How Companies Can Train Employees To analyse Data Like Nate Silver

Even months after the general election, New York Times writer Nate Silver‘s remarkably accurate predictions continue to grab headlines as he tours the country promoting his new book.

And regardless on which end of the political spectrum you fall, it’s a prescient time to celebrate his exacting calculus. In some ways it’s the perfect ending to a year marked by the theme of Big Data —both in politics and in business.

Indeed, the science of predicting outcomes based on data-driven insight has now influenced every major role in a company. From monitoring competitors to anticipating pricing fluxes and preventing product inventory problems, data is the world’s new key to unlocking valuable insights that affect not just the political future of a nation, but also the bottom line of any company. In particular, what Big Data offers in the way of actionable marketing and sales insight is an incredible opportunity to contribute millions of dollars in predictable revenue improvement.

In other words, Big Data can mean Big Bucks.

Here are four ways businesses can grow their own “Nate Silvers” of marketing to drive Big Things in 2013.

1. Embrace The Data Explosion

While this is an incredible new era of revenue ownership for marketers (driven by Big Data’s potential), according to IBM’s most recent CMO Study, 71 per cent of chief marketers feel unprepared to deal with the so-called data explosion. As one of the 1,700 CMOs polled admits, “One of our biggest challenges is in data analysis. For the complexity and size of our organisation, we are way behind.”

As with any major disruption in business, though, it’s time to adapt or die. With the purse strings in place—Gartner predicts CMOs will also have more buying power than a CIO by 2017—technology is one critical answer. Having a single system of record when it comes to prospects and customers enables easy access and analysis of the data points that drive sales and power revenue.

For most organisations today, those vitals reside in various and disparate spreadsheets or software programs—where they lose exponential amounts of insight and power. Nate Silver centralizes his electoral computations, and marketers should do the same to learn about the insights that can lead to success for their business. This type of data-driven marketing leads to data-driven selling that’s far more effective than the shot-in-the-dark sales and cold calling of yore.

2. Track Performance To Predict Revenue

Predicting revenue is the business equivalent of predicting a presidential election’s outcome: the stakes have never been higher for politicos and executives alike, yet it’s been near impossible in years past. However, today’s marketers have incredible insight into the likes, dislikes, hopes and desires of prospective customers—more than they may realise.

Rosanne Saccone, a Marketo customer and CMO at business analytics firm Pentaho, says data insight has enabled her to understand emerging customer shifts, sentiment and expectations for product and industry.

“We now can take a near real-time pulse on customer expectations to better understand where the market’s going, not just where it’s been – which helps us shape our overall business strategy and adjust our business plans to meet aggressive lead, pipeline and revenue goals.  We are also able to predict results with much better foresight as a result of our analytics and data management capabilities,” says Saccone.

Trackable inputs—such as links, smart landing pages, or even varied URLs or phone numbers for print ads—supply the data needed to measure each campaign, learn from each targeted customer and trace marketing activity to revenue outcomes. By creating a workflow engine that covers marketing channels across social, emails, landing pages and more, behaviour is tied not only to broad sets of leads, but also to specific individuals; this is the data that is used to predict (and enhance) business revenue.

3. Win The Swing-States Customers

Just as many voters approach the election with independent preferences, today’s consumers research brands and products first, often forming their notions and predilections long before they buy a product or service.

Notes the IBM Study: “Today’s customers can shop around the globe, find out more than ever before about the organisations they’re dealing with, and share their views with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fellow customers. Their expectations—be they consumers, citizens or business customers—are soaring.”

This peer-to-peer power shift in decision-making has totally disrupted long-established marketing and sales dogma—just as it has traditional political campaigning—and it makes marketing analytics even more vital for predicting ebbs and flows.

In order to succeed in this environment, you must have a time series data and forecasting approach to see how behaviour is trending. This consumer insight gives the ability to “call the swing states”—identify those ready to take the plunge with your brand—or tweak current practices to re-engage targets that may be skewing away towards a competitor.

Nate Silver applied this same type of “swing state” statistical strategy in 2012 (Ohio, anyone?), effectively laying the groundwork for savvy businesses to follow suit. From campaign analytics to social-sharing efficacy to lead scoring, this data is more important than ever for today’s marketers. It empowers them to see what campaigns are working, and when is truly the best time to sway the deal through sales engagement.

4. Gather As Much Data As You Can Over Time – Then Make the Call

The beautiful—yet intimidating—thing about marketing and sales data is that the more you have, the better it works. Nate Silver had decades of statistics that enabled him to be so good at what he does. Even the campaigns themselves have started an “analytical revolution,” according to the new book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, putting predictive analytics and behavioural data-mining to their own advantages on the voting battleground.

Similarly, the more marketing campaign data and insight you can gather, the better. You can spot causation and correlation—through this behavioural data over time—just as Silver has. What led to an increase in downloads of your latest ebook—was it that LinkedIn ad campaign? How did your Facebook sweepstakes campaign affect box-office ticket sales? Being able to see what worked (and what didn’t) is a vital tool in the marketer’s data kit. CMOs need to be able to optimise investment by seeing that certain campaigns and types of programs work better than others—and making adjustments to get wayward efforts back on track—from the reams of data pouring in.

Big Data enables a business to do a much better job looking forward and predicting the buyer profiles that are best for the company. And by seizing their inner, data-driven Nate Silvers, marketers will have a new level of scientifically sound influence to lead the charge at their companies toward growth and success.

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