How Data Can Keep you One Move ahead of the Competition

In the early days of humans versus computers in chess, we humans routinely won. Those chess-playing programs were rudimentary by today’s standards. Chess-game programmers became better and eventually grandmasters, including the world champion, lost to computers.

Then a funny thing happened. In 2005, a team of two amateur players entered an online tournament that placed few restrictions on play. Computers were among the contestants. Grandmasters, too. But the amateur team had an edge over its competitors’ digital and human brains: special software they developed to help them play against computers, plus a methodology that helped them determine when to rely on their computer’s advice and when to favor their brainpower. 

The amateur duo won the tournament.

While today’s most powerful chess-playing computers are virtually unbeatable by human players alone, humans and computers in partnership not only have a chance, they can and do win.

The analogous question for your business is this. How can your company get a winning edge by combining the power of data analytics with brainpower? It’s a question you could apply to nearly any area of your business. Here are three areas where your company stands to benefit the most from a smart-data plus smart-human approach.

Use data to know customers and strengthen relationships

When your people can connect the dots between cause and effect as they apply to customers, including marketing efforts and their results, your company knows what customer-relationship efforts equal the best ROI. It all starts with truly knowing your customers. What their needs are. What they think of your company’s ability to meet them. And all the while, assuming there’s more to know.

How you obtain this data from customers — surveys, interviews, or any other query method you devise — doesn’t matter so much as accumulating it on a continual basis. Asking customers what’s important to them fosters a greater sense of collaboration. Knowledge-sharing arrangements may develop where you learn about future needs. Ideas for new products and services may come about.

Obtaining more customer data leads to obtaining more customer data. You can never know too much when you desire to engage customers in meaningful ways. At every touch-point. And in your marketing communications. Such analytics should be at the core of how you run your business.

Have data-driven pictures of customers—and opportunities

Big data might as well be a big mess if you don’t use it to drill down revealingly into individual customer relationships. Closely examine the data you’re collecting on a regular basis. Look for underlying trends. And what steps you can take to exploit their potential.

But your data, internal and external, is only as good as it is clearly understood. Understandable data is actionable data. 

Consider dashboards in general. Or yours specifically. They should be designed so your company can distill data into quick-read performance metrics, as well as those for demand and engagement. Well-designed dashboards reveal all in “Aha!” visualizations that cause good things happen. Some examples. Your staff can track customer referrals and their influence on your sales pipeline. They can track and evaluate customer retention rates to isolate where improvement opportunities lie. They can account for cross-sells and upsells. They can identify candidates for case histories to highlight in upcoming proposals.

The best dashboards realize the potential of big-data analytics in combination with big-brain talent. If your company is already using dashboards, are they as optimized as current data-mining allows? If your IT department can’t answer that question, chances are IT consultants to your industry can.

...your data, internal and external, is only as good as it is clearly understood. Understandable data is actionable data. 

Which customers to grow with; which to avoid over-commitments with

The longer the customer’s history with your company, the more historical data you can rely upon in projecting their value — while of course keeping that familiar securities investing caveat in mind about how past performance is no guarantee of future results. Due diligence requires, well, diligence—the diligence of current data, evaluated and understood on behalf of informed decision-making.

In practical terms, a given client’s long-term value to your company is a dynamic, risk-versus-reward projection. It should be continuously under review, even for clients with sterling credit histories. Checking credit a variety of ways is best. Visiting the customer, consulting public records, seeking information from other companies that have dealings with the customer, obtaining financial statements and past-due reports — all of this data accumulation informs projections of customers’ long-term value. So, too, do macro-economic trends and industry and sector trends. Even anecdotal information can have value, depending on the source.

Not every company has the risk-management staff, or expertise on that staff, to perform every potential check on individual clients. Seeking additional expertise can fill in the gaps as well as enhance a company’s efforts exponentially. The bank you partner with is one potential source of information. Customers who know other customers might be other sources.

Depending on the provider, trade insurance coverage can offer an overlay of risk-management thoroughness greater than you might find anywhere else. With this type of coverage, your insurer has skin in the game. For a trade insurer, monitoring your customers’ financial health is as important to them as it is for you. They’re providing information on your customers—with a guarantee on your customers. That puts customer value projections in a new light.

Knowing which customers are the ones to grow your business in tandem with avoiding over-commitments to customers not on solid financial footings means keeping your company’s focus where it should be.

...a given client’s long-term value to your company is a dynamic, risk-versus-reward projection. It should be continuously under review, even for clients with sterling credit histories.

Data-backed decisions make knowledge a chief asset for your company

Data on competitors will enable your company to understand what it’s up against when competing for business. Market data on customer industries can suggest sliding emphasis from one industry segment to another. Data can help you accounting for the overall business environment, too.

In chess, you face billions of potential moves in a typical game. In the game of business, poor moves have real-word consequences. So combine the most thorough, current data you can obtain with the keenest brainpower available, both within and outside your company. Then the moves you make in business will more often than not be winning ones.