Small Data For Small Business

Talk about "Big Data" is all over any techie field right now, and that includes small- and medium-sized business marketing. It's easy to forget, though, that good data is more a quality game than a quantity game.

Most small- and medium-sized businesses will not (soon) come close to the petabytes of data implied by the term "Big Data," but that doesn't stop savvy owners and managers from trying to use data to boost their marketing efforts. In attempting to emulate Fortune 500 firms and VC-backed tech startups, some take it a step to far.

I once worked with a small firm that wanted to use Sage's ACT! CRM system to keep just two outside sales reps coordinated. The system required thousands of dollars in licenses, weeks to set up, and the installation of corporate server. ACT! is a fantastic system, but it's unlikely that this firm got their money's worth - especially since their accounting was a wreck and their reps didn't know what profitable product lines to push.

As marketers pursue data, it's important to remember that information isn't free. Many data rookies (including my younger self) forget about costs in these places:

Data Acquisition

Raw data is sometimes seems as cheap as anything can be, but that is far from the truth. Whether you're buying RFID sensors, sending researchers out to collect surveys, or just paying one of your existing employees to fill out a few more CRM fields for every new prospect, you'll quickly find out that data has a price and those prices can stack up quickly.

Data Organization

Once you have your data, the costs won't stop there. You'll need database software and server space. You may have to pay for space twice if you use offsite backups. Databases and software routinely need maintenance to stay compatible with changing hardware, operating systems, security protocols, and the vendor's own changing feature set.

Data Analysis

So, you have your data and somewhere to keep it. Now what? Now you need someone to turn that into actionable information. Depending on the scale and type of data you collected, you may need specialized analytical software like SPSS or Matlab. Doing really cool, cutting edge stuff like complex event processing or predictive analysis may require hiring people with expensive statistical skills. Even if you can do the analysis yourself and just want to use Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet, don't forget the costs of your own time.

I think data can transform even the smallest organizations, but the data has to be correct, complete, and cogent. The firm mentioned in the beginning of this article would have been better off using their data resources to improve their accounting and find out what product lines had the highest profit margins. They probably didn't need a full-blown CRM system to share contacts and appointments between two reps. A bit more boring? Maybe. A bit more effective? Probably.

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