"Big data" has been a hot topic in the sales and marketing industry, but for most small businesses the idea is nearly irrelevant. How can a small operation take advantage of big data when they're hardly even leveraging the low-hanging fruit of more easily obtained customer data points?

According to research conducted by the CMO Council, 57 percent of marketers feel that they are missing important data points that could provide them with a more comprehensive view of their customer, while another 30 percent believe that's possible -- but they're not sure what they're missing.

As an entrepreneur, you are most likely already gathering some type of demographic data, such as customer gender, age, location, etc. What should you add to this list? Here are a few easy data points to get you started:

Names: This might sound like a no-brainer, but a surprisingly large number of companies fail to collect the names of the prospective customers that interact with their online presence. In many circumstances, names aren't collected via email opt-in forms or lead generation forms because of the belief that when more fields are required, fewer form completions will occur.

And while this belief is generally accurate, names aren't a good place to compromise. Having this information allows you to better personalize the marketing communications that you do send out, helping you to convert more prospects over the long run.

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Website Pages Viewed: Imagine that you sell a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product in the sales and marketing space. Your website likely includes everything from top-level product information, to more detailed case studies, to lead generation or order forms. If you knew that a visitor spent most of his or her time on your case studies pages before moving to your order form page, you could conclude that this particular visitor is likely further along in the sales process than one who hits your top-level info and then navigates away.

Once you know how potential customers are spending their time on your website, you can better follow up with information that suits their individual readiness to purchase level.

Completed Conversion Forms: Similarly, knowing which conversion forms your customer has completed can give you additional insight into how warm or cool a lead is.

Your website likely has several different conversion forms -- from the opt-in forms you use for individual download products, to more complex lead generation forms, to end-stage order forms. If you see that a prospect has completed several of your product-specific opt-in forms, but not any of your more detailed forms, this could be an indication that something in your sales funnel isn't effectively moving customers from one stage to the next.

Email Messages Opened: Given the complexity of today's email marketing management program, it's a shame that so many businesses take a "one size fits all" approach with their customers. Your customers shouldn't all receive the exact same email messages. Your customers should be broken into different groups based on their relative interests and level of engagement with your brand's emails.

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Continuing with our previous example, your SaaS business might want to utilize separate email lists for customers exhibiting the following behaviors:

  • Customers who haven't opened any of your messages
  • Customers who open messages but haven't clicked through to your website
  • Customers who open all your messages
  • Customers who were once active but then dropped off
  • Customers who purchase regularly via your email messages

Of course, you'll only be able to segment your email lists in this way if you're proactive about gathering email message open rate data points. Make it a goal to gather this information from previous campaigns, and then actually make measurable changes based on the data you find.

Social Media Presence: Finally, social-media activity should be considered an important customer data point to gather because it can give you a tremendous amount of insight into the topics that interest your followers most.

Suppose you see that your social-media followers tend to leave more comments when you address one potential customer pain point over another on your company's Facebook page. This type of insight can help inform the types of content you'll want to cover on your social profiles and your website in the future.

You can take things a step further using customer-tracking programs like Hubspot (plans begin at $200 per month) or Optify (plans begin at $350 per month), which allow you to gather customer visit data on an anonymous basis until these leads opt-in using one of your website's forms. At that point, you can connect your customer profile with the prospect's social-media activity, helping you to immediately determine which content and subjects will appeal most to each individual lead.

It may be time-consuming to gather these types of customer data, but your investment should ultimately pay off in your ability to convert leads to customers as effectively as possible.

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