In the minds of many small-business owners, the term “big data” often translates to “big budgets for big business.” Not so. Any business of any size can benefit from the insights delivered by big data. Larger organizations may have more money and resources to throw at a big data project, but that doesn’t mean they realize greater benefits. Big data techniques can be just as effective for smaller businesses to improve sales, marketing and operations. However, small to midsize businesses (SMBs) need help understanding where they can find the greatest ROI and how to scale big data projects to suit not-so-big budgets.
Even though tech spending in the SMB sector is expected to remain flat at $188 billion in 2016, IDC predicts that spending on cloud-based business intelligence will grow 4.5 times faster than spending for on-premises IT solutions. Big data is playing more of a role in cloud-based business intelligence as SMBs start investing in self-service business intelligence tools. Big data techniques are becoming more sophisticated, and Hadoop analytics are now better able to leverage cheap data storage and cloud scalability. What SMBs are starting to realize is that they already have large pools of their own data from sales, inventory control, accounting and operations, and now with cloud resources and analytics becoming less expensive and more readily available, it might be time to consider big data analytics.
While SMB sales resistance to big data might be softening, it’s still going to take some effort to demonstrate the value of big data to owners of smaller businesses. Here are some strategies to consider:
1. Identify use cases with the greatest ROI
There are a number of ways that small business can benefit from big data and see a clear ROI. For retailers, for example, an analysis of sales against inventory can show how to optimize stocking levels, and when you add in external data sources such as economic trends and social media commentary, the results can be even more valuable. A simple way to get started is showing the business owner how to profile his or her customers and track sales lead conversions. Big data is ideally suited to marketing analytics and tracking leads from acquisition sources, such as blogs, email campaigns and social media, through to conversion.
2. Show them the data
As part of the big data sales process, show SMBs how much data they already have but are not using . Every business has accounting and sales records, contract data, inventory tracking, operational expenses and other stores of data, both structured and unstructured, that can reveal new business trends. Chances are that data is languishing on a server somewhere unused. Perform a data discovery and determine what data sources are available, how they might be used and how difficult it might be to normalize the data.
3. Suggest big data as a service
One of SMB owners’ fears is the cost of the hardware, software and staff required in order to get into big data. Rather than spending a fortune on new servers, new storage and skilled Hadoop programmers, show them the benefits of big data as a service. Suggest cloud services to handle data storage, create a big data lake and use cloud computing for scalability. The lower the cost of entry and the less capital expenditure required, the easier the sale.
4. Start small
Suggest a pilot program. Develop a small analytics project that requires fewer resources but will demonstrate the power of big data. Optimizing pricing or developing a simple customer profile may provide a starter project that allows SMBs to test the big data waters and see a real ROI without a big up-front commitment.
5. Promote a culture of measurement
Once you demonstrate the power of big data analytics, you can start applying the same principles to every aspect of the business. All you need is the right data. Identify the largest areas of concern and discuss ways to gather more information and apply it in a use case that addresses s those issues . Promote the concept that the more you measure, the more data you can apply to increase sales, improve operations and cut costs.
When selling big data to SMBs, your best strategy is to think like a small-business owner. Develop a big data strategy that aligns with the SMBs’ operations and budget:
a. Provide options – For big business, big data projects tend to be an all-or-nothing proposition with big budgets and big time commitments. Smaller businesses need to be more agile. They’re used to working on a shoestring budget where everyone has multiple functions, and they also tend to use multiple software tools. When offering a big data project, provide options that make the best use of systems and intelligence already in place.
b. Keep it simple – Keep the scope of the project small and be sure you can deliver a solution in weeks, not months. Make sure that the intelligence is easy to understand and that there isn’t a lot of additional training or explanation required. The simpler you make the solution, the more likely it will be used and perceived as a success.
c. Mind the costs – SMBs are very price-sensitive, so make sure they understand they can have the power of big data at a fraction of the price of the big organizations. Using a cloud strategy will reduce the capital costs, but make sure that licensing fees align with the return on the project investment and the projected growth of the company.
Once you make your first big data sale, and you have proven the value of analytics, the next sale will be that much easier.