Disclaimer: I’m no technologist, statistician, data scientist, rocket scientist, data ninja, information jockey or whatever other crazy name many of the people smarter than I am are going by these days. I’m just a general business major who went to college before cell phones were common and learned all of my technology skills from floppy disks, the original Nintendo and cassette players.
But years in consulting have taught me the importance of data and how valuable it can be in ensuring the success of your sales or marketing organization. The proliferation of data in the world is staggering and, honestly, a little scary. All of a sudden, it feels like we have more data than we can handle, and I know that we are not using it appropriately.
Even with my disclaimer above, I fully understand that the buzzword of big data is not as complicated as people make it out to be. It’s simply the ability to take typical data, such as the data found in a CRM system, and aggregate it with and across data from other sources including email, call centers and social media.
All departments gather their own data, for their own purposes, but there’s an inherent value in a company’s ability to aggregate and analyze across that data, and that’s where big data comes in. For example, consider the importance of understanding all interactions with a customer. In the typical medical device selling organization, there are many different teams that touch a customer, including:
- Key account management
- Field sales reps and sales managers
- Inside sales
- Customer support
- Marketing and market research
- R&D (sometimes)
Each of these groups has its own disparate systems for collecting data—and these groups often don’t even do a good job of using those systems.
How Might This Data Help You Better Understand Your Customer?
Information gathered in call centers about product support may help us see the customer from a different perspective than sales calls in the field because, often, these interactions are addressing some issue that the customer needs help with. On the other hand, information gathered by the marketing organization often tells us a different story about the customer’s needs regarding the product and training and such. For a sales rep who visits a particular account every week or two, imagine the value of having more information than just data from his or her last customer interaction.
Or consider the example of a surgeon who is about to conduct a surgery, and he goes to the shelf and finds out that his preferred surgical product is not in stock. That might have an impact on his ability to successfully conduct a complex surgery, so the surgeon likely would give the hospital procurement team an earful, and the procurement team would, in turn, then call the manufacturer to express the same sentiments. Imagine being the sales rep walking into the surgeon’s office the next day and unexpectedly finding an irate customer. Not fun.
So How Can Big Data Help?
Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into that surgeon visit, fully aware of the procurement challenge and ready to address the issue? Right now, all of this customer information is housed in disparate systems, and the key is to enable the aggregation and analysis of information beyond traditional department silos. The value of the big data concept is that it can take information from textual sources, not just databases, and make it available for analysis. To be most interesting, big data analysis should go beyond internal data, bringing in external data. The potential is almost limitless: Big data gives you the ability to analyze facility quality ratings, outcomes data or social media reports for information on product usage (or use of competitors’ products); or to determine pros and cons about products that may not be easy to get from surveys or other methods.
ARTICLE: Cutting Big Data Down to Size
INFOGRAPHIC: Have You Unlocked Big Data?
Getting started in big data may seem overwhelming for someone in sales or marketing, but it starts with a simple question: What’s the goal? What do we want to learn? What data will create the greatest value for the organization? I want to stress that this is the most critical part of the big data concept: If you don’t have this goal well defined or thought out and you ask your IT or commercial operations team to bring together all of the data, you’ll end up wasting your money. Hone in on what you need the data for, and communicate that goal to your IT team. For example, the goal may be to find ways to make sales reps more effective or to identify under-targeted accounts. We need to identify who is responsible for the relevant data, and then identify how the data will be integrated, exchanged and stored.
Take it from me, a general business major: Big data might seem amorphous and complex, and not worth sales and marketing teams’ time, but without a strategy for understanding data across the organization, your company will miss the opportunity to generate customer insights that we have never been able to derive before. These could be the insights that you need to win.