Marketing’s New Workout; Super Crunching Your Gut (Feelings)!


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Over 25 years ago I was the marketing manager for a small privately held oil field service company; it was my first “real-world” job. You know, it’s funny how certain experiences leave a lasting impression, and one particular incident still stands out in my memory.

Three customers called for service and we had three trucks that had just become available to provide the needed work. Using an assignment model (linear programming model that is similar to the transportation model) I was able to determine the optimal assignments that would minimize the total mileage traveled, thus reducing job cost and increasing profit. I excitedly showed my findings to my boss and thought he would be very pleased since his primary job title was “owner.” Merle look at me and in his best sage tone said “Alan, I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, and I’ve operated every one of our trucks, driven on every road leading to those job sites and personally worked for every one of those customers; and here is how I want you to make the assignments.” Merle’s marching orders did not match my analytics model; but based on his instincts the work was completed on time, profitably and our customers remained loyal.

As a marketer how do you reconcile the “Super Crunchers” (by Ian Ayres) perspective with the gut-feeling “blink” (by Malcolm Gladwell) point-of-view? When I was first out of school I used to love Will Rogers quote:

“The trouble with using experience as your guide is that sometimes the final exam comes first, then the lesson.”

Of course when you are right out of school and don’t have much real-world experience how else are you going to make your point!? Funny, now that I have some experience under my belt I find myself learning toward the old adage “experience is the best teacher!”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have to be an either / or choice for marketer’s. You can compete on analytics (“Competing on Analytics” by Thomas Davenport) and still consider your inner voice that’s been honed while attending the School of Hard Knocks. Yes, old dogs can learn (and integrate) new tricks. And that makes for a very rare and valuable dog!

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  1. Alan,

    I think the challenge lies in knowing when one approach or the other is appropriate. Unfortunately, it is easy to become unidimensional and use only one.

    I recently had some dealing with a hotel chain that used analytics to predict vacancy rates and therefore staff needs. This is a good and clear use of analytics.

    On the other hand, they tried a scripted system for greeting customers on check with the goal of improving the customer experience. It didn’t work. Employees were stiff, not authentic and some time in appropriate. Their new approach is summarized in one phrase, “Do what is right for the customer.”

    Now they face a new challenge. Some employees have the emotional intelligence to read the situation and act appropriately. Others are lost.

    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  2. Alan

    Intuition has been shown to have some very serious problems as a decisioning tool. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that our gut instincts are a reliable indicator of the right decision, particularly in complex business environments. No matter how much we desperately need to believe in our own abilities as managers!

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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