Advizor Solutions SalesAdvizor — Blazing a trail that all good visual analysis vendors should follow

Today, I was briefed on a new software product (not SalesAdvizor, which I’ll get to shortly), which provides dashboard and visual analysis functionality. During the course of the briefing, I occasionally asked if they were planning to provide particular visual analysis features that I consider not only useful but essential. A common response was, “We’ve considered that, but didn’t want to include any features that were too complicated for typical business users.” I fully support vendors’ efforts to keep software simple, but the most powerful graphs and techniques that have yet to be incorporated into all but a few business intelligence products, although unfamiliar, are extremely simple to understand and use. The fact that a particular type of graph or technique for interacting with data is used primarily by scientists or engineers doesn’t by definition make it complicated. For instance, even though box plots are unfamiliar to most business people and for that reason can seem intimidating, I can teach any business person of average intelligence how to comfortably read a box plot in a matter of minutes. I know this for a fact, because I do this routinely in my visual analysis workshop. Business intelligence vendors must learn to make a distinction between features that are truly complicated or useful only to a small set of specialists and those that are simply unfamiliar, but conceptually easy to learn and extremely useful to a broad audience.

I wrote the entire preceding paragraph to set the stage for this statement: I get very excited when a software vendor introduces powerful visual analysis methods to a broad business audience in a way that isn’t intimidating. Advizor Solutions has just started doing this in a new way, in the form of a product called SalesAdvizor. This is nothing but an application for analyzing sales data tailored specifically for users of, which was built using the general purpose visual analysis software Advizor Analyst. Not only does this pre-package useful means to examine and analyze sales data, but it slips in several features that people might shy away from if introduced using technical terms such as “brushing” or “dynamic filters,” which seem perfectly natural and easy to learn when delivered as a pre-packaged sales analysis product.

I believe this is fertile ground for good visual analysis products. Find a popular business application that lacks good analytics (that is, most of them), such as, and then use your software to build a custom visual analysis application for it. Business people who might suffer paralysis if required to build an analysis process from scratch, will often welcome one that’s already predesigned for the task and integrated into the familiar territory of an application they already use. Furthermore, I predict that these same business people, after a little practice with an analytical application such as this, will soon venture out to create new analyses on their own, involving graphs and data interaction techniques they would have previously avoided as the intimidating and ethereal territory of experts.

My hat is off to Advizor Solutions for spotting this opportunity with and putting a powerful analytical tool in their customers’ hands. The key to the success of a venture like this, assuming it’s built on the foundation of a good visual analysis product, is the domain expertise (in this case, a deep knowledge of sales and how it should be analyzed) and the data visualization expertise that’s built into it. If you don’t understand sales, the best visual analysis tool in the world won’t save the day. Nor will it overcome poor visual design practices, such as using segmented pie charts to examine part-to-whole relationships, rather than simple bar graphs, which are much easier to read. I hope the best for Advizor Solutions new venture and hope that other good visual analysis software vendors will follow their lead.

Take care,


4 Comments on “Advizor Solutions SalesAdvizor — Blazing a trail that all good visual analysis vendors should follow”

By Neil Raden. March 22nd, 2007 at 1:54 pm


Just one quirky question. Wouldn’t a review of a product with exemplary visualization benefit from a few PICTURES?


By Stephen Few. March 22nd, 2007 at 2:08 pm


You bet it would, if this were really a review of the product. All I’m really trying to do here is promote the development of custom analytical applications using effective visual analysis products. If you’re interested in how this particular application works, follow the link above to SalesAdvizor.


By Luc. March 30th, 2007 at 5:42 am

Do you mind sharing the “visual analysis features that I consider not only useful but essential”?

I’m thinking in the direction of implementing a data visualization application as Open Source, but I’m intimidated by the patent claims of existing companies (SalesAdvizor mentions 20 patents).

By Stephen Few. March 30th, 2007 at 8:00 am

Here’s a list of 10 questions that I encourage people to ask when shopping for visual analysis software:

1. When you look at it, can you make sense of the data with relatively little training?

2. Does it make the most meaningful patterns, trends, and exceptions easy to see and interpret?

3. Does it encode quantitative data accurately (that is, based on the visual display itself, can you accurately interpret the quantities it encodes and accurately compare them to one another)?

4. Does it avoid features that distract you from the data?

5. Is it pleasant to look at for long periods of time without undue visual fatigue?

6. Can you use it to answer real business questions? If so, how long does it take? Anyone who is responsible for making sense of data in the real business world knows that questions that are hard to answer with the tools you have end up not getting asked.

7. When you use it to interact with the data (for example, to filter the data), can you do so in a manner that support your flow of thought about the data without interruption?

8. Does it encourage you to do things right and discourage you from doing things wrong (for example, to use chart types that make no sense given the nature of the data that you are analyzing)?

9. Can you easily find and use the types of visualizations, data interactions, and calculations that are needed most often without wading through intimidating menus and lists to get to them?

10. Does it provide the flexibility required to easily display and interact with the data in the full range of meaningful ways that come to mind as you work to make sense of the data?