Business and Big Data
“Big Data” is a new business buzzword floating around that is used to describe the massive, truly massive volumes of both structured and unstructured data that is so large it’s difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques.
We’re talking data consisting of billions to trillions of records of millions of people multiplied by a ton of different sources (e.g. Web, sales, customer contact center, social media, mobile data and so on). Really, really BIG data. And because this data comes from and in so many different formats, it can tremendously difficult to cut, slice and analyze.
Trust me when I say that big data is for big business.
But what about small data?
Is data any less overwhelming to the small business owner?
In the brick and mortar world, there are the financials that determine the bottom line.
Then there is the customer data, sales calls, purchases and customer service interactions.
There is also the ROI data relative to advertising and promotional efforts.
Then one adds into the mix the online world of web analytics such as how many website visitors, bounce rates, keywords used to find the site.
Then there is the email data concerning the open rates, the click-through rates and the subscribe and unsubscribe rates.
There is the A/B split testing data to identify which ads or emails pulled and which flopped.
Add to this the social media and online interactions including Facebook Insights, Google+, Twitter and/or Hoot Suite reports, YouTube viewing results, mobile campaigns, iTunes, Instagram, SlideShare and the social media bookmarking sites into the mix and one can begin to feel the data volume level rising to around the neck area.
But what is truly troubling about any discussion around data – big or small – is that the unfortunate truth is few business owners – offline or online – actually bother to use the small data they already have easy access to.
Why does data matter?
Because it is data that provides the business owner with direction. Think of it as a gold mine of information. It gives insights into customers behaviors, their tendencies. It shows what worked and what didn’t work. It gives glimmerings to trends that when tracked can show a competitive advantage. It takes the guesswork out of business decisions.
Not only does data drive a business forward, it also drives its marketing efforts. Data is the magic fairy dust that can turn mediocre marketing results into raving successes.
But none of this happen unless one captures, studies and takes action based upon the data.
Without data the business owner is truly flying blind. They can only guess at what might work. They can only cross their fingers and hope that their marketing efforts will produce some positive results.
Face it. That is no way to run a business, at least not a successful business.
I’ve worked for and with many different types of businesses – from large corporations to small ma and pa. Every last one of them ignored the data that was in front of them.
A business owner doesn’t need BIG data to effectively manage its business and its marketing more effectively. It just needs to identify the select pieces of data that will define success.
How to get the data?
For the small business owner, none of this is difficult. Most businesses already have some data capturing already built into the business operations through packages such as QuickBooks or CRM systems. Yet, many have overlooked the need to add their online efforts into their overall business goals.
Another problem is while the data sits there, many business owners never bother to put the data into a format that will help them understand what is or isn’t happening so they can take the necessary action to move the business forward.
Here is a quick cheat sheet to get you going. You can use a fancy excel spreadsheet or a yellow pad. I’ve also provided an example of how this might look in Excel at the end of this post. The form doesn’t matter. What matters is that you capture the data and analyze it with some predetermined frequency and take action on what the data is telling you.
Across the top of your spreadsheet or yellow pad, write down each of your specific business goals.
Want more customers? Creating a new product to offer to your customers? Want to grow your email subscriber list? Want new visitors to your website? Seeking more engagement online?
List your specific goals across the top.
What are your measurements of performance for that business goal?
Moving down the far left-hand side of your form, identify the specific raw data that will measure your success for each of your business goals. If your goal is to have new customers, then you’ll track the raw number of new customers.
If you want to increase the size of your email subscriber base, you’ll track the number of new email subscribers and so forth.
What is your data source for that specific measure?
Again, moving down the far left column, identify your source for this data. If you’re measuring the number of email subscribers, your source will probably be your email service provider data. Measuring the numbers of returns? You’ll probably need to use your accounting system to keep track of this data.
How frequently will you capture and analyze the data?
Further down the column, identify the frequency with which you will capture and evaluate your data. You’ll want to evaluate some data weekly, while evaluating other data on a monthly or quarterly basis will be sufficient.
Measure your Progress
Under Frequency, write “Progress”. Here, you will measure your progress as a percentage of complete. If your business goal was to sign-up 20 new customers and you’ve signed-up 5 this month, then you are 25% of your goal.
Measure the %age of Change
Under Progress, write “Change”. Here, you will measure the percentage of change over your benchmark. As an example, 5 additional customers could represent an 22% increase over your current customer count. This will tell you if the steps you are taking to achieve your goal are going in the right direction.
Here is a sample Excel spreadsheet to follow.
You can get fancy with your data by creating dashboards, pivot tables, cool graphs, gas gauges and charts. But none of that will matter, if you don’t take action on the data you are tracking.
Bottom Line on Data
Get familiar with your small data. Make buddies with your data. Listen to it. Spend time with it. Learn from it. And then take action so your business will grow and prosper be it online or brick and mortar.
What types of data are you tracking for your business? What insights have you discovered using data? What are some of your concerns about tracking data for your business?
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