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Structured Data + Unstructured Data = Insight

I’ve been talking a lot about the promise of big data and what it can do for companies that make it a priority in this series of posts. Cisco has a different strategy. Cisco listens. Not just listens, but hears.

Ninety percent of everything Cisco sells goes through a partner or channel. That’s a problem, as the company has almost no direct access to its end-user customers and must rely on its partners to pass the word about customer issues and wants.

To address the problem, Cisco turned to big data and ventured into new territory, mining heaps of unstructured information. Cisco’s customer listening center gathered all the data that its units surveyed at industry meetings. Its social media listening center monitored Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, bloggers, comments, and other sources. Its support listening center tuned in to Internet “watering holes,” where Cisco’s engineers answered customer questions long before those questions made it to the support center.

But what about  future customers?

About 14 million visited the site each month, and they became of special interest to Cisco’s strategic marketing group. Because in that group, Cisco felt certain, it could tease out top sales prospects.

First, Cisco wanted to know, who has a propensity to buy? Cisco worked up detailed profiles on a handful of Fortune 500 companies whom it identified through the network addresses of its website visitors. It reached out by email and telemarketing to a select few, combined that with archived and purchased business intelligence data on their firms, and together computed how much of Cisco’s wares each firm had already bought, how big their wallets were, and how much they’d probably spend on product next year.

Then Cisco did something quite unusual. It scanned social media for mentions and indicators – not about Cisco, but about the target firms, hoping to learn from all the chatter which high propensity-to-buy firms were also getting ready to buy, and what.

Bringing the “propensity-to-buy” results of history together with the in-the-moment, “ready-to-buy” results of social media produced nine high-potential leads. The sales results that followed impressed.

What was the value-add from all this heavy-lifting analytics work – the sales over and above what Cisco would have made had sales teams not used the engagement score to prioritize? That, strategic marketing folks figured, was strategic marketing’s contribution to the bottom line.

Recently, that number – the analytics uplift –stood at $4.2 billion.

In my next post, I’ll look at how big data is making the music industry sing.

About the author
Zachary Tumin
Zachary Tumin
Special Assistant to the Director and Faculty Chair, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

Zach manages the Belfer Center’s project in Information and Communications Technology and directs the Harvard component of a joint Harvard-MIT initiative in cyber security. Zach’s research focuses on the strategic management of collabo... Read More >>>

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