Small business owners follow their gut when it comes to making decisions

Leaders of the UK's small and medium-sized companies are relying on gut instinct over quantitative data to make crucial calls, research finds.

According to the report The Democratisation of Insight by online survey platform SurveyMonkey, most SME leaders (90 per cent) believe powerful customer insight is the preserve of big brands with equally big research budgets.

More than one third (36 per cent) of SME bosses complain that their business lacks the customer data required to make timely decisions, and four fifths (81 per cent) would like to access customer insight more regularly but complain it’s too expensive and too time consuming to gather.

As a result, 72 per cent of respondents say that many decisions are made on gut instinct alone in their business in the absence of access to fast, reliable customer insight.

When asked about their own behaviour, half (50 per cent) of bosses admit they rely either mostly or completely on instinct alone when making business decisions, with 10 per cent relying mostly or solely on data.

Most business leaders believe that today’s customers are more sophisticated (92 per cent) and demanding (98 per cent) than ever before, and that companies have to be more attuned to their needs (98 per cent) and more responsive (98 per cent) as a result.

Yet, the study reveals that few businesses are accessing external sources of insight to stay abreast of customers’ changing wants and needs, with less than a third of SMEs performing market research polls (30 per cent) or sourcing customer insight via social media (32 per cent).

Meanwhile less than a quarter (22 per cent) of SMEs access market analyst reports and just 15 per cent employ ‘big data’ analytics of customer behaviour.

For those business leaders that are sourcing customer insight, most lack trust in the data. SME bosses say that insight has to be quick and cost effective to acquire, but by far the most important factor for them is the accuracy of the information. However, less than a sixth (15 per cent) completely trust the customer data available to them.

SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg says that two thirds of business leaders report that they only trust market data ‘to some extent’.

‘However, many leaders also tell us that with regular access to fast, accurate customer insight, their businesses would be more agile, more competitive, more innovative and would ultimately grow faster,’ he adds. 

‘Quality customer insight can clearly have a transformational impact on businesses, and advances in research technology have democratised access to this data for companies large and small.’

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Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.