Small Companies, Big Data
For seven little letters, “big data” casts an intimidating shadow. The “big” part of the term may imply that it’s reserved only for big companies. The “data” part suggests it’s expensive and requires significant investment in technology.
Neither has to be true. When applied correctly, big data can help small and
medium-sized businesses gain a deeper understanding of their customers and prospects. Big data, in fact, may be more accessible for smaller companies — because SMBs often don’t have to grapple with legacy software and can leapfrog to newer and more efficient technologies.
Big data = data-driven insights on how to serve customers
Before we dive into the ways that small businesses can take advantage of big data principles, let’s clarify what we mean by big data.
Narrowly defined, big data is the use of Hadoop or other processing technologies to analyze huge sets of unstructured data to gather previously hard to find insights. We prefer a broader definition of big data, one that refers to the massive amounts of data which are available to businesses — ranging from analyzing their website visitors to tabulating email open rates to monitoring social sentiment — all in an effort to build a data-driven view of customers and how to better serve them.
Small business can begin taking advantage of the opportunities offered by big data by following a few simple guidelines, which were outlined in The Big Data-Driven Business: How to Use Big Data to Win Customers, Beat Competitors, and Boost Profits, a book I co-wrote with Russell Glass.
Six steps to embracing big data
Here are six principles SMBs should follow when embracing big data in their businesses:
1. Focus on the customer to decide what questions you want your data to answer.
The key to using data is understanding what you want to know about your customers. The best use of data can be to analyze what characteristics your best customers have in common, and then target prospects who share these same attributes.
2. It’s big data, but start small.
There’s a fire hose of data out there, but you only need to focus on the water your business is thirsting for. Set your sights on a small piece of data that will drive revenue. Analyzing data can provide indications that, for instance, boost your email open rates, or generating more form conversions from website visitors which will lead to better performance.
3. Don’t bet everything on technology.
Technology is important, but spending a lot on may not always be the answer. Just about everybody should have an analytics tool to assess their website traffic, and many of these tools are free or close to it. CRM systems are also becoming essential. You can accomplish a lot by analyzing your web traffic using an analytics tool and diving deep into the prospects and customers in your CRM system.
4. Hire the right people.
Doing big data the right way not only requires having employees who are versed in implementing technology, but also have the analytical ability and the curiosity to gain the right insights from the data.
5. Make sure marketing and sales cooperate.
The place where marketing meets sales — that is, where marketing hands off qualified leads to sales — is ground zero for big data. It is the spot where a small business can generate huge gains by using data in the right way. Using data, marketing and sales can agree on what data constitutes good leads: Marketing won’t pass on leads that sales doesn’t want, and the sales department will follow up on the leads not worth pursuing.
Using big data is not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. When you’re using it, you have to measure its impact. The world is constantly changing, and so is the data that it creates. By measuring consistently, you can optimize your programs based on the latest data to deliver the best results.
If you start small and take incremental steps, big data doesn’t need to be intimidating — even for the smallest businesses. It shouldn’t cast a big shadow on your business; and it might just help you block the sun from shining on your competitors.
Sean Callahan is senior manager-content marketing at LinkedIn and a writer, most recently co-author of The Big Data-Driven Business: How to Use Big Data to Win Customers, Beat Competitors, and Boost Profits