This is a scary time for businesses of all types, and firms are looking for ways to forge ahead amid unprecedented levels of uncertainty. As your business begins to develop a plan of action for the coming months and years, you need to have something to base your path forward on.
In a panic, your business’s chief fallback should always be your data. Moments of extreme unknowns and harrowing consequences can inspire impulsive action — having the right data at hand can help you avoid that at all costs. Relying on the information you know makes navigating the unknown that much easier.
Whether it’s backlash to a marketing campaign gone wrong or the economic fallout from a global pandemic, your business needs to know how to panic correctly. There’s no universal guidebook for overcoming challenges as a company, but utilizing your data effectively is one of the best places to start. Here’s how to do it:
1. Have the right tools at your disposal.
You may have access to all of the data you could ever want, but if you don’t have a way to process and understand it, it might as well be useless to you. Data is only as powerful as what you can learn from it, so adopting the right platform for massaging and unpacking all of your extracted data is key.
There are a number of analytics tools out there for your company to sort through, but not all of them are created equal. The best application won’t simply be the most powerful or the one with the most features — it will be the one that your company can use most effectively. MORE FOR YOUWhen A Stint In A Family Business Didn’t Work Out, He Turned Around And Started A Million-Dollar Online StoreHe’s Using His Skill At Building Million-Dollar E-Commerce Stores To Help Abandoned Dogs4 E-Commerce Trends To Watch For In 2021: A Case Study With AdRoll
Simone Di Somma, founder and CEO of analytics platform AiThority, puts it well: “The need to explore data and make the analysis accessible to everyone within the organization will foster even wider and faster adoption.” By choosing software that wide swaths of your employees can easily access and take command of, you’re ensuring that no one in your organization will put on their blinders during a time of crisis. During a panic, data is your way out — so make sure that everyone has access to it.
2. Look for more than just numbers.
When you hear the word “data,” you probably think of endless Excel spreadsheets and programs compiling a never-ending stream of numbers. While the value of hard, quantitative data cannot be understated when trying to make decisions for your business, it’s not the only kind of data out there for you to use.
When employed correctly, qualitative data can make just as much an impact as any other. Asking people to characterize their feelings about certain things may seem a bit wishy-washy to some, but there is no better way to get the full palette of human responses to one of your products or policies.
As great as they both can be, quantitative and qualitative data are most powerful when used together. “Studies have shown varied results in productivity when working from home,” says Ritch Wood, CEO of Nu Skin, “We asked our employees and learned that they wanted more control over their schedules, and we are working on implementing a flexible work policy that will result in increased productivity among our employee force.” Getting more than just the numbers can give you perspectives you might not have had access to, and prevent you from making rash decisions along the way.
3. Keep your data updated.
Learning how to make data-driven decisions is a crucial step for any business, but it’s far from the whole story. During a crisis, you need to be sure that the decisions you’re making are based on the most recent information you have available to you.
Jessica Kuznia of Really Simple Systems notes how data storage systems like CRMs can sometimes overload with old data, thus making it difficult for your company to keep everything up to date. While it’s important to regularly cull any outdated figures you’re holding onto, taking in new data is just as valuable.
If you take analytics from your digital marketing, for example, set up an integration tool that extracts that data in real time. When your company needs to make a critical decision during a panic, you may not have the time to go to all of your various sources and see what the most recent information looks like — opting for continuous updates is the only way you can be prepared at all times.
4. Think about your sources.
Where do you get your business’s data? More than likely, it’s self-generated: customer surveys, product inventories, revenue trends, and so on. While data such as this is necessary for making the right decisions for your company, it won’t be able to paint the full picture of a situation.
Let’s say you’re trying to decide about where your company should expand its operations to next. Having a map of current and potential clients for your business is a great start, but it hardly covers all of your bases. You need to know what other firms are operating in that area, what demand looks like, who’s in the talent pool, and so much more that you likely won’t have the figures yourself.
Thankfully, the internet is full-to-bursting with sources you can draw from. This list of government-compiled data from the Small Business Association is a good place to begin, and this one of business-focused web data sources from Import.io has even more to offer. The more data you have to work with, the better informed your decision making will be going forward.
To be a business leader in 2020 is to be in constant crisis management mode. It’s not clear when or how normalcy will return, but until it does, companies need to be prepared to face down whatever the world has in store. By relying on the right data.
Written by Serenity Gibbons, Forbes’ Contributor