Most businesses use websites, mobile apps, social media, or a combination of these to engage existing customers and to convert other people into customers. The information users of these technologies give up about themselves to engage with the world is voluminous, varied, and endless. It is called big data. Savvy businesses make use of this big data to attract and convert more people into paying customers. Credit card transactions, for example, are one popular source of data for companies. These transactions reveal more information than most realize. Powerful data analysis software now gives businesses of all sizes the ability to glean information from many sources, including even old data sources such as paper ledgers and floppy disks. Big data presents businesses with information about the likes, dislikes, and demographics of people. But for businesses to use this data effectively, they must know how to understand and use data analytics. Large businesses have used big data for many years. And now, with the arrival of affordable services for big data analytics, small businesses that are growing can now use big data to compete better. A Wise Investment? Without a doubt, having data about existing and potential clients is very powerful for any business. But having the data in and of itself is useless if management either does not act on it or does not understand how to make best use of it. Is the cash a company spends on data then being used effectively to accomplish its goals of increasing business? To find out, businesses should ask themselves the following questions: #1. What’s the goal? What specific goal does a particular company have for the data? What is its specific purpose? The goal is to cut costs, streamline business operations so manufacturing, processing or service times are cut, enable the business to produce better new products and enable management to make better business decisions. If management uses data to predict how consumers will act, they can formulate good business plans around that prediction. The ultimate goal of having the data then is to make more money for the business. #2. Collecting information Is the business collecting information from all sources relevant to its customers and would-be customers? Sure, some customers and people who may become customers use social media. Others, however, still come to the product or service by reading ads in newspapers, magazines, or watching television. Still others decide to stay with the company or buy a product based on their interaction with the customer service department. #3. How to present the findings Do the people who collect and interpret information about customers present their findings in a comprehensive, understandable way to enable the business to use the data analytics to plan effective strategies to grow the enterprise? Included among the many sources of information is the data from loyalty cards some businesses use. #4. Working well together? Are the sales, marketing, research and development, and other departments comfortable working with the tech experts who develop apps, propel social media campaigns, and otherwise engage in new technologies for the business? Alternatively, do the heads of the other departments, at least, have a clue about what techies are trying to do? If not, is the business trying to eliminate some of the barriers between the tech experts and the other employees? #5. What is the aim? Do the people who run the business know the aim of collecting all this data and the campaigns that result from it? Surprisingly, many companies don’t. Some managers let other people run the tech show and do not care to know the details. But for others, the people who are responsible for big data analytics and/or campaigns based on big data should explain everything to managers in language they can understand. For lack of a better way of putting it, data managers must dumb down the results of analyzing the data so management can make best use of it. #6. What is the clear purpose? Does the business have a clear purpose and aim for itself and its products or services that employees understand? One way to fix or prevent barriers within a business is to express its purpose concisely to employees. Is the purpose of the business, perhaps, to build or maintain a luxury brand with exceptional customer service or to provide great prices for good quality products for the mass of consumers? Or is it something else? If so, what? Identifying the company’s purpose may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s truly surprising how many companies have never taken the time to do this, assuming it to be self-evident. #7. Interpreting information Is the business positioned to interpret and integrate the information about consumers and trends that it has? Information must be used to create an integrated strategy for growth. Does the customer service department know what people like or dislike about the products or services of the business? Do people in research and development and the sales department have this information too? #8. Recording interactions How good is the business at recording every interaction with customers? What did the retail associate say in answer to a shopper’s question? Do the people in sales put into the computer that they called a contact? #9. Keep up with technology Has new technology clouded the vision of the business? If the business was established before the digital age, it could lose sight of the principles, procedures, products and services that brought it this far. If the enterprise is new, it should not lose sight of the kind of product or service its managers are aiming for. #10. Integration of technologies Is the business positioned to deal with the complicated nature of the integration of technologies? Websites, apps, social media, and big data are all very much involved with the consumer. On the other hand, tech experts do not traditionally interact with consumers on the front lines as customer service reps (phone or in-store) and sales associates in the store do. Make use of the input of those who work on the front lines. Big data is unstoppable. It is a force businesses must reckon with. Even small businesses must find ways to use even just some of the information it provides. The sustainability of a business depends on the effective use of data. 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