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Quantitative vs Qualitative Business Research

what is quantitative data in business

Business research is vital for companies of all sizes to make informed decisions, identify growth opportunities, and gain competitive insights. There are two main types of business research – quantitative and qualitative. Understanding the difference between quantitative and qualitative research, including their respective uses, benefits, and limitations, is crucial for business owners to leverage them effectively.

What Is Quantitative Business Research

Quantitative business research focuses on quantifying behaviours, opinions, trends, and other variables by collecting and analysing measurable, numerical data. It answers questions related to “how many”, “how often”, and other statistics to uncover patterns and market trends. This data-driven approach provides hard evidence to support decision-making.

Some examples of quantitative research include:

  • Surveys with closed-ended questions, ratings scales, and multiple choice responses that produce numbers and statistics.
  • Behaviour tracking provides numerical data like website clicks, foot traffic, or sales revenue over time.
  • Analytics presenting site visits, lead conversions, social media followers and other measurable digital metrics.
  • Sales data tracking product, regional, seasonal and channel performance.
  • Economic models use historical data to forecast future financials.

The defining characteristic of quantitative research is its use of closed-ended questions and numerical data that can be statistically analysed for actionable business insights.

Uses and Benefits of Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is extremely valuable for businesses to:

Track Performance and Trends

Regular quantitative data allows performance tracking over any timeframe to spot positive and negative trends. Monitoring the numbers helps assess if campaigns, operational changes or new offerings are working.

Quantify Customer Behaviour

Understanding sales volume, buying frequency, repeat purchase rates, social engagement and web activity provides measurable behaviour insights businesses use to tailor their customer experience.

Compare Metrics

Comparing indicator metrics before and after changes as well as between customer segments, regions, channels and products is key for data-driven decisions.

Forecast and Set Goals

Current and historical statistics help create financial projections and performance goals with hard targets business leaders can measure against.

Generalise Findings

The structured, statistical nature of quantitative data means results can be generalised to wider markets and audiences. This helps guide decision-making across the whole business.

Quantitative business research produces objective, numerical data that provides concrete evidence regarding customer behaviour and business performance. The statistics it delivers offer powerful support for business strategy and planning.

What Is Qualitative Business Research

While quantitative research focuses on hard stats and numbers, qualitative research collects and evaluates subjective, exploratory data that seeks to understand human behaviours, emotions, attitudes and perceptions. Rather than measuring “how many”, qualitative methods answer questions related to “why” and “how” to provide context and meaning behind the statistics.

Some common qualitative methods include:

  • In-depth interviews with open-ended questions for participants to explain perceptions, feelings and interpretations related to products, messaging, services and more.
  • Small focus group discussions allow dynamic exchanges around experiences, desires and beliefs to uncover new insights compared to one-on-one interviews.
  • Observation studies directly examine how people spontaneously interact with physical spaces, signage, technology, prototypes, etc.
  • Case studies explore a single person, organisation or situation in detail through interviews, observation, and other sources to uncover new research angles.
  • Ethnographic research gathers data while embedded within a group or culture to gain deeper immersion.

The core element of qualitative research is it collects non-numerical data focused on understanding human perspectives, emotions and behaviours through open and exploratory questioning.

Uses and Benefits of Qualitative Research

While quantitative data shows “what” is happening, qualitative insight explores the all-important “why”.

Key ways businesses leverage qualitative research include:

Gain Empathy

Understanding customer perspectives through qualitative techniques like interviewing and observation builds empathy that drives better products and messaging.

Uncover New Angles

Open-ended qualitative questioning reveals new angles, opportunities and considerations that closed-ended quantitative surveys can overlook.

Context for Statistics

Adding emotional, behavioural and perceptual understanding gained via qualitative research brings powerful context and meaning to quantitative data.

Guide Strategy

Qualitative insights direct strategy and planning by exposing customer beliefs, pain points, desires and behaviours that statistics alone can’t reveal.

Optimise Offerings

Interviews, focus groups and observation studies expose how customers truly think and feel about offerings which optimisation teams use to improve products, services and experiences.

Reduce Risk

Early qualitative research detects flaws in upcoming launches, expansions and pivots that protect against costly assumptions and quantitative post-mortems.

Qualitative business research explores the critical human aspects behind the numbers to drive empathy, expose new opportunities and bring context to quantitative statistics businesses rely on for good reason.

Comparing Quantitative and Qualitative Business Research

While both varieties of business research deliver value, quantitative and qualitative approaches differ considerably.

