Small businesses in every industry have been in an awful hurry lately to find ways to climb aboard the big data train. They’re doing it for two reasons. First, it could help them make more money. Second is that they fear that to not do so might cause them to fall behind their competition. While there’s plenty of truth in that first reason, the second isn’t anywhere near as cut and dry.
To unpack that a bit, consider the numbers. Last year, big data adoption rates in enterprises soared to 59%, as more big companies drove their big data initiatives forward. In the SMB space, accurate data is harder to come by, but suffice to say that there are still significant hurdles to adoption. Even so, research seems to suggest that the businesses that have already pushed forward with big data operations are having all kinds of trouble changing their businesses to become data-driven.
The bottom line is that any way you look at it, small businesses don’t need to feel pressure to adopt big data technologies any faster than is feasible for their specific circumstance. In fact, there’s a good case to be made that they should tackle big data and data science separately by beginning with efforts to figure out what kinds of data they already have at their disposal. To help them get started, here’s a rundown of the types of data small businesses typically have access to, and what it can (and should) be used for. Then they can make an informed decision on what kinds of big data investments to make and when (or even if) to make them.
The first and most readily available kind of data that small business can tap is the information they already have about the purchases existing customers are making. As an information source, it’s as rich as they come. At a minimum, a small business’s sales data should contain:
What item(s) sold
● How many items sold
● The payment type
● The time and date of the transaction
● If the item(s) sold at a discount due to coupons or other promotions.
It should be obvious to even a casual observer why the above information is so valuable. When tracked over long periods, it reveals trends that could unlock greater sales. For instance, it might reveal that customers spend more money at particular times of day, or that Visa is the customers’ credit card of choice. It might also indicate which products reliably sell together, which can inform things like bundle promotions and the like. Best of all, making use of the data is possible with nothing more than Microsoft Excel and a competent data analyst (at a basic level, anyway).
Online Site Analytics
By now, most American small businesses have (or have plans to build) a website. What they don’t seem to do, however, is mine those sites for valuable data. According to one estimate, less than 30% of small businesses even bother with website analytics. That’s a mistake worth correcting. Why? Simply put it’s because Google Analytics can collect a treasure trove of data about who’s using a website and what they’re doing with it — and it doesn’t cost a dime. It can provide demographic data about the business’s best customers and most frequent visitors, it can reveal which pages keep viewers’ attention and which don’t, and it can even help identify the potential roadblocks that keep customers from making purchases. All it takes is a simple code update to the small business’s website, and the data will start to roll in — already in a usable form.
Customer Service Call Data
One of the natural advantages that small businesses often have over their larger rivals is the ability to maintain a real, one-on-one relationship with customers. As such, small businesses tend to be more phone-reliant because it adds a personal touch. As it turns out, there’s plenty of data available in call logs too, like:
● Common reasons for calls
● Peak call volume times
● Number and types of product inquiries
Today, most small business VoIP systems allow users to track much of this data. More complex solutions, like Google’s CallJoy, will soon be taking it a step further. With it, businesses gain the ability to have all conversations recorded and transcribed, so as to create a searchable call database and allow for detailed trend reporting. At a minimum, the collected data can be used with little analysis to conduct customer service capacity planning, create customer education initiatives, and gain visibility into product demand.
Primed for the Future
It should be clear by now that small businesses already have plenty of data they could be using even before they even consider any major big data initiative. Plus, adapting processes and planning methodologies to make use of that data will help prime the business for future forays into big data. That said, there’s nothing wrong with taking a go-slow approach to big data for the average small business. Remember, your direct competitors probably aren’t as advanced as you imagine they are, and when you don’t have a budget to sacrifice on the altar of big data, slow and steady will almost certainly win the race.