By now, you’ve probably heard a million times how essential data has become to the success of your business. But, oftentimes it can be intimidating to incorporate data collection and analysis into your current processes, technology, and systems. It can feel like a tough barrier, with costly software required and so few solutions offering an all-in-one service that meets all your needs and requirements. Or, perhaps you know your business should be making an effort to become more data-driven, but with so many myths and misconceptions swirling around the topics of data collection and how smb's can use data to grow their businessusage, you’ve decided to postpone. While privacy and security are certainly concerns, SMB’s should not be deterred from utilizing data.

In a recent webinar we conducted with Forrester, Senior Analyst serving Customer Insights, Brandon Purcell, discussed a quote from the World Bank that encapsulates this struggle, “we’re drowning in data, and starving for insight.” Data is useless if not clean, precise, and applied. In this week’s post we’re demystifying the ways in which businesses can get started and benefit from actioning data on the local level.

Decoding Customer Insights

Really, when you think of it the digital data that you hear so much about in 2017 is no different than the types of records that have been kept since the advent of trade and commerce began. Though no longer housed in ledgers, scrolls, or file cabinets, the digitizing of data has broken down barriers to accessing and actioning it, and empowered businesses to gain more insight into the motivations and buying behaviors of their target customers.

Customer insights are like the gold buried within your data” – Brandon Purcell, Forrester

Data is really just information that your customers provide you with already. It just takes commitment to tracking and listening to what they’re trying to tell you. Although it is too often thought of as a power reserved for big brands with big resources, data can be even more potent on the local level, because SMB’s are more agile and plugged in. Without needing to solve for the enormous scale of customers, across multiple locations and countless demographic factors, such as region, median income, etc.

It may come as no surprise then, that HBS found in a recent study that when provided access to relevant datasets, small businesses not only, “benefited from the precision offered by customer data, but also that exposure to data encouraged owner-managers to share insights with employees and get them involved in companies’ competitive thinking.” Who knows your customers better than you? You might be on the first-name basis with various individual customers, families or subsets therein, but it’s impossible for any owner to keep track of their less frequent patrons.Data helps to understand your customers better, and can help you stay updated on everything that matters to them, so  you can continue to provide them with delightful experiences. But it can also help tap into their buying and sharing psychology so your promotion and customer marketing efforts bring you more value.

Identifying Areas of Opportunity

Data can also be utilized to help companies adapt or address any opportunities for improvement (of a service or product offering), and stay ahead of coming trends. There are various types of data that local businesses can action, such as:

  • Engagement data from the emails and text message marketing your business utilizes
  • Call and visit data
  • Pathway data from the way customers navigate your physical location
  • Transaction data
  • Customer service cases or logs
  • Social media (through social listening technologies, or analytics provided by individual networks)
  • Website form fills
  • Feedback and review data

Through the systematic collection of feedback, you can respond to address any concerns or criticisms and also encourage any laudatory remarks, so that they become public reviews that can sway future prospects’ buying decisions. Monitor your online reputation closely, and compile data on competitors in your area. Do your ratings outrank them? These are taken into account by search engines when deciding which results to display, especially when it comes to the “local pack” that spotlights the consumer’s “best options” in the area. Maintaining a high rating (4/5 stars and above) should be a priority and something that is always on your radar. Listen to the feedback that customers provide, and always look for ways to improve service, and keep them engaged and happy. Responding to feedback, and thanking them for taking the time to submit it, is always appreciated and allows you to form a connection with a personal touch.

Data can also help you to optimize day-to-day operations. Zero in on areas where efficiency can be increased, remove redundancies and unnecessary items by keeping your finger to the pulse of your business, and be able to evaluate your efforts (whether marketing or operational) better so you know where to double down and where the expense is not worth the return. Of course, this means different things for different types of business, for retail it can be real-time insight into inventory, trends on specific items being purchased and avoid missed opportunity costs when they’re out of stock.

It could also help better manage projects, so you can have visibility into their status at any time, for contractors or home services professionals. Finally, it can also inform staffing, and provide insight into performance metrics, so there’s increased accountability and you can ensure all your employees are representing your business well, and being top notch brand ambassadors to your clients and customers. Data can even optimize the routes employees take throughout the day to minimize travel time, and save resources.

Expand Revenue Streams

Data can also help keep business owners and stakeholders informed of coming trends, so they can get ahead and prepare, adapt their current business offerings or model, and reap the benefits. It’s important to link online and offline behaviors, so you can maintain a “single customer view” and have comprehensive, centralized insights into customer motivations and behaviors. Cross-reference this behavior against external conditions, such as seasonality, weather, and economic conditions to make powerful connections between the two that can help forecast future behaviors, and allow you to better prepare. It can also help inform new revenue streams, by guiding the expansion of services or product lines.

You can also use data from loyalty programs to help inform future plans. In the HBS study referenced earlier, data helped SMB’s to know who their target customer is, and broadened the discussion and strategizing, so these ideas are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing data to effectively grow your business.

Proven results

At Signpost we believe that data is essential, but beyond the applications listed above it becomes increasingly difficult to capture, analyze and action, especially for smaller organizations. That’s why we invented Mia, who automatically captures valuable data, such as customer contact info from calls, emails, and transactions, as well as engagement data across a variety of email and text marketing campaigns. She then automatically actions this data to ensure your customers receive the most relevant and personal communications that improve the chances of converting them to a new or loyal customer and driving more value to your business. Schedule a free demo to learn more about how she’s leverages 400 million data points on over 45 million American consumers to deliver powerful outcomes.