Big Data has become a buzz word in our content-laden industry. People talk about it like it’s a mythical, unicorn-like creature instead of talking about tactical ways to leverage it. And if they do talk about leveraging it, they talk about the ways in which it can influence digital marketing. And while it is a great asset to marketers, there are plenty of other ways we, as business professionals, can use it to optimize other business practices. At nearly all of my speaking engagements, I like to discuss the importance of banishing silos and sharing data across the organization. The reason I emphasize this is because data that helps a marketer can also help the finance department or research and development or sales. The ways we use the data may be different but by sharing data, we can improve our organizations. Therefore, let’s discuss a few ways in which Big Data can go from a fluffy buzz word to a business game-changer.

1. Marketing

As I noted, many people accept that data can be leveraged to optimize marketing messages and find out when people are lowest in the conversion funnel and ready to purchase. Here’s how marketers plan to use Big Data in 2013 (courtesy of eMarketer):

So, as you can tell, the marketing department is getting the most use out of Big Data (or planning to in the near future) compared to other segments of the business. But marketing can influence a host of things, especially when it comes to lead generation and sales. We now have the ability to monitor, interact + report on real-time trends. Marketing has become a conversation and we are living in a Post-Super Bowl Oreo world. Brands are expected to be a part of the conversation as it happens, not catching up on a blog post later. Therefore, you need to ask questions that allow you to refine your processes and execute quickly. How can I leverage Big Data to grow my community? How can I turn a customer into a brand loyalist? How can I better leverage brand advocates across my digital channels? You get the idea.

2. Customer Service

We now know what people want, how they behave online, how their online behaviors influence purchasing decisions, and we can even predict seasonal trends or crisis response trends. Because customers are so willing to share everything going on in their lives, they have opened up many possibilities for the improvement of customer service. Having the data isn’t enough. In order to leverage it best, you have to ask smarter questions. Sure, Big Data can tell you what your customers’ preferences are. But better questions to ask of the aggregated data might include: What channel is most efficient for consumer response? What is their biggest complaint about the brand’s customer service strategy (for example, response time)? On average, how long does it take to remedy a customer’s problem? What is the most cost-efficient solution to remedying consumer problems? How can you improve efficiency on your team? At what times of the year do the most problems occur? The least? How can you optimize your staff to accommodate these trends? Now you’re thinking.

3. Human Resources

Let’s not forget that leveraging data does not have to be solely about external-facing business practices. You can implement insights internally as well. Let’s say you’re a retail store and every year at Christmas, you hire 5 part-time employees to help with the additional customer volume. But each year, you end up with disappointing revenue. You might think that pricing or getting customers in the door is the most important thing, but instead of going with your gut, you have data at your fingertips to help you make the decision. How many of your salespeople performed well? How many underperformed? How much did you pay each employee? Were any salespeople better at selling more expensive items? Were there particular days or weather patterns that impacted your business? How did extended store hours impact your employee performance? How could you test different shifts or teams of salespeople to increase ROI? All of these questions allow you to dive deeper into the data internally and get the most out of your human resources.

These are just a few areas in which Big Data can help you make better business decisions. It can also be leveraged to impact finance, sales and more. It’s not about bringing out the data to map sales on a chart. It’s about overlaying multiple areas of data in order to come up with a holistic business perspective and finding ways to improve it all around. When this is done, it begins to improve every facet of your business, not just marketing.