Make data your friend

I have a friend who bought a house on the flip of a coin. The house was slightly beyond his budget, although affordable, but had the potential for solid growth. Heads yes, tails no. Heads it was. Ten years on, he and his family have benefited significantly from the inner-city property boom.

However, following gut instinct or whim in business can be very risky. It’s true that many long-standing businesses were developed from a bright idea or a desire to fill a market niche. But today, intuition or a wish to start your own business isn’t sufficient in an age where data is king.

Whereas previously burning ambition and a will to succeed may have been enough to kick-start an enterprise, in today’s highly technological environment, trends, tastes and functionalities are changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. This month’s in vogue appliance will soon join a global mountain of superseded technology. Remember mobile phones that weighed you down? Gen X and Boomers might just recall the day when Beta video cassettes were replaced by VHS as winners of the format wars – and then along came DVDs and Blue Ray.

Enterprises that are stuck doing things the same old way and which are not open to exploring new ideas or practices are headed for a fall, as they are outpaced by competitors using data and analytics technology to understand their customers, and are equipped to meet shifting customer demands and market circumstances.

Understanding customer behaviour has never been so crucial for the mid-market. SMES that don’t have a method for tracking how the demands of their customers are changing are at a clear disadvantage. The key is customer centricity: using customers as an agent for change, finding out what you can about them, and letting them tell you what they want or need.

And such insights don’t need a major financial investment. You could invite your customers to a roundtable discussion for example, survey them, gauge their feedback. You could also look at the data you already possess with fresh eyes. What are your sales figures telling you? Where do your customers live? How old are they? What else do you know about them? Ask yourself what data you have and what data you need.

There is a great deal of information in the public domain to draw upon, which will provide insights into consumer trends, demographic shifts, new developments, and other issues that could impact your business. Google is a great place to start.

With a wealth of information available at the click of a mouse, the next step is to use it to support your decision making. And before you do, ask yourself: what data backs it up? Get your staff on board – foster a culture of curiosity throughout the enterprise, make your people part of the process so they feel part of the drive towards new thinking and approaches.

Shifting from gut feel to facts not only makes your enterprise more insightful and competitive, but will definitely help with profitability.

Brad Miller, Partner, KPMG Enterprise

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