My oldest son is a sophomore in high school, on the verge of beginning the college application process. Just the thought of what the next year and a half will bring makes me want to curl up under the covers and hide. Until last week, I had a reasonable amount of confidence in his school’s college counseling department, based solely on the statistics the school publishes about where their graduates wind up going to college. To be honest, the numbers looked pretty impressive.
AND THEN WE HAD OUR FIRST MEETING WITH THE COLLEGE COUNSELOR. AND I REALIZED THAT THE NUMBERS DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY.
I quickly learned that the school provides very little guidance or help to the students at all. In fact, the graduates from this school get into prestigious schools at high rates in spite of, not because of, the school. What is really happening is that the parents of these students are all Type A overachievers who are doing everything in their power to get their kids into college. They are paying expensive outside consultants and test prep tutors. They are using every connection they have to get their kids fancy internships. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the parents are actually writing some of the essays themselves.
But if I had only looked at the numbers, I would never have realized this.
It was only because I asked A LOT of questions-about the process, the options, the past mistakes others had made-that the picture became clearer. I could have just looked at the past admissions and assumed that my son was a shoe-in for a good college or university. But I would have completely missed what it actually took for those graduates to get into those schools.
This has a direct application to how we run our businesses. There are times when the numbers look pretty good. Revenue might have spiked, or you might see an uptick in prospect conversion or social media engagement. But it is a huge mistake to just take those numbers as fact and not look any further. Ask yourself:
• What caused that increase in revenue?
• Was there a corresponding increase in profit?
• Is the improved conversion rate a pattern that you see over time, or was it just a one-time blip?
• What else was happening online or in the marketplace that could explain the higher engagement rates?
In order to have enough information to make strategic decisions, you have to dig deeper and gain a better understanding of the underlying dynamics. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. There is always more to the story.