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3 How a Small Business Can Benefit from Big Data

Big data is a hot topic these days. Just about every conference speaker I see mentions it at least once or twice in their presentation, particularly if there are big brands in the audience.

But how can a small business benefit from something that seems so conceptual, so “I need an IT department and several data analysts?”

To me the easiest way for small businesses to benefit from any concept is to figure out how they can make it practical and useful in their world. While your small business may not be able to benefit from the fact that consumers in Seattle seem to prefer strawberry yogurt during the month of September more than blueberry, with the exception of Bellevue, where they seem to like plain vanilla, you might be able to use some of the free tools available to get a jump on your competition through a more informed content strategy.

It’s all just big data, but this is how you make is useful for your world.

Here’s an example to get you started.

Let’s say you’re an online seller of softball bats and you know Amazon and eBay and other bigger, more entrenched players represent some pretty stiff competition. How could you turn to big data to get a leg up?

First step – stop on by Google Correlate and do a little digging into search trends. You already know that your product is very seasonal in nature so it’s pretty easy to know that come nice Spring weather searches for softball bats are going to spike. Of course, your competitors know this and they’re ready when you are.

What you learn though is that there is an equally strong spike in searches for things related to “softball leagues” that occurs several weeks before bat searches. Seems that people want to find a league or team before they invest in equipment.

With this knowledge you can go to work on producing and amplifying content related to running a league, finding a league, coaching a team and so on, and gain a potential entry into your prospect’s journey to buying a bat far before others are on the path.

With a little more work on correlated searches you also learn that shortly after someone buys, receives and starts using their brand new softball bat they start to look for tutorials and instruction on how to hit with the darn thing.

With this knowledge you go to work on producing and amplifying content related to hitting like a monster so you can remain on your customer’s journey a little longer and earn referrals, repeat sales and share of friend.

leaguebeforebat

Using search correlation data in this highly cyclical business this softball bat seller learned that before people thought about buying a softball bat they thought about joining a team and league. By focusing on creating content that turned up for searches of league related info they were able to enter the customer’s journey earlier and dramatically increase both traffic and sales.

batthenlessons

Using the same correlation approach they learned that once someone bought a bat they soon searched for information on how to hit. By adding more hitting related content they were able to stay a part of the customer’s life for a longer period and increased things like reviews and social shares long after the purchase.

There are countless ways to start viewing big data through your small lens and there’s simply no reason to let the big guys have all the fun with it!

7 5 Ways for Small Business to Jump on the Big Data Train

The idea of something that’s being called “Big Data” has definitely reached the trend tipping point. Tech firms like are all about it. PR firms are forming teams to promote it and consulting firms have their business technology teams all over it.

So, what is it and what does it mean for small business.

tsuda via Flickr CC

The “what is it” part is pretty easy to explain in textbook terms, but the hype that’s currently surrounding the idea makes it much harder to bring down to practical application.

Initially the idea of Big Data applied to organizations that had such large data sets they could no longer work with them internally to analyze things like customer buying patterns.

The broader sense of this term and the one that is gaining steam of late is the ability to mine and analyze public data as a business opportunity. Google for example has been able to analyze the rise in the number of searches for flu related phrases to help the CDC pinpoint where to supply flu vaccine in near real time.

Companies are creating new tools such as Affectiva to help measure customer emotion and identify trends and opportunities based on social signals.

In many ways we’ve become a society of data producers – every email, tweet, blog post, status update, link, purchase, listen, download and review is generating data about what we think, how we act and maybe even what we want for breakfast.

The rush to make sense and profit from this information is driving a lot of the buzz surrounding Big Data.

But, here’s what I think this means for small business. While a great deal of the talk is centered on enterprise solutions there’s a great opportunity for small business to benefit from the coming set of tools and appliances aimed at helping us tap into the minds and data of the market.

1) More cloud integration – The adoption of cloud based tools for things like CRM, project management, file storage, backup, email, customer service and accounting means that integration of all of these various data set, even for the smallest of businesses, will become much easier.

The idea that everyone in the organization can have access to files that may live on a coworkers laptop or see customer history from inside an inbox is stuff that used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware, software and consulting time. Now this kind of access is becoming a cloud based solution that people tackling big data will make available to small organizations for very little investment.

2) Culture of measurement – Before access to more data will serve any purpose there needs to be a culture of measurement and analysis. Most small businesses don’t measure or lead based on objectives, goals and metrics.

Until a business of any size gets serious about listening to their customers, talking to their customers, and measuring every possible data and touch point, the promise of more data will only serve to distract.

Unless you get hooked on small data – things like routinely asking your customers what they think – big data is just more noise. In fact, what I call small data, actually talking to your customers, is a real advantage that small business have. I think some of the appeal of Big Data for large organization is that it shields them from actually having to interact with their customers.

The real value for the small business that builds a culture based on data will come when services like those from ClearStory that aim to help organizations integrate their own data with existing large public databases, become commonplace.

3) Know what you need answers to – Actually, we’ve always had access to reams of data, the real trick, and this will prove so for enterprise as well, is knowing what to make of the data. Proper analysis is more important than more data.

The trick for the small business is knowing what it is your trying to find out or knowing what answers you’re trying to find. One of the best ways to analyze data for a small business is to go into it looking for something.

Spend time up front asking your customers and your sales team about things they don’t have, things that don’t make sense, things that always bug the customer, and things that they are seeing and hearing more and more. This is how you make sense of trends that might come from research in public data sets like Google Insights and Google Public Data.

4) Walk before run – The first place you need to start is internally. Until you get a handle on your own data, you shouldn’t concern yourself with the cool new tools that might help you make sense of more data.

So, for most small businesses this is going to mean creating a dashboard of key metrics and installing tools that give you real time access to the data that would allow you to measure simple things like, leads generation, ad conversion, and cost to acquire a new customer.

Starting with some of the more robust web site analytics tools such SpringMetrics (a client) and KissMetrics is how you gain insight into this craft. Learning how to test and measure your ads, headlines and offers is an essential data collection starting point.

Like so many things about business, until you build a strong foundation based on real customer interaction, you can’t build on top of it with the latest and greatest.

5) Hire a numbers nerd – data mining and analysis is essentially math and, well, some people excel at math and some at art.

Every business needs a numbers person – the one that can look at what seems like a pile of unintelligible digits, charts and graphs and sees music. Look for a proliferation of data marketplaces like Infochimps to crop up and offer access to data integration in a candy store kind of way for your numbers person.

From a practical sense this person probably needs to also know how to install and write a little code, read a P/L and create processes that allow you to build, track and measure a sales pipeline, but find the right one and your business will change forever.

Hint: If you’re college right now think about data analysis as a major!