In any decision you make, there are both numbers and less tangible things to consider.
I always say the goal is not to create a “Computer says no” kind of business. The goal is to use your numbers together with feelings and qualities to create the business of your dreams.
That said, if you haven’t the first clue of what is meant by the terms quantitative and qualitative, then this is the post for you.
We refer to the numbers part of the calculation as the quantitative part. This is the part you can easily run through your calculator. You might do this in your head at the supermarket on a regular basis: should you get the 4-pack for £6 or the 6-pack for £7.50? The 4-pack price per unit is £1.50, and the 6-pack is £1.25, so you’ll pay less in the long run by buying the 6-pack.
Of course, the next thing to consider is whether you’ll use all 6 of those before they go off. If you’re considering loo roll, then that’s fine; they don’t go off. But if it’s 6x 1kg packs of strawberries, and you live alone – and you don’t make jam – that could be a bit of a challenge.
This is one qualitative question, where you must consider the qualities of the thing at hand to answer the question. Loo roll gets one answer; strawberries get another answer, based on the quality of its perishability.
Another thing you might consider is the quality of the item. Instead of loo roll and strawberries, imagine you’re looking at IPA. The 4-pack is the premium IPA you really enjoy, and the 6-pack is the own brand that tastes like someone rubbed a grapefruit on a handful of bitter hops. This one’s a no-brainer: it’s worth spending the extra money to get an IPA you’ll enjoy drinking. Otherwise, honestly, just skip it entirely.
These less-tangible parts of the decision-making process are usually qualitative.
It could be the quality of the product or service:
Often you do get what you pay for (but not always). Perhaps paying more for your bookkeeper means you get a human doing most of it, who understands your business, and can then speak with you intelligently about how you’re doing in the different areas of your business and how and where you could improve.
It could be something about the experience:
You might find Zoom a better experience than Teams for video calls, so you might end up paying for both (because you need MS 365). Zoom works better for external meetings and Teams works better for internal meetings, so if most of your meetings are with people outside your own team or organisation, this may be the quality that tips the scales for you.
It could be about how it makes you feel:
You may opt to attend one market over another not based on price, footfall, sales, or any of those quantities you can run through a calculator.
It could be that one market made you feel calm because it was well-organised, and wanted because you were treated well at every step of the way.
The other was scattered, no one seemed to know what they were doing or where anyone was supposed to be, so it was stressful. And the language they used in their emails and contracts seemed to assume you had no intention of paying them, showing up in good time, cleaning up after yourself, delivering good customer service to the attendees, or anything else.
The second market organiser made you feel bad in so many ways that you wisely decided it’s not worth your energy to go back, regardless of profit, cost, or any other numbers.
Can you convert between qualitative and quantitative measures?
Yes, and this can be quite helpful for comparing different things. We see it quite often in the wild.
Ratings: Converting Experience into Numbers
For example, when you rate a product, service, business, movie, accommodation, or attraction on a scale of 1 to 5, you’re converting the mix of feelings and experience you had into a number. Then these numbers can be averaged to give the next customer an idea at a glance of what to expect from it.
The words in your review are the qualitative measure: they provide the rest of the story, and are usually more enlightening than the score alone.
Psychological tools: Converting Emotions into Numbers
For another example, one common tool used by psychologists and counsellors is the CORE system (Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation).
It is a set of questionnaires that ask things like how often have you felt tense, anxious, or nervous in the past week, or how often have you had sleep difficulty. Points are assigned to different answers: 0 for Not at all, 1 for Occasionally, 2 for Sometimes, 3 for Often, and 4 for Most or all of the time.
These points are added up to get a sum, which is then used to get a quick idea of how you’re doing and how you’re improving during your treatment.
Pros and Cons List: Converting the Good and Bad into Numbers
If you’ve ever been stuck and uncertain of how to move forward, you may have made a list of pros and cons. This is simply a list of the good things about making a certain decision together with the downsides.
This is usually qualitative – you’re generally filling your list with words. Sometimes you’ll get some numbers on it, but lists of pros and cons are mostly or entirely filled with words.
After listing out your pros and cons, you may still be divided, so you may simply count your total pros and total cons, and see which list has more. This is one method of converting words into numbers.
Let’s say you’re deciding whether to start your own website or carry on only selling on a marketplace you’re already established on, such as Etsy, British Craft House, UpWork, or similar. Your list could look like this:
- Easy to remember and share web address
- Easier to create a memorable, branded customer experience
- Less risk that 75% of my sales income will be held for months with no explanation or recourse
- Not competing side by side with other sellers
- Able to sell things that aren’t allowed or may be shadow-banned by the marketplace I’ve been using
- Need time to learn new skills, build it, and maintain it
- May want to hire help to maintain it
- Must drive all traffic to it myself (may include paid advertisements)
- Must work out VAT and taxes on international sales myself, instead of letting the marketplace take care of it all
If you simply counted up the pros and cons, you might conclude that the Pros are a clear winner.
However, if you then contemplate how serious each of these is for you, you might realise you simply don’t have time or money to either build a website or pay someone else to do it for you right now, so it’s simply not feasible at the moment.
This is a simple way to see that when you’re converting between words and numbers, you need to be very careful about how you’re doing that conversion! Not all words are created equal.
Ultimately, some things cannot be converted from qualitative (words) into quantiative (numbers). It’s important to honour that and not force it, because when you force these things, you end up making decisions based on bad information.
So, to sum up:
- If you can run it through a calculator, it’s quantitative. Otherwise, it’s generally qualitative.
- Both are important.
- Sometimes the qualitative measures matter more than any numbers ever will.
- You can sometimes convert from qualitative to quantitative to help you compare things. If you’re careful with how you do this, it can be incredibly helpful.
- Not everything can be converted to numbers. It’s important to recognise when this is true and honour it.
Hi, I'm Sara-Jayne Slocombe, and my mission is to help UK-based businesses run better. Everything I do is aimed at giving you the confidence to run your business using the power of your numbers.
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