Sunday, April 16, 2023

You can be too clever with visualizations

Front page of the paper

I saw this visualization on Friday, April 14th 2023, on the front page of the New York Times. It was an illustration for an article about increasing the use of electricity to tackle climate change in the United States. Unfortunately, the visualization is at best confusing. You can read the full article here:

(New York Times 14th April, 2023)

The message

The message the article was trying to convey was a simple one: it was a modeling exercise for a more electrified US with lower energy consumption. The animations in the article made clear where electricity use would need to grow and roughly by how much.

Why the presentation is bad

The visualization is a sort of pie chart. In most cases, pie charts are very bad data visualizations, and this article compounds the problem by using a non-standard form. 

Just looking at the charts, can you tell me what the percentages are for Transportation, Industrial, etc. now and in the "electrified future"? Can you tell me what's growing?

The article makes plain the modeling work is for reduced energy consumption. Looking at the two charts, can you tell me what the reduction is and over what timescale it occurs?

I could go on, but it's easy to see for yourself what's wrong. Look at the charts and tell me what you take away from them.

The article contains animations that make the message clearer, but even so, it took me a lot of work to figure out what was going on. This takes us to the major visualization sin here: the level of effort to understand what's going on is too high.

What's the takeaway?

You can get too clever with visualizations. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Keep things simple and easy to understand.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

I'm curious if you want to buy from me

Over the last few months, I’ve been getting sales prospecting emails that all have the same keyword: “curious”. Here are a few (anonymized) examples:

…and was curious to learn more about your…

…but curious what time to action looks like…

Just curious to check on my previous email …

…but curious if you have any thoughts on the above…

I'm curious if you run into challenges maintaining…

I was curious to learn about your current…

I am curious to see if you are looking…

(A curious cat - Dimitri Houtteman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I ignore all these emails. Why? Because they’re poor prospecting.

Here’s the reality. These emails are being sent by BDRs or SDRs and they’re prospecting for business. This is a fine, even noble thing to do. But the sender isn’t curious and they’re not interested in my views; the sender wants to know if I’m a prospect. 

These are poor prospecting emails for several reasons. First off, the word “curious” is now a tip-off that the email is prospecting and so destined for quick deletion (I rarely get passed the word curious). Secondly, my email provider is getting smarter and it’s now diverting “curious” emails to my spam folder, I found half of these examples there. Unfortunately for the senders, “curious” is a relatively uncommon word so spam filters easily learn to filter it out.

I’m very busy. I don’t have time to read through a long prospecting email. If the first word I come across is a trigger (e.g., “curious”) I delete the email. The prospecting emails I read are ones that address a real business issue and get to the point quickly. Some really good prospecting emails have mentioned good quality case studies I’m interested in and made it easy for me to read them (I’m not filling in a long registration form and I’m not giving you my phone number).

(There seems to be a broken selling model here. I don't have time to meet with every salesperson who contacts me. You need to establish value first. So provide me with a low-effort way to see if I'm interested then let's escalate commitment. It's a bit like a romantic relationship; very few people get married after a first date.)

I’m sure there must be a BDR or SDR course out there that tells people to use words like “curious” or “interested”. Perhaps in the past, it may even have worked. I’m not convinced it does now. It’s time to move on.