There's a lot of talk about data and the importance of it. And while it's true that it has become critical to the success of most businesses large and small, many still struggle with what data they should be collecting and how to efficiently process it.

With how accessible all of this information has become, it's also become increasingly easier to get lost in over analyzing the data sets that don't truly matter to the organization. This often results in an inability to derive meaning from that data and as a result, over time, teams tend to shy away from using it to their advantage.

Are you collecting the right data, is it quality data, and are you able to make it meaningful in your organization? Furthermore, do you have the infrastructure to support the effort over the long term?

Set a foundation to support data collection

The challenge is building the infrastructure for not just capturing the data, but deriving meaning and value from it, and doing so efficiently. You have to have the right tools to make this process as efficient as possible. Your team will be reluctant to adopt it if the system isn't easily repeatable and sustainable.

It's also in part a mindset shift. Leveraging data should be an integrated approach. As such, your team will have to adopt a mentality of being a learner as opposed to expert, and this starts at the top.

The leadership has to communicate the value of gathering intel and how it will be used for the betterment of not only the customer experience, but the organization as a whole. In many regards, it makes many roles and functions easier and more efficient (i.e. marketing, sales, customer success, etc).

It also has to be centralized in one place so that teams in your various departments are all accessing the same data rather than disparate pieces of information each has collected and interpreted on their own. It's a collaborative effort -- IT must develop the infrastructure to collect the right data points; sales, customer success and research teams have to actively log the intel they gather; operations has to leverage it to improve internal efficiencies; marketing must use it to shape messaging and disseminate it in the right channels; and product development must use it to prioritize and shape feature rollouts.

With the foundation in place, and the team onboard to use this data, you can then begin to look at what you're gathering, how you're gathering it, and how to merge the digital and customer data together. This can then be used to shape acquisition and retention strategies.

Tap into your customer's digital journal

First, you'll want to have a clear picture of who your customer is -- age, gender, where they live, what they do, what their pain points are, etc. From that baseline, you can then dig into the digital data to better understand how you first acquired the customer and what their digital journey looks like.

How did your customer find you? Where did they find you? And was there a particular piece of content that brought them in?

The goal is to tap into the digital analytics to understand where they came from and what resonated with them. Were they on Facebook or did they see a display ad? Was it an organic discovery or through paid search?

And once they found you, how many visits to your site or interactions with your content did it take to convert them to a customer? What content did they interact with during their journey and what were the calls to action that eventually led them to either become a customer, or reach out to learn more and start that purchase journey?

Digging a bit deeper, from a techno-graphic perspective, did they find you on their mobile device or desktop, or was it a mix of both? Understanding the path they took to discover you will begin to help you see how to tailor your communications to them.

Going beyond the discovery

Once your prospect becomes a customer, what does their lifecycle look like? For instance, how long do they typically remain a customer? What products are they using and not using?

With this data, you want to understand why customers stay or what causes them to leave. From this level of insight, you can better understand how to keep them around and even expand their relationship with you. The goal is to find the right path towards what is working, where you may be able to improve, and where you may be able to capture a different subset of customers.

The more information you can gather digitally and layer that with the customer data that you're gathering within your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, the better you'll be able to identify opportunity. But the key to leveraging it to inform acquisition, growth, and retention strategies is to start with a solid foundation.