In our guest post series, we’ll be bringing you advice and tips from industry experts on the other, sometimes non-marketing-related issues affecting local business owners. Today’s post comes from John Keene, the founder of acuere software, the creators of serviceminder.io.
When you head to the Walmarts to make a major purchase, you’ve researched the brands, the features, the costs and so you know you’re getting a good deal.
Why don’t you put that much research into running your business?
Collecting the Data
Small businesses can generate a lot of useful data through the course of just turning the crank. Sales figures, cost information and miscellaneous expenses. You’re probably already tracking all of that in QuickBooks or something similar so that, if nothing else, you can balance your checkbook and pay taxes. You can also categorize some of the data automatically using your chart of accounts. It’s important to use your chart of accounts so that you can break down different kinds of sales for comparative purposes. But don’t make too many accounts… any income accounts should see activity every month. If it doesn’t, roll that account up into something more general.
Financial data almost happens by accident because there’s not much friction – but there’s a lot more data available to collect in a typical service business.
Other Types of Data
If you’re doing estimates or proposals for customers, there’s a tremendous amount of useful data availble. There’s the obvious things like how much the proposal was for and did the customer decide to buy or not. Tracking this for sold deals is easy — it just shows up in your accounting system. But what about all the deals you didn’t get? You should track every proposal, whether it closed or not, how much it was for if it didn’t close, how long does it take on average to close a deal and what’s your average proposal valued at. If you have multiple sales people, track who wrote it also. If you record all of this, you can do things like compare your close rate for this year versus last year. You can find out if the new guy is selling better or worse than your company average. Are you pitching bigger deals than last year? Is it taking longer to close deals? If you also track where the leads came from, you can also compare sales and close rates between different channels, such as direct mail versus online.
Appointment data is another treasure trove of useful information. You should track every estimate or service delivery appointment. Track who did them as well as how long they took. With this information, you can help validate your pricing… are you charging enough to cover how many hours it takes to deliver the service? How efficient is your estimating process? If your pitching bigger deals, maybe spending more time on the estimates is OK.
One of the great benefits of a field service business is you know exactly where your customers and prospects are, because they’re asking you to come to them to do the work. Geocoding is the process of taking address data and encoding it so it’s easy to display on a map. Once your customer data is geocoded, you can easily visualize what part of town or in what neighborhoods you have a good concentration, as well as new areas you need to develop. Zip or city data helps, but even zip codes can be pretty large. Mapping lets you plan direct mail or other local level advertising with pinpoint accuracy. Another benefit is whenever you look at a new prospect, if your data is geocoded, you can tell that prospect exactly who you did work for in their neighborhood.
Making Data Capture Automatic
When looking for tools to automate your business, choose one that makes data collection as painless as possible. If collecting data causes friction, you won’t do it and you’ll be back to the hunch. serviceminder.io was designed to track all of this with a painless and efficient paperless workflow. You can certainly use a mix of paper and paperless, but paper adds friction to the process and so your data may not be as accurate or you’re paying more for it because someone has to do data entry. We track all of the data described here and also geocode every single contact that’s added.
Use the Data
Reporting and visualization is where data comes alive. Use your proposal close data to help your new sales guys get better. Use upsell data from appointments to help your service delivery crew sell more services on site. Find out what crews work faster so you can share their techniques with slower crews to make everything more efficient. Companies with good processes make more money.
Hunches are great — when they’re right. Hunches that are vetted and proven based on real data are awesome. Collect the data, analyze your business and grow it based on what you see, not what you think.
John Keene is a founder at acuere software, the company behind the innovative field service business management platform serviceminder.io. With a background in both software-as-a-service and field service businesses, John enjoys using technology to solve real-world business problems problems. Living in sunny Plano, TX, he also loves playing guitar and discovering new awesome fonts.