Some key distinctions include:

Data Collected

  • Quantitative – Numerical, structured metrics
  • Qualitative – Text-based, exploratory insights

Collection Methods

  • Quantitative – Large-scale surveys, analytics, modelling
  • Qualitative – Interviews, focus groups, observation

Type of Questions

  • Quantitative – Closed-ended
  • Qualitative – Open-ended

Data Format

  • Quantitative – Stats, graphs, percentages
  • Qualitative – Transcripts, notes, audio/video

Sample Size

  • Quantitative – Large sample sizes
  • Qualitative – Small sample sizes

Type of Analysis

  • Quantitative – Statistical analysis
  • Qualitative – Thematic coding

Research Objective

  • Quantitative – Measure behaviours
  • Qualitative – Understand meanings

Key Strength

  • Quantitative – Generalisable findings
  • Qualitative – Deep emotional insights

Common Weakness

  • Quantitative – surface-level explanations
  • Qualitative – findings less generalisable

Business Use Cases

  • Quantitative – Set targets, track performance, quantify behaviours, forecast
  • Qualitative – Guide strategy, build empathy, contextualise stats, reduce risk

In summary:

  • Quantitative research statistically measures behaviours and performance with generalisable findings
  • Qualitative research uncovers deep emotional insights to understand and improve experiences

Instead of being an “either-or” choice, many businesses leverage both research varieties in tandem to make strategic decisions backed by multidimensional customer and market data.

Who Needs Quantitative vs Qualitative Research?

Virtually all businesses can benefit from both quantitative and qualitative data, though the ideal mix depends on your current business stage and goals:


Early-stage companies often focus on qualitative techniques:

  • Interviews to vet ideas
  • Observation to optimise prototypes
  • Case studies to refine business models

Funding rounds require quantitative data like projecting total addressable market size and benchmarks.

Growing Businesses

Scaling businesses increasingly depend on quantitative metrics around customers, conversions, churn and more while still needing qualitative data to optimise offerings and messaging.

Enterprise Companies

Large companies combine enterprise-wide quantitative performance dashboards with qualitative insights from regionally focused interviews, ethnographies and case studies.

Online Businesses

Digital data like web analytics provides a wealth of quantitative data through qualitative techniques that help strengthen engagement and loyalty.

Brick & Mortar Businesses

In-person brands lean more heavily on qualitative field research while still tracking quantitative POS, inventory and other financial data.

In reality, virtually every business needs both types of data, though the specific use cases and ideal mix vary. Combining empathetic yet data-driven decision-making based on both numbers and emotional insights leads to the strongest market outcomes.

Choosing Quantitative, Qualitative or Both

So when should you adopt quantitative research, qualitative methods or both?

When to Use Quantitative Research

You need quantitative data if aiming to:

  • Set performance targets
  • Benchmark metrics
  • Statistically track behaviours
  • Quantify market size or share
  • Identify correlating factors
  • Model financial projections
  • Gather generalisable findings

Quantitative data carries weight across all business functions from marketing to product, finance to sales. If your decisions explicitly depend on numerical evidence and statistical validity, opt for quantitative research.

When To Use Qualitative Research

Seek qualitative insights if looking to:

  • Build empathy with customers
  • Uncover latent needs
  • Guide branding and messaging
  • Contextualise behavioural data
  • Determine emotional appeal
  • Explore new concepts
  • Reduce launch risk

Human-centred decisions around experience, engagement and connection should leverage qualitative techniques to go beyond the numbers.

When To Use Both

In practice, combining quantitative and qualitative delivers the most robust insights through:

  • Validating emotional insights with statistics
  • Adding empathy and meanings to performance numbers
  • Learning why metrics are changing
  • Inspiring new quantifiable hypotheses
  • Confirming findings across methods

For business leaders aiming for reliable yet multidimensional market understanding, adopting both quantitative measurements and qualitative human insights is best.

Conducting Quantitative & Qualitative Research

Once you know which type of research is best for the business decision in question, next comes collecting quality data.

Quantitative Data Collection

Effective quantitative business research requires:

Defining clear hypotheses – Base inquiries on specific, measurable assumptions you can validate or disprove with statistical data.

Using adequate sample sizes – Ensure sample sizes reach minimum thresholds for findings to carry statistical significance when generalised.

Random sampling – Randomly select survey respondents and data sources without biases to achieve representative findings.

Leveraging existing data – First, examine if current data assets offer insights before conducting costly primary research.

Asking closed-ended questions – Craft survey and interview questions using numerical rating scales, rankings and preset response options yielding quantitative data.

Following analysis plans –Outline statistical analysis upfront to ensure data collected answers original hypotheses.

High-quality quantitative research distils metrics into generalisable insights.

Qualitative Data Collection

Skilled qualitative business research requires:

Starting open-minded – Explore topics openly without assumptions blinding you to unexpected insights.

Asking good open-ended questions – Pose questions that elicit long responses and stories, not just yes/no answers.

