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Closing the Analysis Gap, Increasing Competitive Advantage
Visual analytics provides insight into business-critical CRM data.
Posted Dec 1, 2005
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In this era of regulatory demands, rapid product life cycles, safety concerns, and price pressure, finding a sustainable competitive edge remains paramount to successful enterprises. Organizations make significant investments in customer and product information in hopes of gaining an advantage. Consequently, the American Marketing Association finds that a majority of U.S.-based companies now have two to three times more customer data than they had a year ago. One would think this avalanche of data would deliver huge benefits. Instead, executives report that they are no closer to making good use of this mountain of information. In fact, information advantage over the competition has yet to be realized. Companies spend billions of dollars to obtain data on customer purchasing habits and retail sales data and invest in internal databases, CRM systems, ERP systems, and SFA systems to gather more information. Successful brand management requires an intimate understanding of changes to market, product, customer, and channel data, and an ability to communicate insights into this information. Information advantage is realized by squeezing more value out of this data and putting that knowledge to work across all major business processes--marketing and sales, research, and manufacturing. To reach this point, companies must overcome the analysis gap--a gap between sophisticated statistics tools useful only to trained experts and inflexible, static reports for everybody else. These solutions, while helpful in some situations, do not allow decision-makers to easily dive into the information, ask multiple questions in an interactive environment, and communicate those insights to others. When these tools fall short, companies often attempt to fill the gap with homegrown spreadsheet-based applications:
  • most companies cite Excel as their BI platform;
  • the most popular feature request of BI vendors is output to spreadsheets; and
  • in a crisis, where an immediate, informed answer is required, that decision will likely be made around a set of spreadsheets. But spreadsheet applications offer little in terms of usability, visualization, and scalability. In fact, you could say they do more harm than good.
    Companies are coming to understand that their current analysis tools are inadequate for finding the opportunities and threats to the business that lie buried in their data. To close the analysis gap these companies have turned to a new class of visually interactive analysis applications that empower sales and marketing professionals, and convert their market intuition into actionable intelligence. Long a staple of such operational areas as R&D and manufacturing, interactive, visual analytics allow marketers to rapidly iterate marketing scenarios and confidently apply fact-based insights to marketing and sales decisions. Enter visual analytics Through the use of powerful, visually interactive data analysis, marketers can analyze internal and external CRM data in one, unified environment, freeing them to focus on research instead of pulling together data and building yet another report. Even more important, a user does not have to be a statistician to uncover new customer segments or understand channel performance drivers. Visual correlations and patterns in everyday data jump off the screen. Any number of questions whose value is not yet determined can be asked of the data at no cost, maximizing the possibility of uncovering unanticipated problems or revealing masked opportunities. New discoveries soon become best practices for data analysis and can be captured easily and distributed to others on the team. These insights allow companies to make faster and more informed decisions and, in the end, realize an information advantage over their competitors. Business analytics applications are responsive to changing circumstances, allow companies to rapidly aggregate critical data without IT involvement, and can be applied to forward-looking decisions. Marketers are no longer limited to understanding what already happened--they can now focus on what's happening and how to take immediate action. With interactive, visual analytics, the following complex marketing and sales questions are easily answered:
  • Not only who is my top customer in the segment, but are there customers in new segments that share the profile of my most successful customers?
  • Not only what is my best product, but which factors contribute to a category-leading product?
  • Not only what is my market share in a category, but are market characteristics forming that would lead to entering or exiting a category?
  • Not only how are our promotions performing, but are we running the right promotions in the right markets?
  • Not only is there a new trend in syndicated data, but how should I redeploy my sales organization to capitalize on it? As more sales, marketing, and industry data becomes available to companies, having applications in place to maximize the value of this information is essential. Organizations that put visually interactive analytics applications into the hands of sales and marketing professionals stand to gain a significant advantage over the competition. About the Author Mark Lorion is the director of analytics at Spotfire, which develops interactive, visual data analytics applications. He can be reached at mark.lorion@spotfire.com
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