How Can Small Businesses Use Data?
What sets ‘Ma and Pop’ grocery stores apart from nationwide grocery chain stores?
It’s the feeling you get when you walk in and the produce manager yells a greeting to you by name. It’s the familiarity of having your cashier ask about your Golden Retriever and when they might see you at the dog park again. It’s that level of connection that keeps you coming back every other Saturday morning for groceries, even though you drive past two regional grocery chain stores with cheaper prices and more convenient access.
One of the biggest value differentiators for small businesses is being able to truly know their customers. Data is now allowing global businesses the same opportunity to deliver a personalized experience. Small businesses are facing stiff competition in this arena and you don’t have the margins to compete on price.
Location-based data specific to consumers is arguably the treasure trove of tomorrow’s business. The ability to track, document, and analyze a person’s driving habits, commuter routes, demographics, consumer locales, and time frames for all of these recorded activities is priceless to businesses. GPS-tracking is being used regularly in every smartphone around the world. Geo-tracking is the ability to track any device in real time, such as Pokémon. We have expanded geo-tracking into wearables, browsers, kiosks, and other user-friendly technology.
Imagine a world where you’re standing on a street corner and a city bus passes in front of you with a personalized ad for a piece of clothing that fits your style and the coming season. This experience is possible because your phone is sharing your geolocation, social media profile, and other data in real time. This is the reality of today.
It’s virtually impossible for any of us to stay current with all the potential data that’s generated for our businesses, let alone our personal lives. An estimated 90 percent of all data generated is unstructured, including photos on your smartphone, social media interactions, customer transaction trends, and more. Data overload is also a side effect of our current reality. While this is a challenge, it can be solved and turned into great profit.
Become a Client Whisperer…
Data allows you to be a client whisperer. The right data points help you see client needs before your client ever realizes the need is there. If you’re a financial advisor, knowing that a client is due with their first baby in October means you may want to track when the delivery is so you can send a congratulations card, a piggy bank, and information about setting up a college fund. This is turning data into real-life, profit-driving action.
Track The Effect Of Any Changes
The second part of making data-driven changes is tracking the effect of your changes on your business success. What is the impact of eliminating a specific time frame for client appointments? Were the select few clients who were available during that time frame also available at another time frame? Of the potentially affected clients, what is the value and social influence of each of those clients on the rest of your client base?
Make the changes, analyze the impact of those changes, and then make additional changes or confirmation from your analyses. This is a fluid process focused on optimal output based on your goals and objectives.
Tracking how your business operates down to the minutest detail creates market separation. Maintaining as much actionable data as possible on every one of your clients helps personalize your client interactions. Knowing what effect data-driven changes are having on your everyday operations and bottom-line revenue is what keeps businesses like yours ahead of global competitors.
How to start tracking business data
We know the importance of data and how it is shaping tomorrow… now what?
Step 1: Decide what data you would like to gather. I live by the concept that the more data, the better. I like to gather data on the following information at the core: contact information, personal information, social media information, web usage data, communication preferences, demographic data, hobbies and interests, family makeup, business data, consumer buying data, and any other data that would be helpful for your business. For example, a law firm needs to know the names of all of your beneficiaries and contact information.
Step 2: Collect as much data as possible. When I say collect, I don’t mean collecting data in your head. Gather data using a central system, like a CRM, that can integrate with the rest of your technologies.
Step 3: Engage in data cleanup and organization. While this might seem like a basic task, nothing could be further from the truth. If you talk to Data Scientists or Data Geeks, they will tell you the most time spent in the data world is on cleanup and organization. In fact, many say that 80% of their time is spent working with data on cleanup.
Step 4: Ask questions. What questions do you need or want to answer? What decision are you in the midst of needing to make? Do you need to hire more staff? Build out more space? Develop a new product? Change the hours you are open? Get rid of one product so you can focus on another product? Those are just a few of the questions that data can help you answer, providing you the clarity and peace of mind you need. You need to know you have all the information possible to understand the impact of any decision you make.
Step 5: Summarize and visualize the data. We are summarizing our data and reporting on it in this step. In other words, if we want to know how much revenue we did last year in September versus this year in September, we should have a report that clearly shows us that information.
Step 6: Identify actionable insights. Once we have summarized the data, we now use the data to provide actionable insights. We did some consulting for a dental practice that was considering if it was time to expand their space. After looking at the summary data, we found that while they were close to capacity, the type of patients they were serving wasn’t in line with their ideal patient. So, instead of building out more space, they first needed to focus their efforts on finding more of their ideal patients. We were able to provide clarity using data to make actionable insights.
Step 7: Implement advanced analytics and modeling. Being a data geek, this is one of my favorite parts of this whole process. While summary data and actionable insights are extremely helpful in providing us clarity and peace of mind, advanced analytics and modeling is what can propel us into innovation. In the previous story of the dental practice looking for more ideal patients, we developed a model that would help schedule appointments based on an algorithm we developed.
The purpose here is to not only provide actionable insights but also make it as easy as possible for the company to focus its efforts in the most direct way possible. This occurs while gaining valuable insights and improving automatically along the way. Automatically?… How is that possible? We can make baseline assumptions through machine learning and modeling and then let the data tell us how accurate we are and suggest any modifications into our models. This process is fascinating to say the least.