OK, let’s get right to it: the world has been buzzing for far too many months now regarding the supposed magic that is “big data.” It seems like every article I read, every news program I watch, every trade show I attend is nothing but a divine prognostication touting the idea that big data is here to save us all and propel business into the future.

But before anyone in the data world gets too mad at me, let me state that I do believe that big data is important—hell, I’m the CCO of a company that helps the biggest companies in the world manage their big data. But, that said, let’s also be real: managing big data as a magic pill for business, or at least the idea that big data will be the answer to all business woes, is not just misleading, it’s downright mean.

The issue here is the reality that most businesses need to face—and a day-to-day expectation based in reality—one that recognizes that most companies struggle with even the smallest amount data, let alone some massive collection of numbers that takes a team of PhDs and a supercomputer to analyze. Realizing the difference between big and small data becomes a prerequisite to success.

First, let’s be clear on what big versus small data really means. Simply put, “small data” is in a format that makes it accessible to the average person—easy to read, informative and, in the end, actionable, whereas big data is defined by three Vs: volume, variety, and velocity. These three combined become a cool idea but a nightmare for most to manage and make actionable.

I think of my daily routines. As someone who is blessed (or cursed, depending on the day) to be an executive for two companies, I spend the majority of my time painstakingly reviewing dashboards that represent the handful of KPIs needed to ensure ongoing success. In essence, I rely on small data to help me manage my team, my goals, and my respective companies.

It’s this scenario that many retailers need to direct more energy toward: those small numbers of KPIs that represent a much bigger picture. For instance, gathering thousands of disparate data points on retail customers may sound cool, but trying to manage and action that data won’t result in anything overly tangible—at least, not within a time frame that will matter to this quarter’s revenue.

An example is customer profile information and the actionable material it captures. Think of it this way: if a retailer is able to implement single-user-profile information for every customer, it will ensure this individual is represented uniformly across all platforms, including online, in-app, and in-store. It’s this single-user-profile that now becomes the epicenter for actionable small-data items for that customer.

If the retailer can set KPIs pertaining to such things as time of visits, average purchase amounts, average upset potential, and types of marketing materials that represent lift, those small data points (representing big things) become highly valuable.

The secret is to measure only what is truly needed—not the hundreds of points that don’t. Build a dashboard on your top 10 KPIs and business drivers. Then, make micro decisions on a daily or weekly basis to enact change. If done right, you simply end up managing your business by working those proverbial knobs and levers, virtually eliminating quarterly surprises.

However, even this is easier said than done—kind of. Like any true business approach, a comprehensive management platform needs to be put in place, processes must be well defined and, most importantly, single-user-profile management must be implemented. But as long as you choose the right platform, and perhaps a partner that has a legacy of implementing such solutions, a pace can be set to reach goals in a manageable and comfortable time frame.

After all, the greatest challenge is to avoid chasing squirrels—especially ones such as the promises of big data—before your small data is being managed to success.