The biggest thing small and medium-sized businesses can do to improve their performance is embrace the opportunity Big Data affords to become more data-driven, says John Whittaker, director of product marketing, information management solutions at Dell Software. “What that means is instead of making decisions based on past experience, intuition, or gut feelings, SMBs now have the opportunity to make decisions based on actionable data points. They have the opportunity to use analytics to go out and learn new things about themselves, their markets, and their customers, and to use that information to make better, smarter business decisions,” he proposes.

However, embracing this opportunity requires the courage to change on the part of SMB owners, Whittaker warns. Most SMB owners have achieved success by having great instincts and making great decisions, “and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that,” he allows. “But in order to truly use Big Data to improve the performance of your company, you have to be willing to take actions based on what the data is showing.” Harnessing the power of Big Data requires a willingness to approach it with an open mind and to make decisions that are truly data-driven. “The key is combining great instincts honed from years of experience with a mindset that’s open to leveraging data points in order to deliver optimal execution,” he stresses.

Namit Sureka, vice president, decision analytics at EXL Service, a business process solutions provider, says the best approach for SMBs is to identify pain points and/or opportunity areas in the context of customer analytics, marketing analytics, and web/mobile/social analytics. Big Data can solve a lot of problems for SMBs by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing programs and allowing them to adopt analytics approaches that would have been ROI-negative in the past, but it’s important to recognize that, “while Big Data can solve a lot of your problems, not every problem needs or has a Big Data solution. Make sure you know what you are trying to solve and why before you pursue a solution,” he advises.

Big Data opens up the possibility for SMBs to know more about their customers than ever before and to get that information to the right people within their companies at the right time to drive actions and improvements, says Syed Hasan, president and CEO at ResponseTek, a provider of customer experience management solutions. Big Data can be used to personalize experiences across all business channels, do a better job of mapping the customer lifecycle, strategize up-sell opportunities, and increase customer loyalty, he says.

An obvious area where Big Data is creating opportunities for new business ventures is within data analysis itself, says Vaughn Bullard, CEO of Build.Automate, a business-optimization consulting firm. He envisions new research companies selling Big Data analyses back to larger corporations and SMBs. “I can also see research companies being formed to use Big Data to tackle a lot of the societal issues modern society faces,” he says.

Monte Zweben, cofounder and CEO of Splice Machine, which provides the first SQL-compliant database designed for Big Data applications, points out that Big Data capabilities are behind the emergence of new businesses such as Uber, which connects riders to taxis in 35 cities around the world, and Rocket Fuel, a media-buying platform that uses Big Data to optimize advertising by screening more than 28 billion ad opportunities per day and choosing the best matches for its customers. “Rocket Fuel is not only an SMB, but it services SMBs by providing an easy way for them to leverage Big Data to optimize their media buys,” says Zweben, who also serves on the company’s board of directors.

Learn more:

Big Data Tools Are Not Just for Big Business
Getting started with Big Data