Big Data makes it possible for SMBs to identify trends and patterns in customer behavior, determine popularity or usage of products and services, track and monitor feedback and opinions through social media comments, and much more, says Olly Downs, senior vice president, data sciences, at Globys, Inc., a Big Data analytics company specializing in contextual marketing for mobile operators.

“This breadth of intelligence can be used to improve customer experience, product functionality, design, and support,” Downs says. “Further intelligence may provide insights into financial performance and cost issues in the organization that can be used to improve business fundamentals.” The three most significant benefits Big Data can provide to SMBs are the ability to improve customer relationship management (CRM), understand product performance and demand, and maintain longitudinal history of business data as use cases expand in the future, he adds. 

When it comes to making Big Data work for your SMB, the key is using it to enable “business discovery,” suggests Troy Anderson, vice president of worldwide inside sales at QlikTech, provider of the user-driven business intelligence platform QlikView. Big Data’s potential is not limited to answering questions such as who your best customers are or where you sold the most products last year, although such information is certainly valuable and useful. Sometimes such inquiries unlock findings that lead to more beneficial questions, Anderson says. 

“For example, a health club with multiple locations may pull a report on the amount of money its customers spend each year based on their ‘home’ gym. However, they may find that many of these customers no longer live near, or frequently use, those particular locations,” Anderson explains. “With this insight, the marketing team can do targeted campaigns based on the locations these customers now visit most frequently. As a result, they can better meet the needs of customers and help incentivize them to buy more fitness class packages or personal training sessions and spend more money on onsite services and refreshments. In short, ‘business discovery’ helps organizations become smarter and solve problems faster.” 

Getting started with Big Data has never been easier. “For most SMBs, I’d recommend they outsource their Big Data work,” says Betsy Page Sigman, Distinguished Teaching Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “They can get cloud access to all the storage, technology, and expertise they need to help them analyze the data. By outsourcing this process, SMBs can get up and running within a month. Financial costs will vary, but there are more and more Big Data consultants and consulting firms appearing each month.” 

In order to harness the power of Big Data to meet their needs, SMBs can benefit from adhering to several best practices, says Bruce Harmon, program director for computer science at Colorado Technical University. “First, do the research and consider the possibilities with an open mind,” he says. “Second, look down the road, and prepare a vision for how Big Data can get you where you want to be. Third, hire a consultant or draft a qualified member of your IT staff to estimate, design, and implement a solution to include the purchase of software or cloud services as applicable.” 

Learn more: 

• The New Data Democracy
• Small Business, Big Data