Data’s Secret Sauce

There’s a barrier to sharing your analysis beyond the four walls of your office four firewalls of your company’s network. It’s private. It’s sensitive. Some even say looking at an internal analysis is to peer into a company’s soul.

Finding a way to be more open, without selling your (company’s) soul, would be a boon to emerging talent and help existing practitioners achieve cantaloupe consistency. Yum!

Food and cooking analogies are ubiquitous in analytics. Maybe we can whip up a solution to our sharing problem with another one.

It’s a well-established fact that Granny’s fruit cake, Mom’s lasagna, or Dad’s toast are better than anything you can find at a bakery, osteria, or café. These family recipes are guarded secrets. Passed down for generations through flour-covered aprons and with the warmth of a holiday oven. They are prepared with an attention to detail that could never be captured by a cookbook… except, that’s how they all started.

Taking someone’s boilerplate recipe and making it your own adds a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s such a common phenomenon that in Friends - the one with Pheobe’s cookies - Monica is trying to rediscover Phoebe’s family recipe. Phoebe shares that the recipe was passed down from a distant French relative, Neselé Toulouse. Monica translates to English and finds the secret recipe on the back of a bag of Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips!

Friends the one with Phoebe's Cookies
Friends the one with Phoebe's Cookies

To come clean about my family’s secret recipes, Granny’s fruit cake was cut out of a newspaper in 1933, the lasagna came off a bottle of Bertolli marinara, and Dad’s toast is nothing more than buttered toast with cinnamon sugar dusted on top. These recipes are still special to me. To discount their importance just because everyone has access to them would miss the point. They were made by my family to be enjoyed by my friends, which meant they were important to me.

Take these dishes out of context and they likely won’t seem all that memorable. However - I am certain you have your own meals that are incredibly meaningful to you.

I believe the same is true for working with data.

Salt, rice, and chicken ingredients are as common in cooking as leads, customers, and revenue are to businesses. A company’s product begins to layer in more culture. Businesses in the SaaS, Retail, or Construction industries add nuances that come across as different as Thai, Tex-Mex, or Spanish cuisine - all while using the same ingredients. Each industry can make boilerplate analyses from their shared commonalities.

When you come across a boilerplate analysis, it often does not look like much - dull, dry, and no soul. Let’s try it out anyway. You begin to knead your data into the mold described. You plate it up nicely in your favorite BI tool. Then for the garnish, you top it off with a recommendation for your patron. Suddenly the report has life! Team leads check the dashboard daily. Your work is presented as support for a new initiative. Customers are delighted, adding fuel to your company’s accelerating growth.

It’s a pretty rosy story. It can be an entirely true story too. Speaking from personal experience, I helped build out a company’s entire SaaS metrics suite. Those numbers were used for everything!

  • Did the new onboarding routine improve our 3-month retention?
  • Are price increases at renewal impacting our churn rate?
  • Where are we losing leads in our sales motion?
  • If we stopped selling today, how much could we still grow over a year?

Our secret to success - the entire metric suite was inspired by one blog post. The article was so influential that we referred to the numbers as our Skok Metrics. That was until we were advised to drop Skok from the name. Take the credit for applying it to our company. David Skok’s public post was now our confidential material. His recipe became a family secret.

So I agree - we cannot share actual business insights, but we can share our recipes - stripped of the company’s secret sauce. Removing specific insights is akin to a family recipe with no memories attached. It loses much of its unique flavor, but the recipe is still worth sharing. Analysts will take those recipes and fill them with meaning for their organization - their secret blend of blurbs and splices.

Sharing gives others a chance to imitate. Imitation helps others find success. Success should be shared vaguely.👻