How to Learn from Dark Data Lurking in Your Small Business

Is Your Small Business Hiding Dark Data?

It’s time to bring the data in your company out of the dark.

Yep — out of the dark.  At this very moment, most of your data is languishing in various systems.  It’s in your accounting system, your CRM system, your ERP system, it’s in your social media accounts, and it’s even in spreadsheets and other documents.

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All this data represents a large pool that can help you capture opportunities faster and more profitably than anyone else in your marketplace.

What Exactly Is Dark Data?

Dark data is simply any information that has been generated and captured somewhere in your company and then hasn’t been used.

Once you begin looking, it’s easy to find dark data almost anywhere in your company.  A few examples are:

  • Details of past transactions with purchasers who are not currently active customers;
  • Different versions of quotes and proposals that have been prepared while negotiating a final sale;
  • How long it took customers to pay past invoices;
  • The number of specific activities different team members have done (i.e. number of sales meetings, etc);
  • Sales of each product for each customer;
  • Geographic details of active customers.

Once you get on a roll, the list can grow quite long quite quickly.

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Why Does It Matter?

Your dark data matters because it contains the DNA of the current version of your company’s performance.

Whatever performance you are currently getting and whatever performance has been created in the past is clearly explained by taking a dive into your dark data.

This makes it tremendously valuable in managing your performance no matter what your competitors or the economy does.

Dark data gives you a “time machine” to determine the causes of performance in a particular previous period.  This allows you to compare performance across various time periods and understand the reasons that performance varied.

How Do You Find Your Dark Data?

Leveraging your dark data can provide you with some amazing upsides.

However, many companies seem to struggle to identify it in an effective and useful way.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult — if you use a structured approach.

A very effective way to find it is to follow a two-step approach applied to the key dimensions of your business — customers, products and services, and your team.

Here is a simple two-step approach:

Step 1

Draw a cycle map that identifies EVERY step in your particular cycle.  For example, for your customers, this would be each step from first being identified as a prospect through to being converted into a sale, and then onto a repeat customer or churn customer.

Step 2

Once you have drawn your cycle map, identify all the types of information that are generated at each step of the cycle.  Don’t allow yourself to get constrained by what you typically report on in your company.

For example, a data point that would be captured upon invoicing would likely be zip code although you may not generally run reports of zip codes in your company.

A great way to do this is to create a table that summarizes the information.

What to Do with Your Dark Data

Once you’ve got your dark data identified and summarized it’s time to use the information.

For each data point you identified, brainstorm ways it could be used to gain insight into another dimension of your company (i.e. customers, products, services, people).  Admittedly this part of your dark data journey can be a little bit challenging.

It is a great idea to utilize your team to do a thought experiment that answers the following questions.

  1. What would happen to performance if this data point doubled?
  2. What would happen if this data point was halved?
  3. What does this data source tell us, or imply to us, about various areas of our company?
  4. What could this data source tell us about various areas of our company?
  5. What could the information contained in this data source tell us about our untapped potential?

Take Action

With the answers to your questions in hand, select between one and three action steps you could take to capitalize on your insights.

Focus on a small number of action steps.

Don’t pick more than you can execute on.  Picking one and executing it vigorously is infinitely better than having several going with no progress.

So get started bringing your data out of the dark.

Data Management Platform Photo via Shutterstock
1 Comment ▼

Steve Wilkinghoff Steve is a leading global expert helping small businesses, their owners, managers, and teams find, unlock, and leverage hidden financial performance. Steve's mission is to help every small business in the world harness untapped financial potential. He is the founder of as the vehicle to achieve that.

One Reaction
  1. I didn’t know that there is such a thing as Dark Data and it can be that useful. Usually, these data are just ignored and not even analyzed.