How to choose and use BI tools for smarter, optimized marketing

By Chuck Leddy

Marketers today are awash in data, but data alone isn’t the answer for better marketing. Just as crude oil gets pumped out of the ground and refined into jet fuel, raw data must be refined into actionable insights that marketers can use to turbo-charge revenue growth. Without the ability to refine data, a potentially-valuable resource becomes a time-draining distraction, akin to endlessly searching for a needle in a haystack. How then does data get refined and turned into valuable, actionable insight to support better marketing? Business Intelligence (BI) software provides the answer.

Benefits of using BI tools for marketers

Put simply, analyzing raw data can generate business insights that improve the processes and performance of every marketing operation. Below are some of the most important reasons to use business intelligence software to transform/refine data into better marketing.

#1. Measure to optimize performance. As management guru Peter Drucker once famously said, “that which gets measured, gets done.” When we don’t measure marketing performance, we’re blindly playing “pin the tail on the donkey,” a losing game where we have no clear idea what marketing activities lead to what business outcomes. The capacity to track and measure provides marketers with two valuable tools: (1) a GPS system to guide action and (2) a scoreboard or “single source of truth” to gain credibility (through accurate, relevant data and numbers) with the leadership team, especially when budgeting discussions occur. All business leaders are from Missouri, the “show me” state, and marketers had better have measurements/metrics available to show.

Business intelligence software gives marketers full visibility into why marketing campaigns are working or not working. With shared, accessible data transformed into insights (i.e., business intelligence), marketers can then make adjustments and course correct quickly and easily. This is data-enabled performance optimization. You can measure what’s happening dig down into the “why,” then pivot as needed in real time.

#2. Support data-driven decision-making. The concept that decisions must be supported by data should be a core value not just of the marketing team but within every functional area (and within every employee) in a company. It’s simply inefficient when only the leadership team has access to relevant data for making strategic decisions. We’re not living in the business landscape of 1979 anymore. Marketers, and everyone across the organization, should be leveraging data analytics and business intelligence software/tools to measure, understand, and inform all aspects of their performance toward strategic goals. Data should fuel decision-making, answering key questions such as which marketing initiatives should be targeting which customer demographics.

#3. Uncover unexpected and actionable insights. BI software pulls and aggregates data from a variety of sources and systems, including CRMs, marketing automation platforms, ERP systems, and others. Data analysis, much of it done now by artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, can sift through this integrated, aggregated data to uncover correlations and previously hidden patterns. BI software can thus help marketers connect dots they didn’t even know existed, creating real business value.

BI tools can answer strategic questions, like “why do some customers leave when they do?” Uncovered patterns may show that certain marketing and sales tactics are precursors of, and contributing to, “funnel leakage.” Using BI software, analysts can dig deeper and uncover the root causes of this customer churn by comparing patterns of company actions and resulting customer behaviors. Because functional business areas/teams have traditionally been siloed into different systems, these insights have been inaccessible in the past but can now be visible.

Choosing the “right” BI tool

Now that we’ve described some of the potential benefits BI tools can provide, let’s discuss how to choose the right platform/vendor for you. There are lots of choices on the market and selecting the best BI option for you will depend on multiple factors, including the size of your organization, your marketing operations maturity, your legacy systems and tools (especially in the realm of data management), your go-to-market strategy, your budget size, the capabilities/training of your people, and much more.

You’ll need to carefully evaluate your existing capacities and resources before you even begin to look at possible solutions from the market. As in all important purchases, the better you understand exactly what you need and why, the better your buying experience. What should you look for in a BI tool? Among the typical features are:

  • Dashboard offering graphs and charts for tracking metrics on a single page; 
  • Self-service capabilities that enable users to access, aggregate, transform, and store data without the help of your IT department;
  • Collaboration tools that enable users to share files and work together;
  • Extraction of data from operational databases, transforming that data into a standard format, and loading it into a data warehouse; 
  • Advanced analytics to conduct predictive modeling, data mining, machine learning capabilities, and more.

As you buy BI tools, you should carefully weigh all your options, seek information and proposals from vendors, trial and test whenever possible (especially to evaluate the compatibility of any BI platform with your existing data management set-up), and make your final choice with due deliberation. 

How to compare potential BI platform vendors

There are many choices available, so you should use your informal networks (including your social/business networks and your industry associations) to ask what BI tools other companies in your industry are using and how they like them. You can even find an array of resources online to discover exactly what different BI vendors offer. Always keep in mind that every organization and vendor/platform is different. Just because a platform works well for a competitor doesn’t mean it will work well for you. Go online to find resources like G2 and Capterra to access buying guides, vendor reviews by users, and thorough comparisons of different BI vendors and their features. 

At Sojourn Solutions, we offer Tableau services. We’ll help you connect Tableau to your technology platforms, combine your data, enable intuitive marketing analytics, and report on and share what matters most, in real time.