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Marketing Smarter: How to Use Data to Grow Your B2B Business

b2b-business-dataEverywhere you turn it seems as though people are tossing the term “Big Data” about and if you’re a small to midsize business, you might well be thinking that Big Data is too big (and likely too expensive) to benefit you and your business.

If you’re a B2B business owner or marketer, chances are good that you’re operating with a lean marketing and sales team. That’s where the benefit of big data can deliver real value. Big data and the valuable insights it can provide can help you do more with less, and that? That’s great news for the small to midsize B2B company. Let’s take a look at how you can use Big Data to grow your B2B business, shall we?

What the Heck is Big Data, Anyway?

Big Data is really quite simple. And when you think about it, the term is shorter and easier to use than “tons and tons of information,” which is exactly what big data is. And if you want to get all picky on me, the exact definition of “big data” is: “extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.” The way I like to think of it is that big data is tons and tons of information that you can analyze, which will tell you more about your customers and how to more effectively reach them, and compel them to take the actions you want them to take.

Big data can also refer to the strategy you use to manage information and new types of data alongside the traditional data that’s a part of your business operations. So the data is part of the equation, as are the tools that you use to collect and manage it.

How do you think about what’s really involved when you’re working with Big Data? Think of it in terms of the Four Vs:

  • Volume: The amount of data you’re collecting. Simple, right?
  • Velocity: The rate at which the data is collected. The more data, the faster it comes in.
  • Variety: The numerous types of data that can be collected, including sources such as text, audio, and video.
  • Value: Here’s where it gets tricky. Not all data is valuable. In fact, chances are good MOST of it isn’t all that valuable. And if all you’ve got is LOTS and LOTS of data and no method, or expertise that allows you to sift the valuable, relevant information out of the mix, which can then allow you to analyze the data and develop insights you can act on, well, big data is going to be a gigantic pain in the neck.

How to Collect the Right Kind of Big Data

Before you start burying yourself in all that data, you have to complete one crucial step: Identify the question the data will answer. This is particularly important for the small to midsize B2B businesses with limited resources. Before you spend more time or money than you have on collecting big data, make sure it’s going to be worthwhile.

Figure out things that are important to you and your business, and what the information you need to fuel growth and profitability are. Do you want to know who your customers are? You need to collect demographic information. Need to assess how many widgets you sold last year? Need to know how many of your customers who bought those widgets came back to buy something else? That requires sales information and a connection to a CRM platform. Interested in how your customers find you? What does your Google Analytics information show? Compare that to a customer survey that you send via your email marketing platform and concurrently analyze your local search data—then compare all three data sets. What you discover might be a goldmine of information.

Most importantly, you start a strategy, whether it’s an integrated marketing strategy or a Big Data strategy, by identifying your goals at the outset. Where you are now and where you want to be. Knowing the why first will allow you to focus your data collection efforts so there’s less to sift through, and what is collected is more likely to be valuable.

Once you know what data you want to collect and why, you’re in luck because you have numerous data collection and analysis options available to you. The great news is, many of those options are free. Twitter Analytics, Facebook Insights, Google Analytics—they each cost nothing, and all offer juicy bits of data you can use to grow your audience, and in turn, your business.

More great news for B2B business owners—some of this data collection and implementation can even be automated. For example, Facebook ad retargeting uses information collected when users visit websites to then serve up corresponding ads when that user visits Facebook. Big data helps put your products in front of a potential audience, and you didn’t have to lift a finger beyond setting up the retargeting campaign!

We’ve Got Data, What Now? How to Put Big Data to Use

Congratulations! You just collected a ton of big data. What are you going to do now?! Well, provided you took the time to identify the questions you wanted answered, thereby collecting data that was specifically relevant, now it’s a matter of organizing, analyzing, and implementing.

Data organization can be accomplished as simply as importing it all into a spreadsheet. If you’re a Microsoft Excel whiz, you can use that imported data to create pivot tables, which allow you to determine the significance of a large data set and then automatically summarize, analyze, and explore that data. Put more simply, a pivot tables helps you answer questions about your data. [Aside: If you’re not an Excel whiz, let me know, and I can point you to a virtual assistant who is thereby saving you much aggravation and many grey hairs].

For example, let’s say you’ve collected a large set of raw sales data that contains numerous bits of information, such as sale date, customer name, city, state, product, quantity, and price. Let’s also say you have about 5,000 entries. The last thing you want to do is manually scroll through all those entries to figure out what the data means and how to use it.

With just a few clicks, a pivot table can show you the sales data by date. Did sales pick up around a certain time of year? Maybe those sales coincided with a certain holiday or event. Now you can use this knowledge to market your business more aggressively in the time leading up to that event, potentially increasing your sales.

Say you’re a commercial real estate broker working with a client who is considering adding multiple locations. Big Data (specifically tools that provide mobile insights) can help a broker analyze foot traffic around a potential new location and provide an idea as to the volume of potential customers who might walk by daily, as well as where they might be coming from (in terms of home zip codes). That data-driven exercise can be a big driver in the advice you provide your real estate clients on where to invest in their new business property. You no longer have to rely purely on gut instincts and experience, Big Data can help you offer up data-based solutions and serve clients more effectively.

Summing (Pun Intended) All Up

A big problem in companies of all sizes is that all too often operations are siloed. Sales isn’t talking with Customer Service, and Customer Service isn’t talking with Marketing, and we all know that Marketing and Sales are not as connected as they should be. Big Data can well be the glue that holds these divisions together within your company and help you be more connected to one another.

You don’t have to be a behemoth like Amazon to use Big Data to grow your B2B business. Understanding its value, starting small and growing more confident as you get your sea legs is a great step forward for your company. Here is what I know for certain: We are not going backwards. Big Data (and the technology that powers it) is the fuel that drives business today. Harnessing Big Data and being able to glean the information you need (I call that the “small data”) from the information at hand can mean everything to your business, your sales team, and your customers and prospects.

As an aside, I was writing and researching this post, I ran across this post on the SAP Digital blog written by Nikolay Gradinarov: He Said, She Said. Which Data Analytics Tool is Telling the Truth. He’s a data analyst with a wealth of experience and I loved his take on tools and how to use them most effectively. Even better, it’s nice to see how an analyst thinks about the nuances of Big Data, as opposed to how we marketers approach it. The post is well worth your time to read—and although SAP is a client, they’re not paying me to say that.

Other Resources on this Topic:
Big Data: From Buzzword to Business Staple
Big Data: Solving Business Problems One at a Time
The Most Important Thing to Know About Big Data: It’s Not About the Tools