The direction a business takes, and the success of its activities, are often measured and presented in a range of varied data. In order to accurately identify opportunities and plan for the future it is essential that managers understand the data they are using. This article will explore qualitative and quantitative data and discuss how it should be used to make decisions in business.
What is qualitative data?
Information presented as qualitative data is generally concerned with attitudes and opinions, expressed in descriptions, interviews and conversations.
What is quantitative data?
Information presented as quantitative data is generally concerned with quantifiable values, expressed as measurements in length, time, volume, weight, height, etc.
What’s the difference?
If you were trying to obtain data on a particular product you were selling you would gain different information from each type of data. Qualitative data would show the product to be large, heavy and expensive whereas the quantitative data would show the product as having a size of 1.8m x 1.4m, a weight of 83kg and a cost £600.
The difference is that the qualitative data is based on descriptive perceptions. What one person considers as expensive, another may consider as cheap. Often qualitative data is heavily influenced by relevance to other similar products.
When considering quantitative data you are provided with the absolute facts free from human perception and opinion. You will be able to accurately compare your product against others and establish exactly where you stand without human perception biasing the results.
Which is best?
Put simply – one is no better or worse than the other. Instead the information provided by each should be used collectively to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the subject you are reviewing. For example, if you were to conduct a survey on customer satisfaction it is vitally important that you pay attention to the opinions, attitudes and expectations that the qualitative data reports. Even if your quantitative data proves that your business is better than your competitors in a particular area, if your customer’s perception is different that is often what matters the most.
Similarly, quantitative data can be used to confirm or deny qualitative opinions. It may be presumed that your typical customers are males, over 40 years of age, living within 5 miles of your business, but when you analyse your sales figures it may demonstrate that your typical customers are actually females aged below 30 years of age living as far as 50 miles away.
How do I use data to make decisions?
The two types of data should be used in conjunction to ensure you have a full picture of the available information. However, when using the information you must be aware of each type of data and its associated limitations. Often there is more data than you need, much of which will be irrelevant, and it should be your first task to establish what is required. Once you have selected the information you need you must identify trends and draw accurate conclusions which can either be celebrated if positive or addressed if negative. Lastly, you will need to monitor and evaluate your changes and you will need to consider how you will collect your data moving forwards to ensure you have everything you need to assist you with future decisions.