Big data is critical to business success because it provides leadership with important insights and information. Large enterprises use sophisticated systems to track data and often have internal analysts on their team to crunch their numbers. Or, they hire outside experts to do it for them. Yet any enterprise can take advantage of big data, no matter their size, especially if you re-frame your definition of “big.” You can use your data to better understand your customer needs and buying patterns to further develop strategies that could impact sales. Insights like those developed with data become amazingly useful to any size enterprise!
Slay Your Fears!
You’ve heard some people say, “I’m really not a numbers person.” Perhaps they use this as their excuse for avoiding using data, much less big data, because they might feel reluctant to dive in and give it a try. You do not need an MBA or finance degree to begin working with the data associated with your business, regardless of its size. Anyone can learn and understand at least a couple of the key metrics that impact how they operate and what drives financial success.
If you are reluctant to launch into data analytics, being with some baby steps. Start by identifying two or three key metrics you want to better understand about your business or your customers. Once you have these key metrics identified, then focus on getting the data you need to help better understand what drives these metrics and how you can use the data to increase your enterprise performance. Then those metrics become the fundamentals that shape your thinking about your business strategies and what you need to do to better achieve your business goals.
Focus on how the data you have or can gather links to your business strategies. The key is to search for the critical data metrics that influence decision making. Look for the information that provides you with insight on the variables that impact your revenue and profitability.
Use the Information and Tools You Already Have
You do not need a complicated computer system or major data management firm to figure out what you are already using in your business for data capture. Frankly, many organizations are not fully utilizing the existing software they already have to gather basic information.
Frequently, software programs have the capability to export information into analytical programs such as Excel. Once the data is put into an analytic format, you can do all sorts of data evaluation based on key variables such as customer demographics, profitability, geographic location, purchasing patterns, buying volume, etc. Reviewing data points for various time horizons provides a comparison to see how much is changing during different time periods. Engaging in analytical assessments of your data often provides valuable information on shifts in your target market and identifies new sales opportunities. You might even uncover areas of business vulnerability before they cause major challenges.
Many companies do not fully access the information they have already obtained about their customers. Taking time to input detailed information into a Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system can be a first step. Consolidate the insight from your other information systems to develop a comprehensive customer profile. Then drill down into the information on your customers and tie them to financial measurements such as sales volume, degree of profitability or key target marketing variables.
It is not uncommon for smaller enterprises to have their most valuable customer information written down on sheets of paper or in someone’s head. If you enter your data into a CRM or Excel, you establish the foundation for a more robust data assessment. Then you can begin to pull insights by looking carefully at key variables. You will have a more effective way of targeting your desired consumers as you drill down deeper into the data to see which customers are most valuable to your business. You will be able to make better decisions if you are using thoughtfully mined data. You will also minimize the vulnerability to not having good information to work with if a key employee becomes ill or leaves.
Create Metrics and Dashboards
When you begin working with data, it is essential to create metrics and dashboard reports focusing on the key information so it can be tracked on an on-going basis. Then set up the mechanisms and policies that ensure it is tracked by your employees. Holding your team accountable for reliably gathering the data and tracking it in a timely manner are also important steps to effectively use data.
You can certainly do some of this work yourself, but it might be even better for you to loop in your key employees who are better skilled than you at putting it together. Then you can review the information and draw conclusions.
Another option is to work with an outside consultant who does this all the time and is not going to struggle with a learning curve. Outside experts can help you discover details you might have overlooked while managing the enterprise day-to-day. You are likely to gain better insights – and move much faster – by bringing in outside expertise for a short duration engagement rather than trying to struggle through setting it up by yourself. It is not a cliché that “time is money.” Invest in learning from an expert and then take it over once you develop the foundational skills and have gained some confidence in your own abilities.
Learning to leverage data is essential to impacting the growth and success of any business. As you become more comfortable using your initial metrics, you can add on additional key metrics. Using a disciplined approach and continue to look for more metrics to measure. Have fun with it! You will soon have a robust data management system that you and your team can use to more effectively manage your business and your customer relationships. This will provide you with new pathways for business growth and enhanced success.
Jill J. Johnson, MBA, is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than $4 billion worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.