Leveraging SMALL DATA

One of the biggest trends in today’s tech market is BIG DATA. Although, every company is being pitched to use BIG DATA in their daily operations, you can start by actually using SMALL DATA more effectively.

I was trying to figure out this weekend how to articulate the use of big data in a small to mid-size companies technical landscape and a couple of thoughts came to mind. First of all, I am not sure small to mid-size companies use their existing data well. Some experiences I have had would lead me to believe there is a great untapped opportunity in this market place to just use the existing data sources more effectively.  Secondly, I am not convinced that the mid-size businesses will ever need big-data.   With those two assumptions, I put together some quick thoughts on how businesses might leverage what they have better.

Some examples of poor use of data in a small market.

Manual forms.

I am amazed every time I visit a doctor’s office and am required to fill out a form. First of all, my handwriting is atrocious, so they are in for a shocker when they do their transcription; however, the time it takes me to fill out the form manually and subsequent time it takes someone in the doctors office to re-key all of my information is absolutely a waste of time. I was here a couple of months ago; I filled out 98% of this information already, and by the way, you have my key pieces of data in your system already, for I don’t remember NOT getting billed for my last visit. Can you imagine the amount of time a doctor’s office would save if they just deployed a $299 wi-fi based iPad or another device to ‘verify’ the information they already have on file? Not to mention the ability to provide information to the patient checking in about how long the projected wait is, some tips on diet (customized to the patient’s current health issues, age, etc) + the ability for pharmaceutical companies to push drugs at that exact moment (not very tactful, but effective). The most important piece of information a company, be it a doctor’s office or a retail establishment, can have is a GREAT customer relationship management (CRM) system. These systems are critical in building long term customer relationships. Some advice if you are a small business. There are some good SaaS offerings that provide great customer relationship tools out there on the market place. Salesforce.com is the market leader; however, a quick Google search for ‘Customer Relationship Management Software as a Service’ will bring you hundreds of offerings, some tailored specially for your market. If nothing else, DON’T use Microsoft Excel to keep track of your customers. Spend an extra evening reading up on Microsoft Access and learn how to use a basic database. If you need help, email me and I will find you some quick resources to make that happen for you.

Connecting Social Media to your current customers.

One of the worst things I have seen is someone who was advised, ‘You need to have a social presence’ or ‘Every company has a Facebook page.’ The reality is, yes, all companies, with very few exceptions should be considering how to effectively leverage social media in today’s growing market. If you doubt this, check out how well Yahoo is doing compared to Facebook or LinkedIn with regard to advertising moneys. Five years ago, it was enough to put up a banner ad on Yahoo and Google and then pay for ‘clicks’ to drive customers to your web site. I honestly can’t ever remember clicking a banner for more ‘information’; however, there was a market for this just a few short years ago, but that market is rapidly shrinking. So, how does a small business effectively use social media? I will give you two examples of effective use of social media.

Poor Use:

A few months ago, my wife suggested that I check out a company that was advertising laser hair removal. As I have aged, the hair that once was on my head had made its way to my shoulders, and bless my wife’s heart, she suggested I spend the money and ‘get that taken care of.’ My wife had been hearing an ad on the radio about a company (well known chain) that was offering 45% off their services. Not knowing anything about the industry, I Googled their name, found a number and dialed their toll free line. I would have to say, I had a great experience on the phone. I am a pretty astute observer of great customer service, and without question, Erin gave me very good phone-based customer service. Used my name multiple times in the conversation, asked about why I was calling, later leveraging that reason in the close, offered me alternatives, committed to following up, etc. All great stuff. I made an appointment with this group for a consultation and showed up on Saturday at 10:00 that week, as to not miss this GREAT deal. The facility was nice, warm reception, comfortable chairs, and a free diet coke. (asked to fill out a long manual form, but outside of that, very good) I then went in for my consultation and was blown away by the estimate for my back and shoulders $8500 with the discount. Needless to say, I said I could hire someone for the next ten years once a month to shave my back and shoulders for that rate and kind bid farewell.

At no point, did Erin suggest I check out their Facebook page and see what customers are saying. If he did, I am pretty sure I would have never kept my appointment.

Great Use:

Bare Body Shop was an alternative choice in town. This new company took a different approach. First of all, when I called them, very good phone service, a little less formalized and less polished; primarily because they were just opening up. That being said, almost immediately I was asked to like out their facebook page to get some insight into what they were doing, specials, etc. I did that almost immediately and found a buzz that was hard to explain, seeing as the company hadn’t even had their ‘hard open’ yet. They had information, some testimonials, some information about their products and services, and most importantly, someone manning the desk to post, respond, and thank people for their feedback.

