Big Data is Only Part of the Equation

Well marketers, it’s happened again.  Another buzz word has us all running around with our hair on fire. In the not-so-distant past, we’ve had popular phrases such as “Marketing Automation”, “Thought Leadership”, “Engagement Marketing”, “Content Marketing, and “Digital Body Language” pop up in the marketing landscape, causing many to think that if they didn’t adopt these new marketing concepts, all would be lost. Today’s post addresses the newest phrase to join the list…“Big Data” (Cue the soap-operatic organ here).

Over the last few weeks, the topic of data or “Big Data” has been at the center of most of my conversations. The marketers I speak with are clamoring for as much data as they can get their hands on. And I don’t disagree.  Data is information. Information gives insight. Insight drives strategy. So, I’m all for it.

Yet, there’s a problem marketers are having (at least the ones with which I interact) with what to do once they have the data.  Making the connections from information to insight to strategy still seems to be a struggle.   This is a particular challenge for the small to mid-sized business.  In one of my recent conversations, where a client asked me to assess the team’s current data and reporting strategy, I developed three simple questions to help his team determine if their data collection plans were going to be of real value. I’ve listed those questions below. See if these will help you as it did them.

Question #1:  What do you want to know?
This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s amazing how many can’t answer it. Ask yourself the same question. What do YOU want to know? Do you want to know the quantity of inbound vs outbound inquiries? How many qualified leads are being generated?  Which assets are driving/influencing the best leads?  How many leads are turning into appointments for sales?  The speed of lead-to-sale? Lead funnel conversion rates?  Overall ROI?  ROI by channel?  Marketing generated revenue?  Sales conversion on qualified leads?  Sales conversion by product line? Gross revenue per marketing channel? The list could go on and on.   What’s important is determining what YOU want to know.  That question can be answered by asking and answering the next question.

Question #2: Why do you want to know?
Many of us are familiar with the quote “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  I’ll suggest a different spin on that quote:   “If you’re not going to manage it, then don’t measure it”.  Dashboards and colorful reports look really cool.  And you can look really smart when sitting at your desk reviewing them.  But if you don’t know what the data is telling you, or where it applies, or how it’s going to be used, then what’s the point of obtaining it in the first place? Ask yourself,  “Why do I want this information?”.  The answer should be something like, “Because if I know “X”, then that allows me to do “Y”.

Question #3:  Are you actually going to do something about it?
This may sound like question #2, but it’s a little different.  This question points to action.  Years ago, I had a client who reviewed their demand generation program on a quarterly basis.  Quarter after quarter, the data indicated that lead funnel velocity slowed considerably at the point of lead hand-off to sales.  And quarter after quarter, the marketing and sales team did nothing….for over a year. It wasn’t until executive management, armed with the same data, stepped in and made the necessary changes, that demand generation effectiveness improved. More than an entire year’s worth of wasted opportunity.  Unbelievable!  For whatever reason, marketing and sales chose not to act.  This happens all too often.  This client is one of many that proves having data is not enough.  Data must be used to solve problems, address issues, and seize opportunities.  If no one will actually act on the data, then don’t waste your time and effort collecting it.  You may be better served spending time brushing up your resume.

Big data is only going to get bigger. Big and small firms alike have the chance to leverage available information like never before.  But having the data is only the first step.  Knowing what you want to know, what you’re going to do with it, and actually doing it is what will bring success.