What vs. Why: How to Gather the Right Data to Drive Business Decisions

What vs. Why: How to Gather the Right Data to Drive Business Decisions

Essentially the difference between qualitative and quantitative data is the difference between asking “what” and asking “why.” Quantitative data provides the numbers–for example, how many people purchased an item within a specified time period from a specific vendor. Qualitative data can help to explain why those consumers bought that item instead of a similar item and why they bought from that vendor. Both are useful in providing businesses with actionable information that can guide their strategy moving forward. It is important for businesses to understand when to use qualitative or quantitative data gathering methods in order to maximize their research time and money.

How Quantitative Research is Useful for Business

Quantitative research typically takes the form of user surveys, polls and questionnaires, but can also leverage data like page views, click-throughs and online product ratings. Typically, this information is automated and requires little human interaction to gather. How quantitative data is handled once it is gathered will determine its value to the business. When gathering quantitative data for market research, it is important to gather a large enough sample to tell a complete story. Too little data can paint a misleading picture. It is also vital that the data that is gathered is interpreted by someone who has experience analyzing and organizing data to tell a story. While it is true that numbers don’t lie, the same numbers can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on how it is organized.

How Qualitative Research is Useful for Business

Qualitative data, on the other hand, is considered “soft” data (as opposed to quantitative’s “hard” data). Qualitative data digs beyond the “what” questions that the quantitative data seeks to answer to get to the more nebulous “why” questions that tell a more complete story of consumer behavior. Qualitative data gathering can take many forms, such as interviews and ethnographic observation. With qualitative data businesses can dig more deeply into traits like emotions and personality characteristics that quantitative data can’t explore. Qualitative data allows for exploration of the emerging issues and trends. When using qualitative data, it is important to view the data with an unbiased eye. It is easy to use qualitative data to support a preconceived idea rather than letting the data guide the narrative.

When to Use Them

The decision to use one research method over the other depends on the information the business needs to drive decision-making. Asking the right questions will help you decide if qualitative or quantitative research methods are right for your business decision needs. If you are interested the individual customer behavior, qualitative research will allow you to probe more deeply into individual traits and preferences. If you are interested in the behavior of a large customer group, a quantitative research method will provide overall trends based on large sample sizes of customer data. In many cases, however, a mix of both qualitative and quantitative research methods will paint a more complete picture.


Both qualitative and quantitative research methods have benefits for business research. Businesses should be prepared to leverage both types of research to get the information they need to grow their business. To avoid incorrect or biased interpretation, businesses need to rely on partners who are trained in the interpretation of both kinds of data in order to leverage the information into growth.