I signed up for their services on the first day I was there. Guess what I did when I got home that day? I went to their Facebook page and gave them a testimonial about their service, their prices, and gave them an outright comparison to their competition. Within minutes, I got a response from Bare Body Shop thanking me for taking the time to provide feedback and encouraged me to reach out if I had any questions, comments, etc. A week later, they posted an invitation for their ‘open house’ and amazingly, they got dozens of responses immediately about ‘can’t wait,’ ‘you guys are awesome’, etc. from their existing customers. All of this good will does amazing things when someone is checking them out compared to the competition.

I had a chance to speak with one of the owners and was impressed with the fact they had no experience in this arena and were learning Facebook and social media marketing as they go.

I will bet you $10 that they will put their competition out of business in the next 90 days. There is NO way for the competition to compete and it is too late for them to counter punch. Dead. Due to savvy social media, good prices, and a business model that makes sense.

Store traffic

If you haven’t installed a customer traffic counter to keep track of when people come into your store, you are missing out on one of the effective ways of increasing your sells. An example: my daughter is graduating from High School in three weeks. My wife and I were out this weekend to buy a new dress and suit for the festivities. My wife and I aren’t big shoppers, but she had found a couple of dresses she liked at the White House / Black Market.

First of all, they have their customer figured out. We spent 2 hours in the store as they worked my wife over from outfit to outfit, accessory to accessory until we found the dress. It was absolutely amazing to watch. As a man, I am pretty simple when it comes to buying something to wear. It took less than 10 minutes for me to find the suit I wanted, 2 minutes to measure and we were out of there. The entire experience for my wife was different. I liken it to the scene in Pretty Woman, where Richard Geer is watching them try dresses on Julia Roberts.  I am not kidding you, my wife was just extending her hand and boom, a bracelet was on the arm. I really was quite impressed.

The only observation I made during my two hours there was the number of customers who left without purchasing something; even though they had made the commitment to put something in their arms and ask for a dressing room. There were only four dressing rooms for the store and at any one time, there were 2-5 people waiting for a dressing room. Now, this is find at a standard retailer; where no one really helps you as you are changing, getting ready, etc. but at a higher end store, where a dress costs $200, it seems like getting someone into the store would be (Step 1), getting them to pick something up (Step 2), getting them in a dressing room (Step 3) and then getting them to try something on (Step 4) would be critically important to them. I know $1000 walked away from the store during the 2 short hours we were there if not MORE because people didn’t even come to the line because everyone was frustrated. It was a product of two things: Under-staffing (should be able to predict traffic better with traffic counts and a lack of facilities to try things on and Lack of effective design regarding the number of dressing rooms.

Both of these issues could have been resolved with a more effective forecasting mechanism for traffic.

Sales History

It is true.  Getting someone to spend money with you AFTER they have already spent money with you is easier than convincing someone new to give up the cash.

Mine your sales history for trends, work on identifying what people buy and map that to the location in the store. Do they have to go deep in the store to get the hot item, bringing them back by the rest of your merchandise?  Do you have typical families of purchases?  Are you leveraging the families?  Advertise and display typical families of purchases together.

If you really take some time, identify  what pieces of data you are able to capture from your PoS (point of sale), from your online presence, from you social media, from your store traffic, and your customer profiles, imagine what data you can put together?  Can you track someone’s social media search to their visit to the store to their purchase?  Can you identify why people are buying a specific product?  Is it price, time of year, does it solve a problem they have?

The more you know about your data, the more effective you are at creating sales pitches that make sense for your customers.

So, as we gather around the BIG DATA adventure pending for every business, take some time and think about how you can better use YOUR existing data to improve your operations.

Build an efficient KPI that forecasts demand more accurately, identify a set of metrics you can easily produce with your existing systems (online/social/traffic) and track them daily.  Spend $200 hiring a high school intern to write you a quick web application to track your key KPI’s every day so you can get a handle around what is happening to your business without having to dive deeply every day.

If nothing else, learn a data mining tool. I can’t say enough about Microsoft Access.  For the beginner, there is no better tool to make sense of piles of data.  Buy a book, take a course at the Community College, but for sure, learn how to analyze basic data.

Julian Caldwell is an technology expert, focusing on transformational and disruptive technologies, coupled with core business process changes that deliver profit to the bottom line of organizations of all sizes.   You can follow Julian on  Twitter or email him at juliancaldwell@gmail.com.

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