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Guide

An introduction to collecting data to improve your business

Data is a core part of business strategies. It’s used to determine areas of growth, drive financial forecasting and make informed decisions about sales and marketing.
Collecting data to improve your business

By 2022, an estimated 90 per cent of corporate strategies will cite information as a critical asset and analytics as an essential competency.

The key to all of this is sourcing the best data for your business. That can be tricky in smaller companies, as there isn’t always a dedicated team that is experienced in trawling through information and picking out the right insights. Additionally, a lack of understanding around data collection can lead to business misdirection or problems with privacy.

It’s all too easy to prize quantity over quality and collect heaps of data. However, businesses that take this path often find that most of it isn’t relevant or it’s outdated and unreliable. In order to save precious time and resources, a targeted approach to data collection is essential.

The data you collect can become a critical resource for almost every department in your business. Marketing, for example, tends to be most successful when there’s data to inform campaigns – 64 per cent of marketers believe that data-driven marketing is crucial for success.

This guide will outline some of the key factors to consider with data collection, common mistakes and quick wins.

What factors should you consider when collecting data?

Your business goals

Before you start collecting data, it’s a good idea to review your business goals and think about what specific data you’ll need to achieve them.

There are two reasons this is an important factor to consider. The first is that it’s time consuming to sift through large amounts of data in hindsight – it’s much easier to take a targeted approach from the start.

The second is that collecting relevant and representative data doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re kicking off your data collection process for the first time, it’s unlikely you’ll have enough information to inform a marketing campaign next week.

Looking ahead to what you’ll need to achieve goals in three or six months’ time means you have enough time to plan in advance.

The processes for data collection and analysis

Think about the processes and systems you need in place before you start with data collection. Will the data be accessed by one person or several? What software does your workforce have experience with and what insights are you hoping to glean?

If you want your data to be used across multiple departments, you may need to look at implementing new technology and factor training sessions into your budget to get everyone up to speed.

Oddbox

Emilie Vanpoperinghe (right) uses Excel and an analytics platform to collect and store data at Oddbox

“We have an ecommerce platform to manage billing and accounts, so there’s a lot of data that comes straight from that system. Then there’s another platform that processes the data where we analyse churn by cohort. It’s a mix of things we do in Excel and through an analytics platform.”

Emilie Vanpoperinghe, co-founder of Oddbox

The cold hard facts

Surveys show that the use of data and analytics isn’t going to fade any time soon – 96 per cent of respondents believe that data will become even more important to their organisations in the next three years.

Common mistakes with collecting data

Collecting too much data

When it comes to data collection, a lot of businesses tend to go with “the more, the merrier” school of thought. While this might seem like a safe bet – collecting everything means you’re covering your bases – too much data can be a bigger issue than not enough.

It’s time-consuming for staff to sift through masses of data, which inevitably creates problems. Not only can important data and trends get lost this way, data analysis becomes such an arduous task that your employees will try to avoid it at all costs.

Businesses that collect large amounts of data not needed can also fall foul of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), so it’s vital to focus on what is truly required.

Not establishing clear processes

If there are no clear processes around collecting and storing data, things will get out of hand quickly and time and resources won’t be used efficiently.

Failing to implement a core system to collect data can result in it becoming hard to access and organise. If one department’s pulling data into a spreadsheet and another is grouping insights in their project management tool, you may end up duplicating work or losing data altogether.

The age of your data

It can take time to build up a useful set of data but be careful not to let it stagnate.

A common mistake is using data from years ago and assuming it’s still reflective of your current customers. Data collection should be a continuous process – customer buying habits are always changing, after all – so be proactive about looking at the most recent information rather than data you’ve used in the past.

“It is probably safe to say that if you own a website, best practice by your web developer will mean that Google Analytics is implemented. But we actually find that almost 65 per cent of companies have it all set up incorrectly.”

Reggie James, founder of Digital Clarity

The cold hard facts

The majority of respondents to a Deloitte survey – 55 per cent – reported that analytics had “significantly” or “fairly” improved their organisation’s competitive position.

Quick wins for collecting data to improve your business

Host a workshop to understand staff needs

It’s all too easy to get lost in a sea of numbers when it comes to collecting data, and it can be tricky to know what you need.

Host a workshop with a representative from each team and bounce ideas around about what data would make a difference in their roles. Start with the prompt “I wish I knew” and compile the responses.

Having a clear idea of what’s important to each team will put you in a better position to collect data that’s useful, rather than making an assumption about what your employees need.

It’s a good idea to discuss potential tools at the end of each workshop too. Ask staff about what tools or software they’ve used in the past and see if any strong preferences emerge. You’ll get a sense of what employees’ experience is like with data collection and get a better understanding of any training needed.

Set a research question

A clear research question will ensure that everyone knows exactly what they are looking for.

Use the responses from the workshop to determine which data will have the biggest impact and set a research question. What’s the most important information you could find out about your customers or products?

Get everyone on the same page

If you want to make data collection a core part of your business, spend some time getting staff comfortable with it.

“Data” tends to be thrown around as a buzzword and can be daunting for people who haven’t necessarily worked with it before. Alleviate anxieties by holding a company-wide meeting to explain why it’s important for the business going forward.

Give specific examples of how data could improve day-to-day activities, whether it’s tracking leads or making your marketing more targeted. Explain how you’ll collect data, your expectations for using it and relevant training on offer.

Oli May, Streetbees

Oli May (left) advises other leaders to seek expert advice when developing or implementing something new

“Do your research into what you really need before you start trying to [develop something new] and don’t be afraid of seeking expert advice. That was our initial point of failure, and it’s what we now know you need to do.”

Oli May, chief people officer at Streetbees

The cold hard facts

Using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool is a useful way to organise and track data. According to LinkedIn State of Sales 2020, 65 per cent of sales professionals use a CRM and 97 per cent consider sales technology “very important” or “important”.