Big Data is everywhere. Whether it comes from the Web, business applications or deep inside machine logs, Big Data is helping all types of businesses grow as they become more strategic and profitable.
As a small business owner, you're probably thinking, "What does Big Data have to do with me?" After all, Big Data sounds like another complicated — and expensive — buzzword created for companies with significantly more time and resources. But if you use certain types of business applications, you, too, can reap the benefits of Big Data, even on a small business budget. One prime example is customer relationship management (CRM), which offers actionable data right at your fingertips.
What is Big Data?
Big Data refers to the massive amount of information businesses collect from online and offline sources. These sources include websites, social networks, mobile apps, software, documents, computer logs, sensor networks and many more. This explosion of data, however, isn't necessarily significant because of its size, but because of what it can do. [Read related article: What Is Big Data?]
Although it is often described in terms of the three V's — volume, velocity and variety — there's more to Big Data that makes it such a big deal, said Javier Aldrete, director of product management at Zilliant, a predictive pricing and sales software provider. "The benefit of the Big Data movement [has more] to do with driving action and value out of data by applying algorithms and predictive models to solve specific business problems," he said.
Simply put, Big Data delivers all types of intelligence that helps businesses make better decisions.
What is CRM?
CRM is a system that businesses use to manage how they work with current and prospective customers. It is used primarily by salespeople and typically takes the form of CRM software, which provides a centralized location to store, view and organize customer information.
While CRM systems were developed to help sales reps be more efficient and spend more time selling, they have instead become a reporting tool for tracking the health of sales pipelines and accounts, Aldrete said. "There is often very little actionable insight for the sales reps," he said.
When used correctly, however, CRM helps small businesses in several ways.
Benefits of CRM
CRM lets small businesses become more profitable, both by helping them close sales and creating loyal, satisfied customers.
"The small business CRM user will have a wealth of information to arm themselves with when approaching a prospect company with a new proposal," said Mike Salem, CEO and co-founder of Vorex, a professional services automation software provider.
This information includes the benefit of knowing the right people to contact — such as decision makers and gatekeepers — to improve the chances of winning a contract with prospects. "A CRM solution empowers the sales team with a tool that will help them close deals," Salem said.
CRM also gives companies a "bird's-eye view" of which prospects, industries, company sizes and other targets are most profitable, Salem added. "They can better focus their efforts based on what the CRM system tells them [and] guide them into the direction that will yield the highest potential profitability," he said.
Furthermore, CRM enables businesses to better understand customers, establish trust and deliver excellent customer service.
"We've all had this experience: The second time we call into a company to buy a product or get support, we talk to a different person than the first time, and we need to re-educate the new person about our business or problem," said Larry Augustin, CEO of CRM software provider SugarCRM. "It typically doesn't lead to a good experience, and we, as the consumer, feel that the vendor doesn't really understand us."
"CRM solves that problem," Augustin said. CRM enables employees to deliver a consistent, high-quality experience every time they engage with a current or future customer, with the goal of solidifying customer relationships and loyalty in the process, he said.
All of these benefits are based on the information from CRM software, which can seamlessly unite data from many sources from within or outside the organization. This provides a holistic view of every customer to every employee in real time — whenever they need it, Augustin said.
How are Big Data and CRM connected?
Big Data and CRM are connected in that CRM extracts value from Big Data, Augustin said. The secret is turning it into smart data by integrating it into a CRM system. This helps employees understand the who, what, where, when and why before they connect with their customers, he said.
Additionally, there are many types of data small businesses can find on CRM. For instance, small businesses can glean a large amount of data that can help them in their sales and attraction of new clients, Salem said. Some examples of these types of data include the following:
- Company name and full information, with the right contact people and decision makers within the company.
- Social media information — like company news — that can help attract potential clients.
- A historical record of the interaction with the prospective company, making the relationship more personal.
- A saved history of all the projects, opportunities and proposals with a prospective client, allowing employees to better understand the prospective client's needs and prepare improved and more customized proposals.
- An enhanced understanding of potential revenue, based on the CRM upcoming opportunities and their potential to be converted into a profitable project.
In reality, this much data can be overwhelming for small businesses. The key is to gather only the data you need the most.
The enormity of Big Data requires massive amounts of resources that small businesses simply don't have. One way for them to achieve the same beneficial outcome is to look at "Little Data," which contextualizes Big Data within the scope of small business capabilities.
"Today, there is exponentially more information available about every single customer," Augustin said. "The goal, in my opinion, is to create Little Data out of the Big Data around customers."
Unlike Big Data, Little Data can be found in readily available sources that don't require any additional investments. One example is how CRM can be used to "listen" to what customers are saying about a brand.
"A company could pull data from Twitter or Facebook to hear what customers are saying about their service, product ease of use, billing methodologies, etc.," Augustin said. "This customer feedback can be analyzed to then revise or improve a product or service."
Companies can also segment and qualify leads using information that can be found on the Internet, Augustin added. In doing so, small businesses with limited marketing and sales resources can use smart filters and segmentation tools to find the best prospects, he said.
In some cases, small businesses don't even need to mine for Little Data using external sources, Aldrete said.
"We've found that many companies are only scratching the surface of the business benefits hiding in the data they already have, which we consider to be Little Data," Aldrete said.
When companies think of Big Data, they often imagine a risky, multimillion-dollar, resource- and time-intensive IT investment, but that doesn't always turn out to be true, he added.
"The fact is that business benefits hide in all data, so the size of the data doesn't really matter," Aldrete said. "Whether you have Big Data or simply transaction and customer data, what matters is the business outcome you are trying to achieve, and how you process and analyze that data."
Combined with CRM, actionable data — big or little — is accessible to small businesses everywhere.
The bottom line is that today's advanced CRM tools can help small business users by providing only the most essential data they need when it matters the most, Augustin said. "By cutting through the noise and making Little Data out of Big Data, smaller businesses can level the playing field and compete with their larger counterparts in an increasingly competitive global market," he said.