How many of your colleagues are data evangelists? 

At the most basic level, a data evangelist is someone who is genuinely enthused about data, and who enables others to find their own stories through using data. An evangelist is therefore likely to be an expert in a tool or a practice related to data. And they have the ability to speak not only with professionals, but also to those that are very new to data skills. 

If that last sentence caused you to radically reduce the number of data evangelists you counted in your organization, you’re not alone. 

Most organizations have a lot of technical people who can work with data and may be passionate about data tools, but they can’t speak about it and share it with new audiences who are not used to it. And you can’t be a data evangelist if you can’t spread the good news, at least about value and impact. 

Putting a little evangelism into data leadership
There’s a lot to recommend data evangelism as a practice. In fact, many of the qualities of a successful data evangelist reflect what a good data leader does.

  • You help people to see what they couldn't see before, get excited about it, and make stronger decisions based on it
  • You encourage people to share the “good news” about data, creating a multiplier effect that can permeate through the entire organization
  • You feel a personal sense of pride when people are charged up by something you introduced them to and are helping them master

Being a data evangelist, of course, is organizationally dependent. If you’re a consultant, you probably are evangelizing on behalf of a tool or practice you're familiar with and then providing public speeches and/or writing and/or demonstrations. You’re probably also guiding customers toward impact and acting as the go-to person they need. You may also work with a salesperson who’s not an expert in the tool or the practice, or you’re working with a technical person who can’t speak as a salesperson would. In this case you need a network to be an effective evangelist, so people recognize who you are, and blend your thought leadership and product advocacy in equal parts.

Rules of the evangelist’s road
Evangelism is not for everybody. There is a lot of task-juggling involved. You have to hold multiple roles simultaneously, and be many things to many people. You have to pivot and also share knowledge in a way that people understand you and realize value from what you say. 

Evangelism may not work with specific teams. It may not work with specific companies. That’s why it’s important to understand that your message won’t take root every time, and you may have to change your approach. You may get a second shot and realize, “Hey, I need to pivot to help this group understand the value in what I'm sharing with them.” And then there are the times you just can’t get through to certain listeners because they’re not ready for that change or to see the value-add of data skills. Or they may be ready for change, but your platform or approach was just one of the things that they wanted to hear out. No one bats 1.000. 

Spreading the data word
In larger companies, data evangelism can be a full-time role. And although it’s growing in enterprises and certainly in consultancies, a lot of evangelists have to break their own trail, define their own role, and be willing to work with a lot of different customers. Evangelism is often more about getting heard externally, even if you work as a departmental employee. 

On the other hand, if you come into a company already having built a big social network, you can get your company seen very quickly. I’ve witnessed it happen where someone joins a company without a public following, starts to attract people based on their visualization skills, and is soon passing along use cases from different customers’ sales verticals to their colleagues. 

The bottom line for a data evangelist, whether you work solo, for a consultancy, or for a public company, is that people see (and hear) the impact of what you’re doing. It’s up to you to make that message compelling.