Data has the ability to turn us into better marketers. In fact, some of the best in the business are those who use and leverage data to improve their initiatives. Unfortunately, some business owners overlook this key tool and miss out on an opportunity to better understand what they're doing well and not so well. This oversight can lead to costly (and avoidable) mistakes.

Few people know the impact of Big Data like Scott Brandt. Scott Brandt is vice president of marketing at SurePayroll, Inc, which provides easy online payroll services to small businesses nationwide. SurePayroll compiles data from small businesses through its Small Business Scorecard optimism survey, and exclusively reflects the trends affecting the nation's "micro businesses"--those with 1-10 employees. This is Scott's take on how businesses can implement Big Data into their decision-making:

You hear about it on television. You read about it online. You believe your competition is using it to their advantage. Big Data. Not only does it sound important, it actually is important to the long-term success of your small business.

So what is Big Data, why is everyone talking about it and more importantly, how can you learn more about it? It's one of these terms that gets thrown around a lot without much explanation.

According to Wikipedia, Big Data is: "the use of predictive analytics or other certain advanced methods to extract value from data, and seldom to a particular size of data set".

It can be applied to any company in any industry, from financial services to health care organizations to almost every company with a website. Professional sports, too, have made great use of advanced metrics, particularly in Major League Baseball and the NBA, analyzing every pitch, hit and swing. If you saw the movie or read the book Moneyball, you'd understand it works.

Human Resources is another area where Big Data is taking hold. Workday, a cloud-based human resources software company, recently examined the impact of Big Data on the workplace. According to the New York Times, Workday can predict events such as an employee leaving the company and the steps the employer can take to prevent this from happening. Furthermore, Workday has analyzed more than a billion social media profiles in an attempt to help recruiters make smarter hiring decisions.

Meanwhile, giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon are collecting massive amounts of consumer data every day, enabling them to better serve ads and sell products, among a number of other uses.

Big Data in the Small Business World

The idea, of course, behind all of this--and the reason it matters to a small business--is that with more information, we can make better decisions about how we spend our money. And, we can use this data to help us sell more, and hopefully, make more money.

If you can use math and absolutes to predict certain outcomes, it eliminates some of the flawed decision-making we're all prone to.

So, how can you get started? First, you start by asking a simple question: what are you trying to figure out? For example, you may want to know how customers move through your sales funnel. Do they call first? Do they visit your website, then call? Where do customers originate from online?

Second, you need to determine if you are able to collect data on these questions? Is anyone tracking leads through the sales funnel? If so, what type of data are they collecting? If not, you've identified an opportunity to begin collecting big data that can eventually answer these questions for you.

Big data starts with a question--it doesn't start with the data.

Using Big Data Software

If you aren't a "numbers person" yet, there are still ways for you to benefit from Big Data. Three common applications/services that may be a good starting place for small businesses include:

  1. Google Analytics. This free tool does more than monitor traffic to your website. You can see where visitors are coming from, what they are doing when they arrive, what type of device they are using, and much more.
  2. IBM's Watson Analytics. With a free version coming later in 2015, this is a Big Data solution to keep an eye on. It will help you unify data to pinpoint sales patterns, and understand how to help your employees better enjoy their work.
  3. Canopy Labs. Do you ever wonder how profitable each customer truly is? Canopy Labs can help you answer this question. This gives you the opportunity to see how much each customer is worth, allowing you to better focus your resources.


Use a CRM

Ideally, you're already using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, because these services make collecting and using data much easier and more efficient. If not, I'd suggest you look into them and determine if such a service makes sense for your business. Most CRM services are online (or SaaS, meaning software-as-a-service), and help track leads, sales, and conversion rates, as well as customer complaints, customer histories, type of customer and any specific bits of information you want to collect. Our CRM is the backbone of our business, empowering sales, marketing, service and other departments.

We recently asked our small business customers about their favorite tech tools and they listed the following CRM solutions:

  • GetBase
  • Act
  • NetSuite
  • Zoho
  • BuilderFusion
  • Salesforce

Just like anything, there are pros and cons of every CRM. Talk to your peers, speak to a sales rep, and see if such a tool could help your business, you'll be glad you did.

Although the concept of Big Data can be somewhat difficult to grasp and even more difficult to embrace, once you select the right tools and modify a few of your processes, collecting data will be easy. Just remember, the goal isn't to collect data, the goal is to use the data to answer strategic questions that can help your business grow.

Now it's your turn. How is your small business using Big Data to succeed? Tell me in the comments section below.