $200. Compared with other medical expenses, dentistry isn’t unreasonably expensive. But hey, for the amount of pain and suffering I endured, I’m surprised they’re not paying me…

And if you think dentist appointments cost too much, wait until you hear the price tag of a data analyst or data scientist.

For example, even in Cleveland, OH a data scientist costs over $100/hr.

And it’s not just data scientists. SaaS tools that analyze data such as Hubspot Marketing start at $200 a month which means that over the course of a year they’ll end up costing a couple thousand dollars.

However, it’s important to note that, despite being so expensive, companies that offer data analytics services or tools are very popular — in fact, they’re worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, so many people are spending so much money to buy pain and suffering.” And well, you’re right. The reason people are spending so much money to buy analytics capabilities is, well, they have to do it.

4. It’s good for you

While I do hate going to the dentist, I have to do it. Despite the lack of a short-term benefit, I know that going to the dentist and brushing my teeth is enormously beneficial for me in the long term since it will allow me to avoid even more pain and inconvenience down the road.

The same principle — taking on short-term cost for long-term gain — applies to data and to an even greater degree than it does to oral hygiene. In the 21st century, the ability to collect and analyze data is no longer optional — even for SMBs. In the fiercely competitive global economy, SMBs that aren’t able to leverage data are going to be quickly wiped out by their competition.

More than a century ago, the marketing pioneer and department store mogul John Wannamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” This lack of accurate targeting and audience optimization was a common problem that plagued even the biggest players during the past century. However, the data revolution has changed that.

With access to massive amounts of customer data and analytics expertise, major U.S. brands such as Amazon are now able to microtarget their customers down to the individual level. This ability drives a much higher marketing return on investment than companies were ever able to achieve BD (before data).

Starting in 2010, SMBs began to gain access to those tools previously only available to big players via free platforms such as Facebook and Google Analytics.

With these tools, SMBs are now able to not only cut marketing costs, but also cultivate relationships with customers that are more intimate than ever before.

So yeah, data is VERY VERY good for you. In fact, with few exceptions, you MUST utilize data to reman competitive and you MUST be competitive to survive in today’s global marketplace.

5. It’s a painful experience that needs to be changed.

Just because going to the dentist is good for you long term it doesn’t mean that you should have to deal with horrible short-term value and a bad customer experience.

Analyzing data, like going to the dentist, is currently a painful, tedious, and burdensome experience, even for the most sophisticated data analysts. It is also costly and oftentimes difficult to see the immediate value of data analysis even when there is plenty.

Therefore, there is one last commonality between dentistry and data — they both need to be changed.

During my dentist appointment today, as the dentist so brutally drilled through my delicate teeth, I started brainstorming business ideas to create a dental clinic with a better customer experience. Then I realized, “Hey, I am doing the exact same thing with Humanlytics, but with data analytics.”

The difference is, I know nothing about dentistry but I know a lot about data.

I once sat in that proverbial data scientist’s dentist chair, frustrated about the existing workflows available for analyzing data. That’s why I made it my personal mission in life to figure out a way to provide a better data analytics experience for people like me.

For data to be easy and fun to use, it can’t be too complex, frustrating, or counter-intuitive. Rather, it needs to be more automated, it must produce immediate results, it must be affordable, and it must be — human.

To be honest, I don’t know specifically how to accomplish this dream yet, but it never hurts to start trying. I wonder how many big dreams started with a blog post…

Thank you for reading! At Humanlytics, we want to create tools and content that make data analytics easy, enjoyable, and valuable for businesses of all sizes.

If you are interested in reading more about our view on data and analytics, please follow us on Medium at Analytics for Humans. If you want to learn more about Humanlytics, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter, visit our website, and sign up for our newsletter. Questions and comments about the article? Email me at bill@humanlytics.co