The world of business is full of uncertainty. The only thing I’m certain about is that all of our best laid business plans and budgets we all create will NEVER be executed as planned. We may beat expectations or we may miss them—but the combination of new opportunities and myriad unexpected events creates a perpetually shifting business environment as the year moves by.
Given that reality, leaders must:
• Hire strong “broken field runners” who can pivot and still keep moving down the field
• Give these people the tools they need to succeed
In today’s world, access to data is one of the most powerful tools you can provide to your staff. When your employees have the right data at their fingertips, they’re in a much stronger position to make smart decisions—and, thus, help your company achieve success.
That’s one reason why there is a lot of talk these days about “Big Data.” But what is Big Data—and how can it help boost employee productivity?
According to multiple surveys (including one that my company conducted last year), people don’t agree on what Big Data really is. Yet they seem to think it’s very important for running a competitive business. I’ve come to learn that Big Data has two sides—and it’s helpful to understand what each side brings to the table.
Data on the Inside – Data on the Outside
Most of what people refer to as “Big Data” today resides inside the firewall—that is, in the databases that your company owns and maintains—your proprietary information.
For retailers, this can mean data collected from point-of-sale (POS) systems that track inventory and target products and promotions for customers. For companies with inbound call centers, Big Data can mean customer service call records that reveal how well the company is meeting customers’ needs or whether a certain customer segment is at risk for churn. For manufacturers, it can be data from production equipment that can be monitored for indications of needed maintenance.
Whatever business you’re in, the proprietary data that you collect is very important but, as I have discovered in the past 18 months, there’s a lot of valuable Big Data lurking outside company boundaries.
The View from the Outside
There’s a treasure trove of data outside your company’s firewall on the Web, and it’s growing at a rate of over one billion terabytes a year. The Web is the largest single source of data ever assembled—data that can empower your employees to find ways to grow revenue, cut costs, find leads, and run your business more efficiently.
What’s on the Web? Lots of Information!
In my business, I’m constantly amazed at the ingenuity of people who collect and use Web data in thousands of ways to make it easier for employees to do their jobs. Here are a few examples of what you can find:
• Sales prospects – contact data, lead status, open project bids, and more
• Customers – what they think about your products, where they are buying them, and how much they are spending
• Competitors – their pricing, product positioning, available inventory, job postings, and management changes
• Distributors – how they are pricing, promoting, and positioning your products, and if they are holding true to their contractual obligations
Thanks to the Web, you can now tap into a constantly updated stream of information to help you better run your business.
Two Big Ideas for Web Data
Let’s break this down into two broad categories to see how Web Data can assist you throughout the sales cycle. As a senior executive, two of the things you care most about are:
1. Acquiring more customers in a cost-effective way
2. Maximizing profits once you have acquired those customers
Now, let’s look at a real-world use case about a mid-size financial services firm that helps businesses transition through various states of bankruptcy.
• Business leads for this firm come from bankruptcy filings that are publicly posted on court and government websites
• An automated system searches these websites every night for changes in filings that mention the names of their sales prospects
• Each morning, the company’s sales team receives an updated record of bankruptcy filings for their prospects
This boosts employee productivity since sales reps know exactly which leads just turned from warm to hot and they can hold better-informed, perfectly timed conversations with prospects. An added bonus: they didn’t waste time looking for leads; instead the leads came to them.
Now that you have cost-effectively acquired the customer, Web data can help you maximize profits. Every business faces a slew of competing issues with the ultimate goals of beating the competition, satisfying customers, and complying with state and/or federal regulations. Here are a few ways you can improve productivity, enhance service, and support risk management with Web data:
• Optimize pricing – grab your competitor’s prices and compare them to yours to fine-tune your product positioning
• Tap into your customers’ point of view ASAP– by monitoring product reviews to gauge customer reaction to product features
• Monitor your competition’s customer sentiment and take advantage of weak spots
• Monitor regulatory sites to ensure compliance—avoid stiff penalties and minimize risk
Big Data Gets Personal
In February 2012, I joined Connotate, a Web data extraction technology company. I quickly began discovering the ability of Web data to empower decision-making at all levels.
I started monitoring my competitors’ websites for hiring announcements, product launches, management team changes, and press releases. I also started tracking third-party review and blog sites to get a sense of the conversation around our business of Big Data. Now, it’s routine—and it’s paying off.
For me, it is mind-blowing to think about how the Web has made data so accessible—yet so many have yet to fully grasp the concept. I can now better appreciate how Web data can inform the decisions we make on a daily basis—and help empower my staff to do their jobs, succeed, and thrive.