Scaling your start-up? The answer is in the data

We sat down with Sam Martin-Ross, managing director of marketing agency Digital Uncut, to ask him what kinds of data start-ups should focus on, how can it help scale a growing business, and why data gathering is set to become harder

Data can be one of your most useful tools when scaling your start-up. Especially when it comes to marketing your product or business. How do customers find you? Which channels do they use? It all helps when it comes to calculating return on investment when getting your message out there.

How should a scaling start-up use data?

Start-ups tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to data. They either don’t use data enough because they simply don’t have any, or they are collecting too much of it and don’t know what to do with it. While there are tons of ways for start-ups to begin getting results from data, the most common marketing use case would be to start with understanding the immediate Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) they’re getting from paid ads.

Is data the new oil?

While data is extremely useful, perhaps “oil” isn’t the best analogy to draw, as too much data can actually be overwhelming and distracting, rather than adding value. I’d say it’s far more important to focus on the right data, as this is what helps start-ups better understand where to invest their marketing and sales efforts. This is what stimulates growth and helps to motivate and manage both employees and internal resources.

‘The bad news is that data gathering is likely to get trickier still’

What data does your start-up use?

We keep excellent data on how our clients found us, both through automated systems and by simply asking them. We also ensure that we accurately track data on internal resource usage, from our time to our expenses, and how that correlates to each client over time.

>See also: Data protection and GDPR: what are my legal obligations as a business?

How can you best use that data?

Understanding where your clients came from is critical for prioritising your sales and marketing efforts, as there is little point pouring marketing budget into the areas that you won’t see a return on. For example, we know that for us, around 70 per cent of our business comes from referrals, which is partly why we put such a big emphasis on delivering outstanding service. We also know that most of the remaining 30 per cent is inbound from our own organic SEO, so we continue to put time and resources into developing this further. With internal management, we try to be transparent with our employees, so they too can prioritise and use this data to deliver great service for our clients.

Which marketing automation platform is best?

HubSpot is the easiest to use and provides some great functionality that some of the others are missing. However, it has its drawbacks, including the cost and tie-in some of its functionality comes with. For example, once you’ve installed its pixel, you’ll know where all your leads came from, but you won’t be able to export that data from their system. In my opinion, Pipedrive would the next best option, and is far more cost effective, especially for start-ups, and they’re increasingly developing more functionality, too.

What advice can you give on getting more data from customers?

The golden rule is being clear with your cookie policy and encouraging users to accept. This will enable you to track how they found your website, and this really can’t be overstated. After this, there are plenty of ways to incentivise users to give more data, depending on the use case.

For example, in ecommerce, it’s common to offer a discount for signing up to a mailing list. With B2B brands, surveys can often be paid for, or sales reps can ask questions while on a call such as where a potential client found them. People are often far more willing to give their information when they’re clear on its use, if it’s relevant and timely, and when they feel they aren’t being asked for too much.

How can data best be used when scaling a start-up?

While using data on how customers found you is important for scaling your operation, it is equally important not to over-complicate this. For example, Facebook and Google ad platforms can often provide ROAS figures, but this often does not present the whole value of those campaigns. There are plenty of reasons for this. Think about people who see an ad and tell a friend or colleague, for example. These instances are simply not trackable, and there are many more use cases just like this. Tracking your marketing channels must therefore be done in tandem with overall revenue. If revenue is going up, then something is working. On the other hand, the detail in tracking can be useful for knowing what keywords or targeting options are most successful, even if it can’t demonstrate the whole value. This can be invaluable in optimising and improving marketing efficiency.

How has data gathering become more difficult?

Marketing attribution data gathering has always been flawed, in that there are many ways things simply can’t be tracked, such as word of mouth as mentioned. However, in many ways it’s become more difficult than ever. This is primarily because of cookie policies and the iOS 14.5 update. More and more websites are using cookie policies that prohibit any tracking until a user accepts, and the iOS 14.5 update stopped tracking users across Apple mobile devices, which affected Facebook in particular.

GDPR and CCPA in the US, have, of course, also made data collection and management trickier.

The bad news is that data gathering is likely to get trickier still, when browsers start to fade out third party cookie tracking in the near future. This will require businesses to use first part data solutions, which is ultimately better in the long run, but will require some investment and forward planning to get right.

Sam Martin-Ross is managing director of digital marketing agency Digital Uncut

Further reading

Everything you need to know about data gathering, protection, storage and use under GDPR