Whatever your sector, you have probably come across the term ‘big data’. Big data is used by a growing number of businesses to improve customer service, modify a product or service, and generally forge ahead. As an SME, you may well be wondering if it is something that’s best left to the big boys. The good news is that you needn’t hang about on the sidelines. Whatever your company size, you can use big data insights to get a better understanding of your customers - and the way they interact with your business.
Laurie McCabe, an analyst with SMB Group agrees that size is no bar to using big data successfully. “Small businesses should be able to get to grips with data, putting it into action for successful business outcomes. Every business has its blind spots and big data analytics can help you identify them to make better decisions.”
Why use Big Data?
Businesses have always tracked customer data. Pre-internet, we used surveys, customer feedback forms, or simply counted customers as they walked in. These methods offered a rough indication of how many people were buying, and what they bought. If you placed an advert in a newspaper or on a billboard, you had no way of knowing who saw the advert or how they responded. If a customer walked into your shop, you didn’t know if was because they were passing by, or if they had seen your advert. Nor could you tell what it was about the product that prompted them to buy.
Today, big data offers clear insights into customer behaviour. You can track views of individual website pages, the number of unique visitors to your website, how long visitors spend on each page, time of sale, and a multitude of other data points that allow you to build a detailed picture of exactly who your customers are and how they behave.
More than Collecting Data
Big data is about much more than simply collecting data. Information itself is of limited use. Big data is all about deriving insights from the data and using them to benefit your business. Instead of guessing or relying on instinct, you know exactly where your customers are coming from, and why they act the way that they do. Much of the information you want is contained in the data you already have, or if not, can be easily collected.
To benefit fully from big data, you may need to invest in tools and training to learn how to analyse it correctly. Many small business owners assume that data analytics is complicated, expensive, or that it can only really be effective for a large corporation with a dedicated team of analysts crunching the numbers. The truth is that for smaller, niche businesses, big data can be even more useful than it is for larger companies.
Jim Bell, Head of Marketing at TIBCO Jaspersoft certainly thinks so. “Small or mid-sized companies that rely on machine-generated data, customer sentiment or mass personalisation to drive competitive advantage should apply Big Data solutions. Larger companies that rely on a less data-driven competitive advantage might not have as much of a need for it,” he says.
Collect the Right Data
Everyday interactions with your customers will produce mountains of data. A lot of it may well be interesting, useful even, but must of it will have no bearing on your business success. If you try to collect it all, you will soon be overwhelmed with no time to analyse it, let alone act on the insights you glean. Start by concentrating on a few key metrics and look for data that will help to boost your revenue or reduce business costs. Exactly what data you should collect will depend on the nature of your business.
If you sell products, you’ll want to know:
- Which products sell best
- Who buys them
- When do they buy
- Why do they buy
If you run public events, you might look at:
- Days that are most popular for events
- Months of the year that attract the highest attendance
- Reasons people give for attending
Information such as this can, of course, be gathered without expensive data analysis tools. The tools you need may already be included in Microsoft Office or QuickBooks accounting software, for instance. You could use the ‘trending tool’ that comes with QuickBooks to compare your company with similar operations.
Such information can positively change your business operations. You can start targeting people most likely to buy. You can organise events at times when you know they will be most popular. You can arrange extra staff cover when you know you will be busiest.
These simple tools are a good place to start but to delve deeper, consider some of the more advanced tools on offer. Few big data tools are cheap, and most of them require dedicated personnel to really benefit from them. If you’re a large corporation, buying the tools might be the way to go, but opting for a cloud-based solution usually makes more sense for SMEs. With managed SaaS (Software as a Service), you will only be paying for the services that you use, rather than purchasing an expensive software package packed with features you will never need.
Seize the Data!
Big data has the potential to benefit your SME, but it’s important to weigh the gains of a data-driven change against the costs of such a change. By making the right changes to your business operations, you can improve productivity, increase sales, and more accurately target your customers. Don’t be left behind in this big data rush, as your data holds secrets that can help your business thrive. If you don’t seize the benefits of big data to gain a competitive advantage, you can be sure that your competitors will.
If you are considering investing in how you manage data, Linked Finance can help. We can provide loans to fund new software, consultants, recruitment or any other investment that might help you get more from your business data.