Knowing Your Data: Best Decisions for Online Entrepreneurs
When it comes to running a successful business, online or otherwise, knowing and understanding consumers is perhaps the key to generating positive results. So how is that best accomplished? Sure, there are focus groups and surveys and consumer behavior studies, but who has time for all of that? At the end of the day, what all of those tactics are really after is consumer data. It may be called demographics or purchasing patterns but it is data just the same. Which brings up the key question, how well do you know your data? And what actions are you able to take due to your understanding of it?
REPORTING TYPES AND USERS
For as long as there has been data, there have been reports. Whether it’s an automated system that generates a set series of reports based on business owners/managers requirements, or a manual process of pulling and compiling data; creating and analyzing reports has been and will be a key practice for any business. And as online businesses have evolved so too have their reporting needs. For instance, what may have started as a need to monitor weekly sales figures has transformed into deeper analyses of how purchases are being made, where in the world purchases are coming from, and the sales funnel consumers are going through prior to making the purchase.
Transactions can encompass many things, including payment types used, regional buying patterns, currencies involved, and whether the consumer bought a single purchase, a recurring membership, or an upgrade of some sort.
Furthermore, different types of business users will have different requirements for a reporting system. Business owners may want to see summaries. Marketing teams may want to see specific details around conducted campaigns. Sales teams may want to see all data and access raw numbers to perform deep dives into trends and behaviors. Good systems will enable all of these actions; and good business partners will provide the amount and level of access desired. The varied requirements of different stakeholders necessitate a flexible approach to analyzing and reporting on data, and a system that can accommodate.
IT STARTS WITH THE TOOLS
As the saying goes, there is a right tool for every job. Let’s face it. There are a large number of different systems and reports available today. And what will work best for your particular business and needs is something that only you can determine. Or at the very least something your ecommerce partner can help you determine. However, there is also a chance that a report exists somewhere that will show you exactly the type of information you need. Or better yet, there are likely options to help you view different metrics simultaneously.
A good processing partner understands time is finite and business owners can’t be searching for data in reporting systems all day. A good e-commerce tool should provide easy access to important transaction or consumer information to help you manage your business. Addressing both of those things is optimal, so it’s important to ask yourself … how does the reporting system and partner you use help you do so?
Recently, CCBill released a new reporting system called FlexStats, along with new reports called Merchant Transactions and Affiliate Transactions, for both merchants of CCBill and their affiliates, respectively.
To help illustrate how reporting and analysis can help drive business decisions, what follows is an outline of some reporting features, and some impressions from industry leader and CCBill merchant ATKingdom, which has been using the system.
As we have all grown accustomed to receiving more visual breakdowns of information, it is a natural tendency to want data visually represented this way – especially for different types of users that may only need to see segments of data for analysis. But it’s really what is being shown in the graphs and charts that matters. FlexStats reports are capable of providing at-a-glance data for a variety of different metrics and timelines, as illustrated in the sample graphs.
Anything from income from the current day to income year-to-date is readily available in the Quick Stats section of the report, all of which is capable of being graphed. And a number of different graphing options exist within the interface to show transaction types, payment types, regions, or currency; along with rebills, recurring sales, single transactions, trials, and much more. While this may sound great for those users that prefer to visualize the data, it is important to note that all of the raw data is still available in other areas of the CCBill Admin system for those that may want to dive deeper into any specific analytics metric. The key takeaway here is that the data is there and readily accessible. How you use it is what can make the difference in your business planning, analysis, and ultimately, your success.
CASE STUDY — GRAPHICAL DISPLAY
As Melissa Campos of ATKingdom puts it “With the new program, I just set the timeframe I want to view and within seconds the information is there.” Prior to using the new report, Campos manually pulled ATKingdom’s CCBill data and put the numbers into a graph so she could see sales generated over the month.
Understanding and Acting The whole reason to examine data is to better understand the subject – whatever it may be - and perhaps to identify trends. Without these key results, the data itself doesn’t do anyone much good on its own. Say for instance you want to measure how a recent campaign did compared to one from the previous month. Practically speaking, you would likely pull up the information from the last month’s campaign, examine the numbers from the more recent one, and draw comparisons based on the data. None of that is surprising and is, in fact, pretty standard business practice. However, how long does it take for you to make those comparisons? What could you be doing in the time spent making them? Accessing and understanding the data is one thing, having time to properly act on it is another.
It is this action stemming from the available data that really matters. In this day and age when seemingly everyone is trying to determine new methods for generating revenue and gaining consumers, the information we access and reference is critical. Being able to find it and act quickly is even more critical.
CASE STUDY — UNDERSTANDING AND ACTING
As Campos started to use the different features of the report, she was able to draw some comparisons between campaigns, and do so fairly rapidly. “I am able to see how campaigns with other companies are doing without the need to pull the numbers and look at it over the length of time the campaign run. Now I just pull up the dates and I am aware within moments if the campaign was successful and if so, how successful it was compared to not doing it at all.”
Case in point, Campos indicates how she was able to quickly act on available data to increase revenues. “We have been able to project when our mailers will have the greatest impact as far as joins, by looking at the timeline for the entire year and seeing the months when mailers were most effective. Just that knowledge alone has allowed us to increase revenues across the board.”
DATA DRIVEN DECISIONS
The best decisions are always the informed ones. After all, once you are able to gather and analyze information, you are in a much better position to determine which course of action to take. It’s not unlike buying a house or car, the research you put into those decisions helps out in the long-run. Of course with business, things tend to move much more quickly. Consumer behaviors or purchasing patterns can change on a dime, and it is the unenviable position of the business managers, owners, or affiliate program managers to try and keep up. In this sense, having access to information or data that you can use to identify trends and act on is a key driver of business decisions.
But it’s more than just the “as-it-happens” type of data that can be such a key component of managing business. There is the historical data to consider as well. Seeing how things played out over time is a major indicator of consumer trends or purchasing patterns and a good reporting system, whatever it is, will immensely help uncover these trends. It will be the right tool for the job.
Jason Kirk, vice president of product development for CCBill, is an accomplished software and technology professional with 16 years of experience in highly critical development life-cycles who strives daily to improve the enduser experience through a variety of methods including constant re-evaluation, established business processes, implementation of automated systems, and an innovation-inspiring open work environment.