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Decision-making Needs Room for Big Data and Emotions

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Few people need convincing that big data is not a phenomenon or fad. The ability to collect, track, measure, and analyse vast amounts of information to know more about your business, including sales, customer habits and trends, internal business processes, and supply chains, is too much to pass up.

In fact, it’s often more than most businesses can handle. It’s not industry- or function-specific either — a quick scan of headlines across trade publications reveals that taking advantage of big data is on everyone’s mind.

Recent research shows just how much importance business leaders place on leveraging big data. According to KPMG’s Global Consumer Executive Top of Mind Survey 2014, “consumer company executives were clearly affected by the transformative impact that data and data-related issues are having on their companies and the industry. Data analytics and digital strategy were rated as the two most important areas of strategic focus (rated as having ‘very’ or ‘critical’ importance) in the coming year … Further, 40 percent of executives said the importance of data overall was at a critical level.” Fifty-six percent of respondents ranked data analytics as most critical to their strategy ahead of other areas, such as human resources, growth and international expansion, and consumer health and wellness.

Sales leaders must then realise that their clients and prospects might also be using big data as an input for their selection and purchase decisions. How does that impact your sales reps’ efforts to connect with their buyers?

It’s Not Just About the Data

Before bowing blindly at the altar of big data, though, another study provides a compelling counterpoint. The new report entitled “Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions” from Fortune Knowledge Group and gyro Research reveals the undervalued role of emotion in business decisions. Among the key findings about the role of emotions in decision-making:

  • Human factors are the deciding factors: Nearly two-thirds (65%) of executives say subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16% disagree.
  • Executives “trust their gut:” A majority (62%) of executives say it is often necessary to rely on gut feelings and soft factors.
  • Strong reputations and cultures win: When choosing a company to do business with, 70% of respondents cite reputation as the most influential factor. Company culture was also a top driver according to 53% of executives surveyed.
  • Analytical insight requires emotional insight: A majority (61%) of executives agree that when making decisions, human insights must precede hard analytics.
  • Positive gains outweigh negative risks: Most executives (68%) say that the ambition, admiration, and potential rewards outweigh fear of failure and being blamed for making a bad call.
  • Long-term partnerships are the goal: The long-term gains are worth the short-term financial risks according to 71% of respondents.
The Best Choice Incorporates Both Data and Emotions into Decision-making

Clearly, there are pros and cons for placing absolute faith in either approach. Here are just a few considerations for each:

Decisions Based on Emotions:

  • Pro — Based on past experience and knowledge of the subject/issues at hand
  • Pro — Benefits from intuition
  • Pro — Can see the difference between common practise (as represented by big data) and unique circumstances for specific clients or buyers
  • Con — Might fail to recognise important but not obvious trends borne out of big data analytics
  • Con — Might make knee-jerk decisions without patience and supporting research
Decisions Based on Big Data:

  • Pro/Con — Removes human emotions
  • Pro — Can process vast amounts of information
  • Pro — Once data are collected and analysed, decisions can be made swiftly
  • Con — If the data aren’t complete or unbiased, basis for decision could be misleading
  • Con — Could include old data that is no longer relevant or which has changed
Big data should be a component of decision-making but not the sole factor. The absence of human emotions and instinct in decision-making puts us that much closer to a Terminator-like experience where machines are choosing for us. Few decisions in life are ever purely black and white, and that requires the careful assessment of multiple inputs — including data, experience, and instinct — in order to make the best choices.

Make informed decisions that include all relevant data analyses, but also weigh human emotion, experience, and instinct before making the final call. Don’t ignore the data, but don’t be a robot either.

Implications for Sales Reps and Teams

With this in mind, realise that your prospects are making decisions in this same manner whether consciously or not. Therefore, encourage your sales reps to learn to sell not just on data or emotion, but to incorporate both elements into their sales pitches.

You need data to substantiate the problem, your solution and experience, and the benefits buyers can derive from choosing you. But, you also need to be able to describe what’s in it for them in a qualitative way, not just quantitatively. Perhaps the data reveal that a product or solution will be the most effective, but if people don’t like or feel good about the experience, then it will likely fail.

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