Many of the world’s smartest marketers are now deploying behavioral analytics not only to track customer behavior, but to predict behavior, create unique experiences and get an edge on their competition. What is created is a holistic picture that can tie patterns of behavior to custom content and offers, customer actions to sales, and an advanced ability to discover new opportunities.

In it’s early stages, your business’s ability to discover new opportunities is what will propel you forward and keep you ahead of your competition. As you grow, this advanced ability will make sure you keep well ahead of those who want to steal your customers or imitate your success.

Using data to beat your competition isn’t just about winning the battle for customers in the here and now - it’s about gaining a sustainable advantage.

Remember, anyone can target another business’s customers. Only the truly great companies are able to see markets that don’t yet exist - it’s your blue ocean.

Here are five steps to follow if you want to use data to beat your competition.

Step 1: Attribution

The attribution stage is when you cut through the noise to get to the data that truly matters. Sure, you likely have mounds of data at your fingertips, but not all of it is worth your attention.

I wish I could sit here and tell you exactly what to track, but I can’t. I don’t know your business. I know don’t know your objectives.

The first thing you need to do during the attribution stage is to sit down and figure out what the objectives of your marketing campaign are going to be: trial users, paying customers, leads, etc.

Once you have set your objectives, you need to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure how well you are achieving your objectives.

If you want to know what to look for, here are a few examples that I’m particularly fond of:

  • Know which customer segments or personas have the highest and lowest conversion rates. Learn why each segment is performing the way it is and try to make the necessary adjustments to improve the lagging group.
  • Which of your customers make the largest average orders? Which customers are the cheapest? See if there is someway to upsell your customers with low average order values.
  • Some customers are going to take longer than others to convert into trial users and full paying customers - know these groups and try to cut down on the decision-making time for your slower customers.

Once you identify these kind of measures and metrics, you can start trying to figure out ways to influence them and improve the underperforming groups.

Step 2: Optimize

Once you have identified the data that is important, you can then start to form hypotheses to test. Find channels that drive the most profitable leads, spot behaviors and patterns that point to behaviors and interests, and look for groupings of customers that you didn’t originally expect.

As you try to form testable hypothesis, you need to break each of the problems down to its constituent parts. For example, when trying to understand why it takes some people longer to become customers than others, think about:

  • Are they both seeing the same landing page? What could you change on the landing page the slow converting group sees?
  • Is the group that is outperforming the average receiving a blog post or ebook offer at a crucial point in the lead nurturing process?
  • Are the leads that convert quickly coming from a similar source, like Facebook, or do the underperforming leads share a common source?

Looking at the individual components of a customer’s experience with your business will help you spot potential trends that you can then test.

Step 3: Test

A hypothesis is just that - it needs to be tested and either proven or disproven.

Taking Facebook as an example, if you think it is driving your most profitable leads, invest more in that channel and measure to see if your hypothesis is correct.

If this was what you wanted to test, the hypothesis would look something like this:

“Customers who find us through Facebook and browse blog posts about customer acquisition are really interested in our social CRM ebook.”

To test this hypothesis, you could then attempt an A/B test:

Offer half of the people who perform that behavior the social CRM ebook and half another ebook - see which results in more conversions.

Whether your test proves or disproves your hypothesis will determine how you move forward.

Step 4: Refinements

The purpose of testing your hypothesis is to see what actually works. Once you test something, you’ll know which to continue and which to give up on. This is the process of refining your marketing practices and it’s how you use data to beat your competition and convert more people into customers.

In our example, if you notice that your test works, start offering more data and information about social CRM to the group you’ve identified. If it doesn’t, form another hypothesis based on your data and test that one.

This four step process needs to be continuous, but it’s one that pays off.

Step 5: Automate

Once you’ve collected and analyzed your data, the final step is embracing marketing automation.

Marketing automation has resulted in as much as a:

  • 45 percent improvement in the percentage of your sales pipeline sources from marketing efforts
  • 22 percent improvement in the percent of time actually spent selling
  • 25 percent improvement in the percentage of revenue plan attained

Whenever you see improvements like this, it’s clear that automating web personalization can help grow your business.

The main reason that automation has such a positive impact on your business is that marketing, and not sales, is what’s really driving the customer decision journey. In fact, most customers are 60 percent through the buying process before they ever reach out to a sales rep.

This means that your ability to provide personalized, relevant content is more important than ever. You can make your data work even more effectively for you by automating your web-based personalization strategy (with a tool like Evergage).

This process - one of continual testing, optimizing, and automating - is one that will help your business grow and it will give you an edge on your competition.