Five Tips for Selling Big Data to your Business Sponsors

Big data is perhaps the hottest topic in IT right now.  But do your business users know what it is?  

When I ask business executives what big data means, I get a wide variety of responses, from “I don’t know” and “Bigger databases?” to “Social Media?”. 

Here’s the best answer I’ve heard “I don’t particularly care because it’s an IT technology.  My job is to solve business problems.”   


Business executives care about solving business problems.  The big data market is born out of the technical community – innovations from technologists to address the growing volume, variety, and velocity of data.   And predictably, the descriptions of big data technology are predominantly technical.  If you want to move big data from a research war room to the boardroom, you need to illustrate big data as a business opportunity. 

Based on conversations I’ve had over the past few months, here are five tips for selling big data inside your organization.

1 – Build a Business Case … A different type of business case

While this is an obvious step, there are some challenges with big data.  This is a new market and there are few public proof points or metrics to leverage.  So you’ll have to create much of it from scratch.  A business case for big data could be exhaustive, so you should focus on a single problem and only a handful of metrics.  Quantify four or five items, and simply list the rest.  The qualitative points will sell themselves.  You’ve really just scratched the surface with the metrics you measure, but its enough to prove there’s something worth pursuing.

2 – Evangelize Big Data …. In business terms

More often than not, an IT person makes the case for big data technology.  And IT people tend to add lots of details, usually very technical details, to explain why a new technology is necessary.  Resist that temptation.  Make an evangelization deck that is no more than 7 slides.  Explain how your company will benefit from big data and the business opportunities it creates.  Include a very simple slide on why big data technology is different from other technologies you already have, the business case, and next steps.  Remember, the objective isn’t for you to pitch this deck; the objective is for business people to embrace it and include it in their plans.  Make it business-friendly.

3 – Identify a sponsor …. with some moxie

Here’s the challenge with big data technology – it can solve hundreds of business problems and you could identify any or all of your business executives as potential sponsors.  So where do you start? 

Start with a relevant and pressing business issue that clearly demonstrates the use of big data technology.  Then, evaluate the business executive sponsor.  You’re looking for someone dynamic, who understands the business and believes that technology can drive competitive advantage.  Above all, you want someone who will be a change agent. 

After identifying that individual, book a short meeting to review your evangelization deck.  Convey your idea of how new technology can address one of his or her strategic priorities.  If you’re successful, your evangelization deck will become his or her evangelization deck.

4 – Capture metrics …. and use them to tell a story

Many projects identify as many metrics as possible for “shock and awe”.  Resist that temptation.  Instead, identify only a few metrics that you will measure.  Focus the business community on tracking a handful of truly meaningful metrics from the business case.  I’ve seen many successful programs gain momentum by measuring just one metric.  The key is reporting on it often – so it becomes engrained in the business community. 

Even more important – tell a story.  If you are using big data technology to improve fraud detection, tell one story of detecting a fraudulent incident that would have gone undetected previously.  People will remember the stories long after they forget the numbers in your business case.  Stories sell initiatives.

5 – Put a face on the big data opportunity

Business executives can’t see big data.  And it’s hard to get passionate about abstract concepts.  You may need to visualize the problem and the opportunity.  Consider an internal demonstration of big data technology.  If your first project is social media analysis, then do a demonstration to analyze your social media channels.  If it’s multi-channel customer service analytics, then analyze your data and show what new results will occur.  A picture is always worth a thousand words. 

Emerging technologies don’t sell themselves.  Big data technology has huge potential to change the way you do business.  In order to drive adoption in your organization, you must explain and evangelize big data to your business community – in business terms.


About David Corrigan

I’ve spent my entire career helping clients utilize emerging technology to solve their customer data problems. I've always enjoyed solving abstract problems. I've worked with hundreds of companies to utilize new technology, plan and drive to a roadmap, and evangelize and drive momentum for their information projects. During the day, I work on product strategy and marketing for @InfoTrellis, and I'm busy trying to disrupt the customer data and analytics market so that organizations can finally understand every single one of their customers. After hours, I like to take photographs, read, write, practice yoga, or watch soccer - Manchester United and Toronto FC are my teams of choice. Follow me on Twitter @DCorrigan or on LinkedIn at

2 responses to “Five Tips for Selling Big Data to your Business Sponsors”

  1. Tony Baer says :

    These are common sense recommendations. Big Data is like any IT project: there must be a business justification, don’t do it just because you can or becauise the data is there. That said, Big Data adds a bit on an intangible, in that the greatest value (and statement of the problem) may come from exploration of data. In other words, you may not have the business case ready before you collect the data.

    That doesn’t mean that your team should embark on a wild goose chase for value in big data, but rather that building the business case will be a learning experience. Naturally, start with a proof of concept to understand how you can iterate a business case.

    • David Corrigan says :

      Thanks Tony this is a great point. As big data addresses many new use cases, the value is often unknown or is just a hypothesis as you stated. Some clients have taken advantage of free downloads or cloud offerings of big data technology to get started with a sample set and prove there’s some validity to their hypothesis before proceeding.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: