While we’ve been hearing about Big Data and its virtues for several years now, many small business owners and entrepreneurs have yet to begin to explore and harness their data. While corporate giants such as Discovery, Momentum and FNB are effectively leveraging massive amounts of data to fine-tune marketing and sales efforts, the majority of SMEs probably haven’t even started…
In many instances, this is simply because small business owners are caught up in the daily struggle of keeping their businesses afloat and growing ahead of inflation – and are thus, by default, wedded to their existing systems and processes. Also, many of the tools, platforms and resources that bigger businesses use to harness Big Data are perceived to be too expensive, and therefore out of reach.
Fortunately, while this may have been true several years ago, the landscape has changed. Now, there are numerous, often cloud-based, affordable software tools that are excellent at producing real-time and commonly used reports that suit most business owners.
For example, Salesforce is a sales-focused CRM (customer relationship management) system which, when used properly, will let you see which of your marketing efforts produced the most successful leads – or determine which of your salespeople aren’t covering their salaries. Microsoft Dynamics is a CRM platform which is highly customizable and can integrate with other software tools like your accounting system to show profitability per product – or profitability per customer.
While these kinds of reports have been around for some time, their capabilities are new – and in many instances, transformative. In the past, for example, you would often only get a report at the end of the month. Now, with the right tools, you should be able to see these reports at any time…with up-to-the-minute information.
Notably, these reports are just the default ones. Today’s savvy business owners should be asking for much more insightful reports, using questions such as, “are there trends which result in a customer cancelling?”; or “what trackable events result in a customer increasing his/her spend with us?”
Indeed, in this fast-paced era of disruption and global competition, asking these types of questions, and getting the answers in real-time, could likely spell the difference between major success and epic failure.
How, you ask?
Well, if an armed response company finds out, for instance, that when a customer gets feedback after more than four hours of lodging a query, they are 50% more likely to cancel, then the security company could make sure that when this happens, they send a gift to apologize and convince them to stay. Or, if an insurance company discovers that 70% of couples who get engaged will most likely investigate life insurance for the first time, they could offer a discount to entice them to buy their insurance products. Maybe a voucher is given to anyone buying an engagement ring?
Software at your fingertips
For business owners who can ask the right questions, or be prepared to get help to ask the right questions, Big Data can be rocket fuel for growth and profitability. And increasingly, the right tools are at your fingertips. Take Microsoft’s PowerBI, for example, which can delve into almost any type of database and query it in almost any way you want!
However, if you don’t know what to ask, this can still be a challenge, and that’s where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in. There are software companies, Microsoft included, who are working on basic AI that will try and find trends and questions for you. The core idea is that trends may exist which you’ve never even thought of, but which a software program could spot and report on. Maybe, for example, once a program like this determines the actual cost of selling and supporting a product, it makes you realize you shouldn’t sell it anymore. Or, perhaps, that a certain subset of customers are more trouble than they’re worth. Currently, this type of AI is still not advanced enough to produce reliable results, but it’s getting there fast.
At a time when business success is determined by agility, efficiency and responsiveness to customers, every business owner should be harnessing data to inform their strategy, at every level!