Managing the Deluge of Data

04/22/2015 03:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

It's no secret that the amount of data out there is growing exponentially. A joint study conducted by the research group IDC finds that the digital universe will grow 40% per year for the next decade. Or, to put it another way, it more than doubles every two years. But forget the next decade. How about the next minute? A report by business intelligence firm Domo turns up some eye-opening results - every minute 204 million emails are sent, Google receives over 4 million search queries, Facebook users share 246 million pieces of content, and 277,000 tweets are sent.

Marketers are hard at work trying to make sense of this data deluge. Those that succeed will gain valuable customer insights and a leg up on their competitors. Today we see companies gathering information and delivering targeted marketing via a number of sophisticated methods - they can deliver ads based on your prior searches, serve up content based on your Gmail messages, or offer you discounts for products based on your past purchasing history. Every time you log onto your favorite retailer's website, the recommendations you see are based on past purchases and searches you have made and also the preferences of people with similar buying histories and profiles. Businesses also use retargeting to continue delivering relevant content to you even after you've left one site and gone on to another.

But, as I said, the pace at which the amount of customer data on the web is growing presents a unique challenge for marketers as they weed through the haystack to find that needle of useful information. The IDC report says that only 25% of the data on the web today is being analyzed - with the remaining 75% representing unchartered territory of potentially useful information that could disclose even more distinct patterns and trends.

Marketers are constantly being bombarded with more information about their audiences - through data analytics, persona profiles, behavioral analyses, ever-more focused customer segmentations and which media are more effective for each slice of their audience - but are understandably struggling to process these huge amounts of data into insights and actionable decisions. There's simply too much to handle. This deluge of data is something that our customers run into frequently as they work to build forward-looking, sophisticated marketing programs. Here are a few tips for managing the reams of customer data flowing your way:

  • Prioritize your audiences. Don't try to continually gather more data on all of your potential target audiences - you'll drown if you do. Instead, pick your top-priority audiences, spend some time developing personas for those core audiences (including what drives and motivates them) and begin gathering more data about them. Then develop ways to identify where they are in the buying cycle and begin to get comfortable adjusting and processing that data in effective ways.
  • Prioritize data that can be used for lead scoring. Lead scoring - determining who is most likely to make a purchase - is always a great place to start the data mining process, as it will give you and your team actionable data that can directly impact sales. Once you have enough data to accurately score your core audience, you can then broaden your horizons and look into obtaining and analyzing more data to explore other audiences.
  • Recognize that lead generation is a continuum. Lead management starts with the identification of a prospect. Marketers should look for opportunities to engage with prospects, thus increasing lead generation potential. Ultimately (and hopefully), initial identification and engagement results in a purchase - usually after a lead is qualified, through the use of analytics, and nurtured. Only after a lead is nurtured should it be handed off to sales.
  • Integrate your marketing data. Make sure that the customer data gathered through marketing activities can be easily fed into your marketing automation tools. For example, a webinar program can support the entire marketing workflow, with the webinar platform integrated with a CRM platform. The better the data and the more efficiently it can be transferred over, the more effective the sales team will ultimately be.
  • Identify what kind of data will be most useful for sales. Marketing is the tip of the spear when it comes to collecting data on prospects, and once you identify and then hand over qualified leads to your sales team, you will want to give them all of the useful information you have on hand. Just like a relay race, a smooth handoff is key to success. If you have a lot of data that is not useful for them, the good stuff may get lost in the shuffle.

I'd be interested to hear how others are managing customer data. What's your system? How do you embrace the chaos and manage the data deluge?