How to Turn Data into Dollars

Feb 7, 2013

Think about your company’s data elements: your customers, prospects, leads, contacts, projects, proposals, sales, emails, and meetings. Then there’s your online data, such as e-commerce transactions and social media. Your company may even have more.

Managing, tracking, and maintaining all of this data can be daunting for a small business. Frequently, multiple systems are storing and tracking the different pieces of information. So how do you piece them together to make sound—and profitable—decisions for your business?

It’s a two-step process: First, get the data right; then, use it as a reliable tool to help your business grow.

Managing Your Data

The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” is true now more than ever. The more you manage your data effectively, the more value you will gain from your data analytics.

1. Ensure your database is set up to avoid duplicates and other data inconsistencies. Use drop-down menus where possible when inputting data, as this will eliminate typos and keep your data consistent. Make sure your employees are trained to search the database for existing records before entering new data. This will reduce the number of duplicates that are entered.

2. Import new data with caution. Your database already has existing names. Now you want to add more? Before you hit the Import button, have a set of validation rules in place. These rules should cover how to check your database for names that match your new list. (For example, what fields do you compare? Do you do exact matching or allow for fuzzy matching?) Outline how to merge matches when they are identified. Have a process in place to check records for accuracy—and don’t assume that because you purchased a list from a major data company that it’s 100 percent accurate. Data changes constantly—people switch jobs and companies move. One simple way to do this is to run the list through the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. A mailing house or list broker can do this for you for a nominal fee.

3. Review data periodically, and archive it at least annually. Look for missing information, as this can skew your reports and results. Identify invalid information (such as bad emails or URLs, or information in the wrong field) and clean up as much of it as possible. Create a routine procedure for determining what data might be old enough that you can archive it or mark it inactive in the system.

4. Take action when employees come and go. When an employee leaves the company, make sure to remove his or her access to all systems. Reassign the records the person was working on so that follow-up with clients, prospects, and other key people is not forgotten. Make sure new employees are given access to the appropriate systems and are properly trained on how and why to use them.

Using Your Company’s Data

Once you have a plan in place to manage your data on a regular basis, you are then ready to use that data for practical business purposes. Here are three ways to improve your sales and overall bottom line through proper data management and analytics:

1. Pipeline and opportunity management. Whether you are a company with a sales team or you operate with key management controlling the business development efforts, it is important to track all sales activities and forecasted revenues. Create reports and dashboards that show the number of leads or proposals, close ratio, dollars in each stage of the sales cycle, number and dollars closed, and number and dollars per service or product. With these sales activities tracked, you can look at your business on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis from various angles to determine what is causing your success (or failure) and how to improve; which products or services to push more of and which to phase out; and where to make improvements in your sales process.

2. Customer analytics. Analyze your business by using data you’re already collecting from your customers. Look for purchase trends—what are they buying, when is your busy season, who are your repeat customers? Identify the key demographic characteristics of your top customers (those who bring you 80 percent of your business)—look at their size, location, industry, income/revenue level, and other demographics that are relevant to your business. If you know what your top customers “look” like, you can seek out more of them to sell to.

3. Themes in your data. Using social media aggregators like HootSuite and TweetDeck, or turning to a social CRM application, you can see your internal data (such as customers and prospects) along with the external data (such as social media conversations, followers, and e-commerce transactions). This can give you a sense of the themes of your conversations, trends, and your customer base. Through social media, engage with your audience and listen. Learn what they’re talking about and what their interests are, and then give them what they need.

Kendra Von Achen is president of DB Pros, a CRM consultancy in northern New Jersey, that helps small businesses implement CRM and handle other data-related issues. She can be reached at or @dbpros_crm on Twitter.

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