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Data's big promise for small business

Companies that aren't analyzing their customer data are missing out on an opportunity to move their businesses forward.

Sanjay Khanna, certified knowledge manager, Deloitte

That's the message Tukan Das wants small businesses in the province to hear and act on. Das is the CEO of LeadSift, a Nova Scotia startup that helps enterprises sift through their social media data to generate sales leads. LeadSift works primarily with large clients, mining social conversations to understand where customers are in the buying cycle.

"Marketers want to identify who the people are and where they are in the buying journey," says Das. "Based on that information, companies can group customers accordingly and send relevant messages that make sense to them."

Businesses in all industries are constantly collecting data, and data analytics can help them improve performance by driving better business decisions.

Many smaller businesses don't have the resources, financial or human, to implement expensive software solutions, but they can take advantage of basic (and free) tools to help them manage data. Services such as Google Insights and Google Analytics help companies identify what customers and potential customers are looking for and how they interact with their vendor's online content. Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics also provide companies with a picture of who's engaging with them. The point is companies don't need an IT shop to take advantage of the opportunity, says Das.

"All you need is a social presence," he says. "There's plenty of data on native platforms, and Facebook and Twitter are great starting points."

For companies that haven't dipped their toes into social media or are slack about consistently posting and responding to customers online, Das argues that a small investment of time can pay off in a big way.

"If you spend 30 minutes a day on these platforms and regularly post and engage, it will pay dividends," he says. "Even if you don't connect ROI (return on investment) there's plenty of data to show that someone who follows you or likes you will talk about you to others."

Businesses that aren't actively managing their data are losing the opportunity to have an more informed organization, says Stan Matwin, director of Dalhousie University's Institute for Big Data Analytics and Canada Research Chair in visual text analytics.

They're missing out on some potential marketing and sales opportunities. Data can help them better understand their business - who's coming in, what time, what do they buy?"

Matwin says even a small retailer with a cash register and a computer has a potential gold mine of data at their fingertips.

"Let's say you're a small corner store, and you have fewer customers in the evening. Maybe you offer a five per cent discount during those hours. The exercise is like a microscope: you can look into your business and see things you weren't aware of."

Big data's promise of more informed business decisions and better performance can be enticing, but it can also be overwhelming for smaller firms, says Sanjay Khanna, a certified knowledge manager with Deloitte in Halifax. There's no cookie cutter solution on how to best leverage data, but he says the first step is for organizations to understand their competitive positioning in the market. That will help them create a data solution that meets their specific needs.

"Aligning the data strategy with the overall objectives of the organization is key," says Khanna. Everyone wants to understand their current situation. Our approach is to look at the data and how it can be predictive. Let's try to figure out what's going to happen tomorrow."

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