Statistics. They’re the driving force behind product and service development. So much so, in fact, that they’re a key reason so many people are disappointed with one or more features of the tech devices they use. I’m talking computers, smartphones, even gaming systems. But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to companies driving their businesses based on what others say – and it could be costing you money you don’t need to spend.
Statistics are usually gathered by surveying consumers and other businesses. If you’ve ever provided feedback to a company, they use that information to either determine what users need or to sell you and/or other businesses services and products.
It’s a tricky business, this “statistics” thing, because there’s plenty we’re often not told, including:
- How many people were actually surveyed. If this information is provided, it’s usually in small print. Look closely, and you’ll often find that a tiny fraction of people are making all these so-called decisions.
- Just who is surveyed. It’s easy to skew results when companies target a specific type of user, then use those results to “prove” a need for an entirely different set of people. For example, a company may provide results from a user base that uses gaming consoles, all the while only having surveyed those who own a Wii.
- When the surveys were conducted. Some data is simply too old to rely upon for today’s decision-making.
- If respondents were paid. I’m not talking about people who earn mere points in programs like My Survey, but rather people who are paid cold, hard cash to provide detailed information.
- If respondents knew who was conducting the survey, and on behalf of whom. If a marketing company uses information for a specific, known-to-respondents, company, those results don’t hold much weight across an entire industry.
Then there’s less-than-ethical practices – and, believe me, lots of companies do this – such as speaking percentages as gospel.
I’m contacted by several companies each week wanting me to recommend products and services to my clients. Sometimes, they’ve already spoken to the client and were directed to me. What they don’t know is that my clients are very forthcoming with me. By the time the company rings my phone, I already know everything that client has been told in their efforts to sell them on the service.
They push stats like these – all very misleading:
- If you’re like your competitors/friends/other stores on the same shopping cart, you’re already processing more than $XX per month. This number is most often significantly higher than the norm.
- Did you know that 75% of people do [enter an action here]? This percentage is frequently either pulled out of thin air, comes from old surveys, or was devised via questionaires that weren’t conducted across the best possible group of subjects.
- 95% of our customers see a doubling in sales. Really? I’ve challenged many companies to prove this statement and am always met with the same response, “Well, we can’t divulge private customer information.” But calls to many of their customers tell me that their claims are exaggerated.
- Consumers trust us. Perhaps, but plenty of start-ups and lesser-known companies tout that they’re more prominent to Internet shoppers than simple Google results will show.
- It pays for itself. I’ve found that this statement is most often used to “market” a product or service that’s overpriced. Most reputable firms will simply explain the value rather than pitch you on “breaking even”.
And this, my friends, is why I don’t lend a great deal of weight to statistics. That is, they can be used as a preliminary guideline, but no survey conducted across a broad audience is going to be tailor-made for your business. And most surveys simply don’t have an ideal number of respondents. The only way you could garner accurate results is to talk to your customers themselves.
This isn’t to say I’m against surveys or their results. I use them regularly to gauge possible directions one should take in social media, online store development and technology upgrades. As with nearly every other business-boosting campaign, however, these numbers provide no guarantees.
There’s one more down side to relying on stats for the things we do: it causes us to miss so many other types of shoppers and Internet users. You never know if that guy grouped in the smallest percentile wants to be your best customer. So, are you looking to serve the numbers the charts tell us, or the broadest possible audience?