For some reason when I hear the term big data, the show “Hoarders” instantly comes to mind. But, we’re not talking about houses or apartments full of stuff. We are talking about the critical information we collect about our customers. From servers to supercomputers to even CRM, we’ve become quite fond of collecting information and hoarding it. Hopefully the database has been through a couple spring cleanings to keep it alive, but even if you’ve got unlimited Gigs of space, what good is collecting data if you can’t use it? More importantly, how can businesses use the data collected?

The idea of small data is beginning to interject itself into CRM related discussions these days as the original philosophy around “big data” is becoming a tad overwhelming. With all the challenges presented in the collection and management of the copious amount of information we collect about our customers and clients, there is a growing need for smaller, more digestible clusters of data to make better decisions for our businesses.

Does small data mean MORE data?

Not necessarily, yet small data makes big data digestible. Even though there are some notable differences (as well as advantages) to a small data approach, businesses should not subsequently ignore the need for big data. However, when viewing data collection and management from a strategic view, our data driven society would most likely agree that businesses need both big and small data approaches in order to remain successfully connected to their customers. In fact, according to Jules Berman, a writer for, the way we derive small data actually comes from big data. In Berman’s example, he uses a restaurant locator app to create a small data set of local restaurants by querying the larger database. A similar approach rings true for businesses who strategically communicate with their customers. If, say, you have 1,000 customers in your database, but you want your specific marketing message to only reach those who enjoy cooking classes, then you can tailor your data set into a much smaller cluster. It’s these targeted campaigns using small data sets that reinforce basic marketing principles, yet still emphasize the need for both big and small data.

Is small data only harvested from big data?

As a direct result of technology and mobile devices, small data is found virtually everywhere. Small data is especially attractive as social media and online networking unveil tremendous amounts of information about consumers, influencers and even your competitors. Now, whether or not you’re a pundit for social media, it remains an avenue of choice for people to share their personal information – information that has traditionally been unavailable to marketers, until now. If your business hasn’t integrated social media into your CRM, we recommend you read “Do I need SCRM Consulting.” Now, we won’t digress into our own personal affections for social networking (especially as it relates to CRM), but we will say that the benefits of leveraging social media for your business can have a significant impact on the way you manage customer relationships. Plus, with the topic at hand, social media is a proverbial gold mine for creating the small data you seek. As your big database collects this information (behaviors, preferences, etc.) about your customers, it becomes easier to segment your customers into more targeted groups.

How is small data used to make better business decisions?

Aside from the marketing benefits we’ve mentioned, therein lies an analytical advantage to small data vs. big data. Mostly because the opportunity to organize the data comes much easier with smaller sets. In the article referenced above, Berman included a great chart which shows “how big data research typically works – by constructing small data sets that can be productively analyzed.” And, while his chart depicts the key differences between small and big data, the comparative model allows us to conclude that by organizing smaller amounts of information, we are then able to draw meaningful insights about the data. Meaningful insights, speaking in business terms, that will give you the information you seek to act and move forward successfully. IT professionals, on the other hand, might argue that the centralization of data is much easier to manage as a whole, which is true. However, analyzing and interpreting data is far different from simple storage.

What does small data mean for CRM?

For one, collecting small data about customers includes gaining insight into their personal preferences and unique behaviors. And since CRM is designed to help business build more loyal relationships with customers, small data fits nicely into this picture. For marketers, small data offers more insightful information about individual preferences that allow for better targeted campaigns, as explained above. For sales, small data means developing more personalized relationships with their clients and customers. And for customer service, small data means better understanding of the customer’s history with the business, and therefore yields higher service satisfaction rates.

Again, though, big data is not to be overlooked. Rather, businesses should recognize the challenges presented by big data and find solutions to better use the information collected.

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