How SMBs Can Use Big Data For Growth And Profitability

Susan Wilson Solovic

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

Believe it or not, when we’re looking at the relationship between small business and Big Data, that sage advice from Yogi Bera makes complete sense.

Let me explain. “Big” is a term that holds important truths when we look at it in the absolute sense and the relative sense. For a small business owner and the big business CEO, the reasons why one million buyers would switch from one cell phone service provider to another is Big Data. In this example, “big” is an absolute term. The numbers being crunched are huge. Period.

Yet for the small business owner, understanding why coupon A will outperform coupon B in next week’s newsletter is also Big Data. Or discovering that 70 percent of a small retail business’s Twitter followers are “ethnic explorers” in their consumer buying styles would also be an important Big Data discovery. In these examples, the numbers are significant in relationship to the size of the business.

If you’re a small business owner facing the Big Data fork in the road, you see two choices ahead of you: Big Data that reflects major currents in society and among consumers, and Big Data that represents your subset of customers or clients. The second wouldn’t be big to General Motors or Apple, but it would be big to you.

You need to travel on both roads!

Although I’ve kicked this off by painting pictures of two very different sets of Big Data, the ultimate purposes of mining these data are very similar. Both are used to make discoveries such as:

  • What motivates your customers
  • What prompts buying decisions
  • Which are your customers preferred ways of shopping
  • What turns them off
  • What products or services are they likely to buy next

Gathering and analyzing your Big Data

If elements of your business – especially sales and marketing – have online elements, you have probably already created some Big Data sets. You just need to find and refine them and then act on what you discover.

I mentioned Twitter above—if you have created a group of Twitter followers from your customer base, you can get a good overview of this group, including their interests, occupations, buying styles, household income, gender, and net worth. Further, Twitter analytics will reveal which content did the best job engaging your followers.

To get to your analytics, click on your profile picture at the very top of your Twitter home page, next to the “Search Twitter” input area and then click on “Analytics.” Similar information is available on Facebook. If you have a business page, click on “Insights” at the top of the page and you’ll be able to drill down to find out what kind of content works best for you.

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And if you want to take your analytics to the next level, there are solutions out there to help. You can now better understand if your Twitter or Facebook campaigns have an impact on customer sentiment. By monitoring sentiment, you gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ behaviors and social engagements. You can leverage these insights in new ways that makes your customers feel like you are marketing specifically to them. To learn more about this solution, visit here.

Do you publish an email newsletter, or send out sale or coupons via email? If you do, you need to bring this information into a spreadsheet or some other system where you can work with the data. Your email service provider has captured various data, such as open rates and click rates for your mailings. On your end, you should be capturing coupon codes or sales figures that correspond to email promotions. You should also grab your subject lines, days sent, and times sent.

With these kind of data in the right format you can do some sorting to discover what has worked well for you in the past and look for clues to why others didn’t perform as well.

Another way you can build your own database is to survey your customers and/or your social media followers. Once you have an accurate profile of your ideal customer, you can find more people like that and work to bring them into your sales funnel. There are a wide range of low- to no-cost methods of surveying today. Even Google Docs has an easy survey form that you can use.

Plugging into the really Big Data

Just about everything we do online and on mobile devices gets sucked into one or more databases. The stories this data tells about our customers is valuable, and major corporations devote entire departments to collecting and analyzing it.

As a small business, you don’t have those kinds of resources, but you can grab intelligence from Big Data that will prove useful to making decisions.

For example, Vistar Media is an advertising platform that enables brands to reach consumers based on their behavior in the physical world. For three years, the company has been using mobile carrier data on customer location to passively inform advertising strategy. But they were searching for new ways to analyze the data.

With fewer than 50 employees, they wanted a tool that wouldn’t break the bank but could analyze data more effectively. With SAP Digital Consumer Insight they were able to further refine their targeting through the combination of consumer location insights, demographics, and device usage behavior and develop more focused marketing campaigns for their clients. In turn, their clients were able to make better informed decisions on how to improve their products and attract new customers. You can read the full story here .

As we’re going into the holiday shopping season, every retailer should be checking in with sites like Google Trends and TrendHunter to see what is top-of-mind for consumers. If you dive into TrendHunter, you’ll find lists like “Top 100 Gadget Trends in November.” A retailer could then take those items, plug them into Google Trends and learn which gadgets drummed up more search interest. Google will also give you related queries so you can get an in-depth picture of what interests are driving various trends.

Another great way small businesses can leverage Big Data is by learning from the mistakes (and successes) of others. Behave.org (formerly Which Test Won) is a goldmine of A/B tests. It is often difficult for the small business owner to get a sample size that is big enough to do A/B testing. At Behave.org, you’ll find solid A/B test results that you can apply to your own business.

For example, I mentioned email subject lines above. Behave.org recently featured the results of A/B testing for a subject line RoyalCaribbean International used. One subject line had two clock emojis, the other didn’t. Which one do you think performed best? Let’s answer that this way: If you’re doing a time-sensitive sale – which in itself is a good idea – adding a little visual interest to your email subject line is the way to go.

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If you take time to explore Behave.org, you’ll probably find a number of tests that you can apply to your business. Although it’s a membership site, there is a lot of free information and each week it posts a new A/B quiz to challenge you.

Finally, the most important tip to get from this is to start thinking in the context of Big Data. While your instincts may be great, in today’s competitive environment, it’s important to use every resource at your disposal. Pulling together your own data, using the data provided by the major social media platforms, exploring sites dedicated to collecting Big Data, and familiarizing yourself with SMB solutions to manage your business insights will add to your ability to outperform your competitors.

To learn more about this topic, watch Susan Solovic and small business experts Barbara Weltman and Karen Kerrigan, appear on SMBTalks, November 17 at 1 pm EST through Facebook Live.

Growing a business in the digital economy isn’t easy. Getting control and clarity across your whole company can make growth much less challenging. A company using live system technology and data analysis can fine-tune its decision-making, operations, supply chain, people, products, and network of partners to create business value in the moment. Read this report on how small and midsize businesses Run Live in the digital economy.


Susan Wilson Solovic

About Susan Wilson Solovic

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com top 100 and USA Today bestselling author, media personality, sought-after keynote speaker, and attorney. She is a former small business contributor for ABC News and hosted a syndicated radio program, It’s Your Biz. She appears regularly as a small business expert on Fox Business, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’s “Lunch Break”, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC and other stations.