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How to turn big data concepts into business results

November 2017


King Leung, the Chief Executive Officer of CLiX International, a provider of customer relationship management solutions, shares his experience in helping companies with big data-powered sales generation



Big data has been a hot topic among the c-suite executives of market leading companies since 2013. But its momentum reached another level in 2017 after AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence (AI) developed by Google DeepMind, beat world number one board game Go player Ke Jie.

I was very honoured to be invited back to the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs to share my experience on big data monetization to a large audience during a seminar on 6 November. Attendees were exceptionally enthusiastic and had some thought-provoking questions such as whether Hong Kong has the right conditions to play a significant role and win in the big data era; and how companies can increase sales with big data. In answering these questions, we need to first look at the landscape of the big data sector.

Firstly, as data volumes continue to increase at an exponential rate, massive amounts of data storage is needed. The major players including Amazon, Microsoft and Aliyun (the cloud services arm of Alibaba) have already made significant strides towards this. 

Secondly, the total number of marketing technology, or MarTech, companies engaged in the sales and marketing application of big data has mushroomed from around 100 in 2011 to over 5,300 this year. MarTech software handles almost everything from analytics to marketing automation to data management platforms. According to industry insiders, this segment is already fairly crowded with MarTech companies finding it difficult to differentiate. So industry consolidation has begun where major players like Salesforce are buying up promising niche players.

Finally, as soon as data is collected and cleaned, one of the primary goals is to extract business value from it – this is where most companies are struggling.

There are three critical factors behind companies’ success in monetizing their customer (big) data for sales and marketing:

 

Leadership and expertise in customer data analytics

The Chinese word for knowledge is 學問, which literally means “learn to ask.” The primary aim for most c-suite executives is to increase sales and profits. But they often lack experience in dissecting this objective into more granular questions for further data analyses. These analyses have the potential to uncover enormous business opportunities that were not exposed to business leaders in the past.

Typically, and especially in Hong Kong, it is very difficult to hire business leaders who have a unique mix of skills – strong business acumen; past experience in leading analytics projects; strong understanding of sales and marketing execution (to ensure that the analytics results can be used); and, a broad understanding of the latest technologies (to work with the internal IT team to ensure all customer and operational components are integrated and automated). On top of all this, the leader needs to have strong communication and interpersonal skills.

Hence, many companies typically hire a specialist consulting firm like ours or large multinational consultancies to help get things started. As the business benefits become more concrete and the internal teams understand how everything works together, the appropriate headcounts are often gradually added to build out the internal capabilities.

 

A repeatable mechanism for turning insight into action

Even if useful insights are successfully discovered, they are often presented in the form of powerpoint documents for senior executives. It can easily take most companies months from the time that an analysis is done to the point when a decision is made and action is taken, and by then the action may no longer be relevant and effective.

To solve this problem, manual data analyses need to be upgraded to “real-time algorithms” where insights also become data that can be used right away.

 

Upgrade your mindset behind marketing campaigns

When data insights can be generated in real-time, customer interactions also need to be in real-time in order to maximize the highest possible response rate. However, many marketing teams are still stuck in the old days of manual marketing campaign management – manual extraction of marketing lists, manual execution of marketing campaigns where campaigns are done one at a time, etc. This should no longer be the bottleneck as marketing automation technology is becoming more mainstream, allowing marketers to, among other things, automate campaigns across multiple channels.

The key first step is to take action – select a technology (and perhaps a consultancy that can help guide your internal team for the first six to 12 months) and pilot automated marketing campaigns. Test, learn and improve. It won’t be perfect on day one, but when you look back after one year, you will be amazed by how far you have come along.

Too good to be true? Pioneers such as Pizza Hut Hong Kong, which I have had the privilege in serving, have done just that since mid-2015 with phenomenal business results. Its social customer relationship management program has won awards in innovation, technology and marketing.

Some courageous business leaders have already blazed the trail, so what are you waiting for? Taking action is the first step to success.