Big Data? Try Listening Instead.

Big Data is a fascinating concept. Some of its applications are mind blowing. And the cost of employing it to solve problems and answer questions is shrinking. But face it, for all but the most flush small businesses, it’s still out of reach. Big Data requires connecting the dots between the company, its vendors, distributors, and retailers to capture data across the supply chain and at every transactional point. Using that data demands the resources to store it, and the computing power to perform data analysis to support the questions companies want to answer. Which means a lot of time and energy must go into deciding what questions to ask. That’s time, money and attention that many businesses can’t spare.

The good news is that there’s an alternative that’s readily available, relatively inexpensive, and provides actionable information: Conversations with real people.

Big data tells you what people are doing. But conversations with real people tell you why they’re doing it. And there is nobody better equipped to tell you what your customers are concerned about than your dealer network or sales staff. If your business sells through a dealer network, the dealers are the real face of your brand. Your customer sees them as much as they see you. Use that proximity to the customer to learn from him or her. Here are some ways to get started.

Give dealers and sales staff a voice
Many corporate marketing departments hesitate to listen to their dealers and salespeople because they’re afraid what they learn will contradict current assumptions.  So, they hit the mute button and go happily on their way, to their own detriment. True, new insights can disrupt the status quo. But there’s a reason the term “status quo” is never a positive.

Don’t ignore the underperformers
I know this seems to contradict the first point, but odds are that you have underperforming dealers and salespeople.  Don’t ignore them, because they may have some valuable ideas. You and your colleagues could be the ones making their success difficult. Knowing this is the first step toward fixing it.

Keep everyone informed
Dealers aren’t sitting around waiting to be surprised by your latest marketing initiative. They are taking care of sales and service for your customers. Keep dealers in the loop about what you’re doing, and how it helps them. They’ll thank you for it, and your efforts will be much more successful.

Before you queue up the “ain’t nobody got time for that” meme, hear me out. This type of knowledge is relatively easy to buy. At Ten Pound Hammer our process consists of both qualitative and quantitative research, which is a fancy way of saying that we talk to people and we listen to people through one-on-one conversations, surveys, and other efforts. We review the results and use them to guide our strategic efforts. No, our research will never be published in an academic journal but it gives much-needed clarity to complex marketing issues.

There you have it. Three simple things to do and none of them require building a data warehouse and investing in expensive tools. Best of all, while your competitors are fixated on the latest trend, you’ll be building competitive advantage. So get started.

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