A lesson on marketing automation from Xero: 'A simple data approach can transform your business - and make your customers love you'
- 11 February, 2016 06:30
No matter what size your business is, optimising through automation is critical to growing your operations without growing your costs.
By implementing simple data strategies you can transform your business, and make your customers love you.
Maintaining good data management is critical if you want to expand, and with the volume of data available, a lot of grunt work needs to be completed so you can easily handle your data, all the while maintaining its integrity and security.
Know what you’re talking about
When it comes to data, it’s critical you know what you’re talking about. Going back to basics and getting the taxonomy and definitions right is a good place to start. When I first joined Xero, one of my first goals was to create a ubiquitous language. To define key entities such as User, Organisation, Practice, Partner, Customer and so on.
'We found concentrating on creating a beautiful, clean data model, establishing master data, and metadata to help guide the way has helped us automate, and to grow, scale and integrate while maintaining our nimble nature.'
Unsurprisingly, different parts of our company had different definitions. It’s worth taking the time to pay attention to the details during this phase, to iron out the core of your business understanding and create consistency.
In order to establish conventions, you need to get everyone on the same page. Communicating what that page is was a significant part of our journey of moving towards clean, beautiful data and automation.
One source of truth
If you are in a business with data in multiple systems it becomes critical to ensure you only have one source of truth for all your information. You shouldn’t have different versions of your data floating around. Everyone should understand which system holds the master - the record of truth. Systems should also be integrated so changes only happen to the master record and this flows through and updates everywhere else it’s supposed to.
Make it beautiful
At Xero we invest in making things beautiful, and that includes our data. If your data is all over the place, hard to find, poorly documented, or difficult to understand, there is a better way.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist, be into big data, or machine learning, to get this right. Good quality metrics that are easily consumed in a beautiful, clean, simple data model adds significant value to a business. Spending time on your metadata by creating and cleaning up your data dictionaries, makes it easier for the people driving your business forward to find the data they are looking for, and to build systems on top of that data in order to automate.
Xero has had a lot of new staff join over the last year. By having a streamlined data system we’re able to bring new hires up to speed faster, and adding value to the company sooner.
Next: 'Start filling in the gaps'
Fill the gaps
Spending time smoothing out your metadata, data models and cleaning up your dictionaries makes it easier to find the data you’re looking for. And once you start mapping out and analysing your data, you’ll likely uncover quality issues which will need to be ironed out. Alternatively, you may notice the data you wish was there, isn’t.
Which means it’s time to start filling in the gaps. To work out what you should be measuring that you’re not, and to create new value-add data.
Build a culture
Now you’re starting to build a good data culture. And while data may play a large part, in the end it is your people who will ultimately make the difference. At Xero we have created data champions who ensure our customers’ data is always protected, that it is well understood, documented and that data governance is optimal and in place.
We have created data champions who ensure our customers’ data is always protected, that it is well understood, documented and that data governance is optimal and in place.
And then after you’ve done all the basic but important grunt work, you automate everything you can. At Xero we found concentrating on creating a beautiful, clean data model, establishing master data, and metadata to help guide the way has helped us automate, and to grow, scale and integrate while maintaining our nimble nature.
Now the fundamentals are in place, we can develop insights which help small businesses and their advisors, thrive. It’s those insights that will also enable us to help small business improve their productivity. We’re now using our data to build in automation to make our customer onboarding process smoother, to reduce churn and the cost of acquisition. By being able to personalise our messaging we will be able to increase the Xero love even further and continue to help small businesses work smarter, not harder.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? But managing your data is a lot like exercise. You know it’s good for you, but other things often take priority, and you need to be disciplined everyday and understand the goal you are reaching for. When you start, it can be painful at first. But then you start reaping the benefits, you feel great, and the business hums.
You’re no longer spending time in conversations where you’re asking where the data is? Is it the right version? Is it high quality? How is it related to other business information? Only then can you begin to maximise the use of your data knowing it’s robust.
The strategies, while not effortless, are simple and they will help you automate so you can achieve scale without seeing your costs soar.
Guido Stark is data achitect at Xero. This is an excerpt from his presentation at the 2016 SUNZ in Wellington.
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