Probing deeper – Ask follow-up questions and encourage elaboration until reaching a depth of understanding.

Observing natural behaviours – Watch what people do, not just what they say they do.

Capturing context – Note emotions, environmental factors and body language shaping participant responses beyond text transcriptions.

Purposeful sampling – Recruit participants meeting screening criteria for relevant yet diverse perspectives.

Though small in scale, qualitative research uncovers influential emotional and behavioural drivers through rich dialogue and observation.

Data Analysis and Reporting

With quantitative and qualitative data gathered, next comes distilling insights through analysis:

Quantitative Analysis

Common quantitative analysis approaches incorporate:

Statistical analysis – Identify statistically significant survey findings and data trends using computational techniques.

Data visualisation – Transform statistics into digestible charts, graphs and infographics highlighting key takeaways.

Research reports – Synthesise numerical data, visualisations and analysis into presentations, white papers and decks.

Dashboards – Develop interactive dashboards allowing segmented data views for business monitoring.

Predictive modelling – Construct predictive algorithms and machine learning models based on emerging patterns.

Statistical rigour separates quality quantitative analysis driving business growth.

Qualitative Analysis

Core qualitative analysis activities include:

Thematic coding – Systematically tag qualitative data with codes representing recurring themes for aggregation.

Affinity diagramming – Visually cluster insights from interviews and observation into common groups.

Personas and journey mapping – Convert patterns into representative user narratives guiding strategy.

Motivation analysis – Link emotional and behavioural drivers to needs-fulfilling positioning.

Research reports – Compile findings, interview quotes, analyst interpretations and recommendations synthesised into digestible presentations.

Though small in scale, qualitative studies unpack powerful human motivations often missed by quantitative data.

Driving Business Growth with Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Leveraging both quantitative and qualitative research empowers businesses to set strategic goals, optimise performance, reduce risk, spot emerging opportunities, and build stakeholder trust, ultimately driving measurable growth.

Set Clear Targets

Hard quantitative KPIs enable concrete goal setting tied directly to business health across metrics like revenue, customer acquisition costs, churn rate, NPS scores and other vital signs. Dashboards track progress towards targets keeping teams accountable.

Optimise Resource Allocation

Quantifying addressable market size, customer behaviours, and growth opportunities facilitates data-driven resource planning towards maximal ROI on technology, people, marketing and innovation investments.

Substantiate Market Potential

Credible quantitative projections help demonstrate the total available market size and business potential when seeking funding, executive buy-in, or partner support for entering new spaces.

Enhance Offerings

Qualitative feedback provides crucial insights on optimising products, services and overall customer experience by uncovering pain points and delight opportunities that raw quantitative data often overlooks.

Refine Brand Positioning

Surveys, interviews and focus groups assessing emotional resonance to messaging and positioning options allow brands to fine tune both for maximum appeal to target consumer segments.

Reduce Downside Risk

Early quantitative and qualitative market research helps surface potential downsides of new initiatives through data-driven stress testing and identifying unconscious biases that may negatively influence decisions if left unaddressed.

Enable Agility

Ongoing performance benchmarking through quantitative metrics combined with qualitative insights on emerging behaviours provides crucial signals allowing businesses to adapt quickly to market changes.

Build Credibility

Data-backed decisions demonstrating rigorous analysis offer reassurance to sceptical leadership teams, investors and partners, rebuilding confidence in times of uncertainty.

Integrating multidimensional market insights equips business leaders to set their course through choppy waters towards growth targets with greater conviction and buy-in across the organisation. Both numbers and emotions matter.


Quantitative business data refers to measurable, numerical information collected by companies to guide data-driven decision making. This includes metrics like sales figures, web traffic, social followers, customer satisfaction scores and other statistics that can be analysed to uncover patterns, performance trends, behaviours, and opportunities.

Quantitative research methods include surveys, analytics, customer tracking, and financial modelling that produce hardened evidence regarding “how many”, “how often” and other quantifiable attributes of business operations and markets. These statistics help companies set targets, allocate resources, forecast growth, identify areas for improvement, and reduce risks for major decisions or new initiatives.

While qualitative insights around emotions, behaviours and meanings provide crucial context, quantitative data enables firms to objectively track progress towards concrete goals. Business leaders in marketing, product, finance and other departments leverage numerical data to quantify results, guide strategies and optimisations, create projections and substantiate market opportunities. Quality quantitative research collects adequate sample sizes without bias towards generalisable findings backed by statistical significance.

In summary, quantitative business data refers to any measurable statistics companies analyse to monitor outcomes, uncover trends and opportunities, forecast future performance, and derive data-driven decisions supporting growth. Tracking quantifiable metrics provides the tangible evidence executives and investors demand.



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