Business data is in high demand: how to unleash your own potential
There's exploding demand for business data, and your company could be sitting on a pile of it.
What would your company pay for comparison data on your competitors? What would you give to better understand how to motivate staff, or advertise more effectively? All you really need is the right data, and in this era of all-seeing IT systems, someone has the answers you need.
But you might never have considered the even bigger opportunity in data: that your company has some that you could be selling. There's explosive demand for strategic, operational and marketing analytics, and you don't have to be a high-tech company to play in this space. You just have to understand the value of the information you have, and how best to leverage it.
Air Miles, for example, has been doing this for years: offering loyalty points to shoppers in return for gathering customer data, which it sells to retailers. A more recent convert is Toronto-based Achievers.com (formerly I Love Rewards), which provides automated reward and recognition systems to big business. Founder and CEO Razor Suleman built his company to help companies track and reward employee accomplishments more effectively. Along the way, however, he realized that Achievers was accumulating huge amounts of data: how often each employee is being rewarded, how often they recognize others and how this correlates with personal performance and the patterns set by the company's best and brightest. "When you capture all this information," says Suleman, "you begin to see patterns and trends that the client can't see."
Suleman still sells reward systems, but a growing part of his value proposition is the data that his firm can provide on clients' operations. Four times a year, Achievers' account manager presents his clients with a report that reveals how each employee is succeeding, how morale is trending and even which employees may be mentally checking out. "Customers love it," says Suleman. "This sort of predictive analytics is going to give us a sustainable competitive advantage."
Understanding the data in your business is becoming essential to success. In the old days, management decisions were based mainly on guesswork. Most advertisers, for example, went with their gut until the Internet suddenly enabled them to track and compare results. By making minor tweaks to their digital offerings, including price, design, features, copy and typeface, marketers can now track click-throughs and see what works and what doesn't.
Wherever data exist, there is an opportunity to leverage it with your customers. In Waterloo, Ont., Sandvine Inc. produces high-tech systems that help Internet service providers improve the efficiency of their networks. With clients such as Comcast, Spain's Telefonica and South Korea's SK Telecom, Sandvine monitors network traffic all over the world. Once or twice a year, it distils all that data into a report that it uses to give clients new intelligence on customer behaviour (e.g., more users are watching Web videos on smart TVs and phones than on computers) and as a door-opener that impresses prospects.
Fredericton-based Radian6 was founded in 2006 to help companies monitor what's said about them and their industry through social media. But as Radian6 acquired more data on hundreds of millions of online discussions, it started offering specialized tools to help companies track social-media conversations, respond when appropriate, spot trends and produce reports. Radian6's edge in "social intelligence" helped it get acquired last year (for $326 million) by Salesforce.com-which, in turn, will now manage much more detailed customer databases for its corporate clients, including email addresses and Facebook profiles.
But you don't have to be a technology wonk to profit from data. Jeremy Behar is CEO of Toronto-based Cirrus Consulting, which was founded to conduct lease negotiations on behalf of dentists and now provides consulting services to dentists and physicians. It was a full decade after Cirrus's 1994 startup when Behar realized he was sitting on buried treasure: the data in all those leases the company had negotiated. Once Cirrus started pulling trends out of those documents (it negotiates 1,000 leases a year), it was able to save clients more money than ever before. A landlord who claims he needs a 20% rent increase can be talked down significantly, says Behar, when shown current data demonstrating local leases rising by just 2%.
Cirrus doesn't charge for that data overtly, says Behar. But since it generates bigger wins for clients, "we've been able to monetize it by raising prices over time." Behar is now considering selling his leasing data to a U.S. real-estate website, and he's eyeing new markets for the data compiled in Cirrus's medical-practice consulting: "We know we're the only ones collecting and aggregating this information today."
If your company is sitting on data gold, Suleman has some advice: don't guess what information clients need; ask them what they wish they knew. Don't be afraid to sell to your current clients' competitors, since companies love to know where they stand in their industry. Enforce strict security and confidentiality protocols. And, finally, be prepared to offer custom reports when customers clamour for more. You may not be able to charge for those reports, but you're building data dependence that could last for years.
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