We all know that data is powerful. But it’s only powerful so long as the data you’re collecting is 1) useful; 2) you’re properly analyzing it; 3) doing something productive with it; 4) and informing the people from whom you’ve collected the data how it will benefit them. While all this may seem daunting, when done correctly it’s quite easy, inexpensive and valuable for everyone involved.

To leverage data properly — and crush your competition — start at the top. Remember, as goes its leadership, so goes a company. Company leaders must embed this into their company’s DNA and lead by example.

Each week, the leadership needs to connect with at least two key customers. Those customer touchpoints could take the shape of a face-to-face meetings, a phone call, or an online connection (think FaceTime or Skype), whereby you can physically see one another and observe each other’s body language.

You must collect both qualitative and quantitative data. Unfortunately, most companies only focus on the quantitative, such as revenue, gross margins or retention while ignoring the qualitative. This not only causes imbalance in a company, it also ends up costing it money and time.

To do this right, balance your quantitative data with good old customer feedback (aka qualitative data.) Learn the art and science of having real conversations with your key customers as opposed to only having MUEs (mandatory uncomfortable exchanges).

Some of the key benefits of conversing include collecting valuable intelligence and market-growth information; developing and strengthening relationships; and increasing referrals. These are the kinds of things that can only be attained through a conversation.

Ask these four simple yet invaluable questions to extract the most value out of your exchange:

1. How are you doing?

2. What’s going on in your industry, neighborhood, HOA or company?

3. What are you hearing about our competition?

4. What are you hearing about us — how are we doing?

Sit back and listen. Take notes. Then act on what you’ve just learned. People appreciate it when leadership takes the time to connect. Quite simply, it says, “We care.”

Once you’ve collected the information, sit down with your team and share it with them weekly. This incredible qualitative data will help you fix problems, leverage new opportunities, create differentiation, increase sales and energize your entire team.

And don’t forget to thank your customers and to let them know how they’ll benefit by having shared that information with you.

Judith M. Guido is chairwoman of Guido & Associates, a business management company. She can be reached at judy@guidoassoc.com.