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It seems you can’t read anything marketing related these days without encountering at least one mention of ‘Big Data’, the latest ‘it’ thing that helps businesses to build a single view of the customer for better business efficiency and greater sales and marketing success. But the smaller business can often be overwhelmed or put off investing in data analysis – after all, the thought of having to fund massive data warehouses with enough hardware and bandwidth to cater for zetabytes of data and the teams of analysts needed to interpret all of the information produced is enough to give any SME owner palpitations. Sometimes it’s less about the resources needed to make use of Big Data and more about where to begin – with data available in large quantities, how do you know that you’re working with the right data and how do you turn the insight generated into actions that will have a positive impact on the business? The good news is that it’s possible to start small with Big Data, working in an incremental way to slowly build up how you use customer data and insight to develop your customer centric sales and marketing activity that will have a positive effect on your business.

What is a single view of the customer and why do you need it?

Let’s start at the beginning. You won’t appreciate the full value of Big Data if you don’t really understand why having a single customer view is important. At its most basic a single view of your customer is an aggregated representation of all of the data relating to their engagements with your business, including online, social and offline interactions. Having a single customer view allows you to develop a better understanding of them and, as a result of the analysis of their behaviours, interactions and purchases, enables you to better target your sales, marketing and customer service to their individual preferences.

From your marketing team’s point of view, having a single unified view of customer data helps them to create customer segments based on an advanced understanding of the customer as well as identifying what messages customers are likely to respond to, which media they prefer and the best time to issue campaigns to generate leads. For your sales team, it allows them to understand what products the customer is interested in or have already bought, where they are in the sales funnel and even how satisfied they are with the product they’ve bought or service they’ve received.

An additional benefit is that the intelligence you gather from having a single view of your customer will build trust in your brand – preventing the creation of negative thoughts or emotions about your brand is just as powerful as enforcing positive ones. For example, how many times have you been annoyed by retail brands who send you emails to encourage you to buy that item you were looking at on your laptop after you’d bought it using your mobile device? The simple fact that the retailer doesn’t have data that is joined-up enough to know that you’ve already made the purchase is enough for you to consider going elsewhere for similar purchases next time.

Where to start…

First of all, understand that the fundamental basis to your approach shouldn’t be to focus on the data itself. Rather, it’s about knowing what impact having the data will have on your business and processes – on what you want to achieve. It’s pointless collecting any information at all if you’re not going to do anything with it. Knowing what you actually want to achieve can help you to identify what data you need to gather and what you’ll do to generate the insights you need. Remember that you’re working on an incremental basis, so you don’t need to establish an exhaustive list to begin with. Instead, start out by focusing on a few key objectives. As you complete each round – identifying what needs improving, establishing the data needed to support the required analysis, capturing the information, doing the analysis, implementing the required actions, understanding what impact the changes had and feeding this into further changes – you can move onto your next objective, and then the next and so on.

Audit what you have…

You also need to understand how the data you’re collecting fits together – for this you should audit the systems and software that you have in use and the data that you’re collecting. Are you duplicating information across multiple systems? Could you bring individual data silos together? Start to think about rationalising the systems that you have in use – for many, the CRM will be the central database of a business’s operation and arguably could provide enough information about the customer to provide the answers to those questions that you have about them. Don’t forget that, if you choose to roll your CRM out across the whole of your business, it needs to provide the answers to questions that’ll be asked by every discipline within the business – if it doesn’t, be prepared to work with your supplier to develop bespoke elements or integrate services such as billing systems. If you have your own development team, bespoking elements of a CRM needn’t be cost intensive.

…And determine what you don’t

At this point you should consider what additional information you need to collect. Are you collating data on the efficacy of your email marketing and how your customers engage with your business on social media? Are you using marketing automation to build workflows to automatically send marketing communications based on actions taken or not taken by your customer or prospect? Again, do these services integrate with your preferred central database?

It’s not just about the C-suite

Our final tip for getting started with data analysis is to remember to get the information – presented in an accessible way – to those that can act on it. This means your front line staff (customer services, technical support, sales execs etc) as well as those in the boardroom. Ensuring that everyone across your business is responsible for actioning the insights generated by your data analysis is the very first step to making your business truly customer-centric.

Have your say!

Have you been overwhelmed by the prospect of managing data analysis for your business, or not known where to start? Or are you already successfully using data analysis to improve your business processes for customer acquisition and retention? We’re interested to hear about your experiences so please leave us a comment below.

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