This is the blog to accompany the second tutorial – knowing the numbers to build a picture!

It’s amazing how little people in business management know about their own products, customers and sales. They know their sales and margins, but the underlying data is a complete mystery. The problem with this is when they want to improve their sales and margin, they don’t know what levers to pull.

All of the opportunities for improvement are sitting there in the data – the trends, the connections, the anomalies, the specific high (or low) data points that point to best (or worst) practice – and if these are addressed it is far easier to get those improvements.

When I start a new job, it’s one of the first things I do. Look at the management information available and then begin to search for the next level that generally isn’t available, or people ignore – the stuff you must search for, little nuggets of gold.

In one of my later roles, I pulled together a whole raft of trends, league tables and other observations and shared them with senior management, product managers, sales teams. It wasn’t rocket science, but they looked at me like I was the oracle! But by knowing this information, it allows you to make different decisions and focus on specific areas.

It’s not always easy to get the data you are looking for. I have always worked in businesses that have IT teams who manage the information systems. They are always very helpful, very keen to prove that their new system works and will produce reams of reports – every combination of data except the ones that are in any way useful to a sales or marketing person!

It’s not their fault, I think it’s just the way they are wired! Remember that book, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. I once thought of writing a sequel about the workplace, ‘Marketing people are from Earth, IT people are from some planet you’ve never heard of that is just plain weird’.

I joke of course. They just look at things from a different perspective, and I have had great relationships with IT teams when you sit down and talk to them about your requirements – and the thinking behind them. Once they understand where you are coming from a marketing angle, they are a great help in finding the information you need.

Anyway, this exercise is about digging into your data and finding out all those nuggets of info that lie below the surface that allow you to perform better. Now unless you are Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, it can be difficult to spot trends and patterns in the data, and if you do come across something it can sometimes be misleading or erroneous.

The way to do it is to ask questions. You need to brainstorm the questions, the information you want to find out to build a picture about the business– and then go into the information to answer those specific questions. That way your picture becomes focussed on the things you want to find out.

If you are a small business, you will have to ask and answer those questions yourself. If you have IT colleagues or suppliers, then speak to them so they can build reports that allow you to track these answers over time.

The questions don’t just have to be internal either. There is a world of information available just by asking Google (other search engines are available!). Ask questions about your marketplace, about external trends – you’ll be amazed what you can find out there.

Ask loads of questions – you can never ask too many – build that understanding of your business and sector that will allow you to prosper in the future. Now go to tutorial page and download Tutorial 2. There is also a link to a short video on YouTube that might help. Good luck!!

Chris Perkins is a Part Time Marketing Director, working with clients to provide marketing leadership, strategy and direction. This course has been designed as a FREE to access resource to enable SME business owners and teams to create a workable business plan through a series of simple exercises.

If you require further help to manage your marketing strategy and execution, please email chris@oneobjective.co.uk