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How to Use Big Data to Boost Your Small Business


Data mining isn’t just for billion-dollar multi-national corporations any more.  As many industry journals have noted, a sea change is occurring in data analytics. For the first time, analyzing the umptillion terabytes of information (hyperbole) generated by your sales transactions, cash flow and other dealings isn’t just possible for small B2B firms – it’s actually profitable.

The term the industry writers use to describe this new phenomenon is “Big Data.” It’s a nebulous definition, but in general “Big Data” refers to any trove of information too large to deal with in a simple Excel spreadsheet. This includes customer search histories, global social media trends and even your annual compilation of sales. In the past, we only used the simplest 20 percent of this information, the “structured” data, to help fuel business decisions according to IBM’s new e-book Understanding Big Data. But thanks to the rise of analytical tools like Google Analytics, it’s now possible for smaller companies to take a look at the broader spectrum to help refine and optimize their business decisions.

So with that said, here are a few ways that you can prepare your business to jump onto the “Big Data” bandwagon.

1)      Sign Up for Google Analytics. This should be a no brainer. Any B2B company worth it’s angel investment should be using Google’s Analytics platform already, especially if you operate in e-commerce. The service is totally free and provides you with a huge amount of data on your customers that you can use to your advantage. This includes researching what pages on your site receive the most traffic, how long visitors stay on those pages, where they come from, where they go afterwards and even (and especially) what ads, promotions and other sales tactics are most likely to get them to convert.

2)      Embrace Retargeting. When analyzing customer’s on-site behaviors isn’t enough, it can benefit your company to start tracking what they do when they’re away from your webpage through the use of cookies. Cookies work like little tracking devices stored in a customer’s web browser, and, privacy-invasion issues aside, you can use them to gain valuable insights on how your customers behave online. With the help of companies like RocketFuel, you can even use them to serve up personalized ads to visitors reminding them to stop back to your site for a special promotion or discount.

3)      Exploit your Financial Management Software. In addition to using online tools to track customers, you can also use a major financial management platform like QuickBooks to perform internal small business research. You can track your inventory to optimize sales orders, study your transactions to determine price changes and even monitor your cash flow to help you decide when to save your money and when to invest in resources that will help your business grow.

4)      Get Social with Your Analytics. Social media is the epitome of “Big Data” research. At any given moment, there are millions of hashtags, mentions, tweets, posts, comments and updates on networks like FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram that you should be researching and exploiting to boost your sales. Facebook provides one method of monitoring social data for free with its Insights tool and you can also score a free cross-platform social analytical tool via SocialMention. If you’re looking for a more professional method for tracking social data, however, you should check out the services offered through Adobe’s Marketing Cloud. It’s expensive but also quite powerful.

You don’t need to be a big company to use “Big Data.” Try incorporating these analytic tools into your workflow today and see how researching a figurative ocean of consumer and internal data can help your small business. It may take some getting used to, but don’t be surprised to discover that a little bit of data analysis can go a long way towards growing your small business.