5 Things to Know About Data As You Grow Your Small Business

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Paying attention to your customer data is key to keeping your small business growing.


Two consultants just unloaded their challenge:

How do we help our client who has over 100M companies represented in their corporate database?  

Your first response is probably a smirk – “Well, that sounds wonderful!  What’s the problem?”

The problem is that there are only approximately 45K publicly-traded corporations in the world.  Even if you include all the private, government, education and not-for-profit organizations, you still don’t come near 100M.

The consultants needed to zero in on what the company needed to know. – How many customers do we really have?

From there, the consultants can expand their scope to consider how many of these companies are profitable, how many of them buy regularly, and the lifetime value of each.

Before any data are gathered, before any questions are asked, the consultants and countless other companies across the world must define “customer.”

Over the years, this problem has presented itself to me in countless meetings, at conferences and in board rooms.  And it represents something that most companies are not clear about from the day they open their doors:

Who is their customer?

Startups, as well as long standing companies, define each customer in a variety terms – CIOs, application developers, insurance agents, franchise owners, information security professionals, HR leads and departments.

This wide definition works for the marketing folks, but not great for managing these customers for purposes of billing, support, resale, and a host of other operational issues.

Here are 5 things to know about customer data as you grow your company

1.   Gain agreement on what a customer is to you and your business.  

This sounds so simple but take the examples above and dissect a few:

  • Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are individuals who head up information technology departments usually in larger corporations.

They come in various shapes, sizes, sexes but they also exist in companies that vary as greatly as they do.  Does your product benefit the individual or the enterprise?

The answer to that question will determine whether your definition of customer is linked to the individual or the company.

  • Insurance agents are numerous.  Similar to the CIO, your definition should consider whether an agent as an individual or as a component of her firm?

Do you want agents associated with certain lines of insurance or certain companies?

  • HR leaders and their departments are usually multifaceted.

Consider whether the size of the company they support matters. Should a larger company be divided into smaller, manageable customers?

Additionally, consider if your product supports the leaders and/or the departmental needs.  It may be best to focus on which HR function your product supports – employee benefits, education and development, or recruiting.

Next-  Things to know about customer data as you grow your company 2 through 5