Business Intelligence for Small Business

Find out how data-driven strategies can boost your bottom line.

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In today's technology-driven marketplace, business intelligence (BI) is critical to have, easy to come by, and hard to interpret. Business intelligence is a catch-all term for the strategies and tools businesses use to gather and analyze information from internal and external sources. This information can then be used to make informed decisions and craft effective business and marketing strategies. 

What Is Business Intelligence?

No matter the size of your company, BI provides a wealth of data you can use. By tapping into internal and external data, you can get a clear picture of what your company is doing right and where it can improve. 

Internal data includes sales and e-commerce data, customer information, customer feedback, seasonal influence, and how your marketing performs.

External data examines what your competitors are doing and assesses external risks, such as supply chain instability. 

Business intelligence is the process of aggregating and analyzing this gigantic pool of internal and external data, and then using it as the foundation for actionable, evidence-based strategies.

How to Use Business Intelligence

The first thing to understand is what you can do with BI, and how it applies to your business. Here’s what you can do with your data:

  • Analyze customer behaviors, buying patterns, and trends using sales data
  • Measure, track, and predict sales and financial performance
  • Inform budgeting, financial planning, and forecasting
  • Gauge the cost and effectiveness of recruiting and hiring
  • Track effectiveness of marketing campaigns
  • Optimize processes
  • Improve supply chain effectiveness
  • Understand your customers better with social media and website behavior analytics
  • Improve customer relationships
  • Perform accurate risk analysis
  • Conduct competitive intelligence analysis

Big Data vs Small Data

Big businesses harness big data, and the very idea can be overwhelming. Imagine having the resources to gather granular data on individual customers and use it to make individualized psychological appeals. It’s a real process happening right now, mostly in the political arena where superpacs can throw around millions of dollars. 

Enterprise-level business operations like Google and Amazon are also employing the same tactics, and that’s why they dominate the market on almost every level. They know what customers want, what marketing techniques work, and even what time to deliver an ad. 

Small businesses don’t usually have the same deep pockets, but data analysis on a smaller scale is doable, affordable, and easier to understand. 

How to Choose a Business Intelligence Tool

The good news is that many of the tools you need to conduct BI are affordable and easy to use, and there are plenty to choose from. Here are the features your business intelligence software should be equipped with:

  • Ease of use. If it’s hard to use, you’re a lot less likely to use it. Avoid investing time and money in any software that isn’t easy to use… there is usually a better choice.
  • Custom dashboards. You want to generate the results you need, not just standard reports. Who knows what will benefit your business better than you do? 
  • Predictive analysis. The ability to ask “what if” is invaluable. Using collected data, business owners can use this feature to evaluate business decisions before they are finalized and make a strategic plan.
  • Interactive reports. You should be able to pull a report and then drill down into the specifics, search for trends, sort report data into different sets using new parameters, and highlight data exceptions.
  • Ranking reports. This report feature allows you to select the best and worst performing data sets within your business. You can use this to stock up on best-selling merchandise and drop low performing goods, reward top sales personnel, or identify the highest performing department.
  • Integrations. Look for BI software that works with the systems you already use, including CRM, sales tools, supply chain, and financial software. 

Popular Business Intelligence Tools

Microsoft Power BI offers a ton of data and insight in an easy-to-use dashboard with custom reports, analysis, and predictive analytics. It integrates with MS Office and you can input unstructured data gathered from other sources.

Sisense aggregates data from different sources into a single dashboard with easy drag-and-drop functionality. Users can create their own custom reports and gain insight from data.

Zoho Analytics starts at an affordable $22 a year (there’s also a free plan), is easy for a beginner to master, and has the capability of accessing data from more than 500 different applications across the web, in addition to Zoho’s own suite of tools. 

Dundas BI is a low-cost, user-friendly solution with unlimited customization options. Advanced interactivity and intuitive data discovery operations in a simple interface makes complex operations, including predictive analytics, easy to generate.

Next Steps

It’s easy to get bogged down in a flood of data and render your analysis ineffective. Here’s what you can do to get started:

  1. Bearing in mind that the end goal is to create an actionable plan, define a list of objectives. What do you hope to learn? 
  2. Identify and implement the right business intelligence software using the tips outlined above. 
  3. Determine what data will best provide insight. What data will provide the answers and insight you seek?