More Data Than Budget, Part 1

Melaney Smith

Updated · Oct 29, 2003

In last summer's Choosing Your Perfect Software Match series, I shared results of my interview with Jupiter Senior Analyst Matthew Berk [Jupiter Research is owned by eCRMGuide's corporate parent]. We discussed “Berk's List” of the best analytics tools for evaluating the many types of data necessary to operate a site. Matt did a great job breaking down the tools by the functions they provide, and gave us his take on the best in each category.

Reader e-mail about the series fell into two categories (well, three if you count all the spam). First, the readers who were pleased to have clarity on the myriad analytical tool choices out there. They said Matt's input helped narrow the field based on the business areas they need to focus on.

The second group was one I expected (and they didn't disappoint): people who don't have the budget to purchase all (or any) analytic tools. To quote one reader, “… how about something for those of us who have no budget?!”

Often, the issue isn't whether or not the marketer can cost-justify an analytics tool. It's more like, “Don't even bother to ask”.

Whether we have budgets for sophisticated tools or not, we carry on. If everyone who couldn't afford the best analytics tools quit their jobs and flocked to companies that could, there'd be some serious unemployment in the marketing world.

An earlier column discussed some tried-and-true approaches for dealing with data-gathering problems. Two of the most relevant to this discussion are “Do it Yourself” and “Learn the Technology.”

In the event both these fail, the final strategy is run! But before you lace up those running shoes, ask yourself if you've really exhausted all the options.

“Do it yourself” is a personal favorite. We mistakenly assume if something's not easy, it can't be done. Roll up those sleeves and get to work. There's no excuse for laziness. If you can't have those nifty tools, it just means you must work harder for the information you need.

I learned a lesson in agility and adaptation at my first “real” job, and I remain grateful for it. It happens to be a trick you can use today if you're desperate for data and see no solution in sight.

Leslie Schreiner, then the financial reporting manager at a small Georgia-based company, was tasked with providing product and customer information to the marketing and sales staff. At the time, the reporting method consisted of distributing the invoice print log, a two-foot stack of green-bar computer paper, printed in order of the customer number. As you can imagine, it was difficult to identify much of anything. Forget trends and forecasting.

Leslie devised a method for capturing data that can still work. (Considering the technology available at the time, it was brilliant.) Invoices were printed from a mainframe. The infamous 2-foot-thick print log was also saved to a log file on the mainframe. Leslie figured out how to download the log file over a 96K connection. It took up to three days. It had to be watched, and often restarted. She stuck with it. She then wrote a macro using Lotus 123 (a precursor to Excel) that parsed the log file into a spreadsheet, saving product revenue by customer.

It took a few tries to develop a process that worked, but work it did. Leslie began providing information that gave sales and marketing incredible insight and helped identify opportunities.

Leslie's attitude stuck with me through my career. Any of us would understand if she'd thrown in the towel. Windows did not exist, nor did accountants who knew how to download and parse a print log. A lack of technology didn't stop her.

Adopt the same attitude today. Even big budget marketers can find themselves bogged down in red tape and tech snafus, and must revert to low-tech data gathering.

In coming weeks, we'll hear from marketers and analysts who've found some pretty creative ways to get the information they need with little to no budget. If you're suffering from small budget syndrome yet are determined to get the data you need, stay tuned.

I'd like to hear from you, too. Have an interesting “do it yourself” method others might employ? Please share it!

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