Small Business – Big Data
You’ve probably heard the buzz about the benefits of business intelligence (BI) technology for small to medium sized businesses. But to use BI, you have to have data. Fortunately, you don’t need that much.
Sure, “big data” is a hot topic for enterprises, but, unless you count product sales in the hundreds of millions, “small data” is often plenty. It’s not like having fewer data points means your data isn’t informative. Value comes from connecting multiple data sets, of any size, to discover correlations.
In reality, you likely have at least one of the following four things in your business model, and any of them will suffice as a starting point for insightful data analytics.
Web data comes in the form of visitor counts, location information, visit dates and times, bounce rates, mobile phone or desktop, click behavior, and more.
Point-of-sale (POS) system
POS systems record purchase quantities, purchase times and dates, groupings (peanut butter with jelly), use of discounts and coupons, etc.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software
CRM software not only keeps all your customer information and in some cases your interaction with those customers, but are also capable of importing external data sets of potential customers in your market.
If you have a storefront, people walk into your store. And if people walk into your store and don’t buy anything, then any data you could have collected from them is lost, unless you have a “people counting” tool. These come in the form of cameras or sensors and can track how many people enter and exit your facility, whether they come in groups or individually, and can even be set up to follow a customer’s path through the store.
Comparing and combing different data sets often reveals unexpected patterns in customer behavior. One example of such comes from the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, which was trying to increase their ticket sales and market efforts. After implementing a business intelligence tool to track online sales numbers, they discovered 32 percent of their ticket sales occurred between 8pm and 4am. Using this information, the Zoo was able to target specific demographics, and tailor their offers in order to increase sales.
Here’s a few tips to help you get started on leveraging your own company’s data resources.
Start Tracking Website Analytics
If you don’t have a website, free do-it-yourself tools such as Weebly and Squarespace are easy enough for anyone to set up. These platforms often also set up web analytics for you automatically, but Google Analytics is also a great option for tracking your site activity.
Collect All the Data You Can
Larger organizations can naturally be more hands on, but there are plenty of passive forms of data collection. For starters, try accessing public data sets (data.gov, sba.gov, etc.) to find broader market trends that you can compare to any internal data you collect. Examine software you already use (POS, CRM, ERP, etc.) for data you can extract. You can also experiment with online questionnaires for voluntary customer opinions (aka data). A variety of easy — and free — options abound for surveying customers, including Formstack and SurveyMonkey.
Organize Your Data
Every person, department, or company will need to experiment in this area to find out what works best for them and their analytics goals. Research what BI software others in your industry are using, then test out different options. If you aren’t ready for a full-service BI platform, it’s usually best to input data in Excel or a rival spreadsheet application to keep your data consistent and organized. This will also allow you to quickly important your data into BI software later as your company matures.
Discipline in managing execution and expectations is necessary in the early phases of data strategy, especially when it comes to ensuring any strategy aligns with your key performance indicators and business goals. It’s important for a company to monitor how much time data-related tasks take for those involved, leading to a potential cost/benefit analysis to make sure the strategy is delivering desired results based on its time and expense. Long term patterns often offer the best actionable insight, so results can’t be expected overnight.
However, making an investment and formulating a strategy around data analytics can lead to more informed and targeted decisions for your business overall.
(Image Source: Shutterstock)
By Keith Cawley