Data leads to incremental growth; intuition leads to exponential growth. This is something I’ve learned after talking with founders of some of the fastest-growing companies over the years. The thing is, though, intuitive decision making can be a black box. It’s easy to see it as this nebulous thing with no real framework behind it.
I don’t buy it. For every creative genius who thinks their brilliant ideas come out of thin air—they don’t. There is a process behind the genius.
Definition: Intuitive decision making
When you know your customer so well that you make decisions knowing what will be best for them, even if they can’t see it themselves.
Claiming that you can make the best decisions for your customers is bold. But, from my experience, you have to do this. Your customer is focused on one specific problem when they come to you, but they need solutions to the broader picture.
In this article, I will make the supposition that intuition-based decision making does two main things:
- Allows fast decision making
- Enables trajectory-altering decisions
Then, I’ll cover how to build intuition for each of these types of decision making. Let’s begin.
Intuition for fast decision making
As you build your business, there will always be too many things to do. If you turn every decision into a data-gathering/aggregating/analyzing exercise, you simply won’t have time for everything. You’ll burn out from decision fatigue.
However, if you have a solid intuition around what your customers need, you can make intuition-based decisions.
Developing this level of intuition is intimidating, to say the least. This is my process.
- Talk to customers candidly: Having one- or two-hour conversations with no real agenda, other than helping your customer use your product or service. If you talk for that long, you will see what else is happening in their businesses/lives.
- Talk to customers ongoingly: Speaking with the same person a few times over months (or years) will bring to light more than what a one-off conversation can.
- Ask for context: Ask questions. What is going on in their lives? What do they really care about? What are they ultimately after?
- Make it a habit: I’ve been speaking with customers two or three times a month for the last ten years, and I’m still learning things I didn’t know.
- Meet in person if possible: Just getting together for coffee and chatting can lead to the most eye-opening conversations. Casual conversation can reveal who your customers are and what they care about.
I know this feels like a big time commitment, but think about it this way: If you have to spend ten or so hours interviewing a list of people every time you make a decision, and then pull a data set to corroborate your findings, that’s 15+ hours for each decision. If you schedule ongoing conversations with your customers, you can eliminate probably 25% of those decisions because you’ll already have the answers. That’s a huge win.
Intuition for trajectory-altering decisions
I had coffee with a data scientist for a multi-billion dollar software company. That person believed that data is great for incremental growth, but for decisions that change growth curves abruptly, you need intuition.
That checks out with our lived experience at Interact. Changes that have shifted growth enough to see on a graph have come from putting lots of data pieces together, talking to customers, and gathering insight from outside our bubble.
The steps for trajectory-altering decisions are a bit different.
- Data analysis: Regularly looking at raw data and forming patterns through analysis.
- Customer conversations: Just like time-saving intuition decisions, one- to two-hour conversations a few times a month.
- “Outside of bubble” conversations: Talk to people who are solving challenges similar to yours, but in different businesses, once or twice a month.
The intuition for these broad-sweeping decisions often goes something like this.
First, you’ve seen the data. The way customers sign up for your product has a shape.
Second, you find that one of your customer acquisition methods results in the customer becoming a long-term client, but that method is not bringing in a ton of customers.
Third, you have a conversation with someone who uses that same method to build their company, and they give you an idea of how to scale it.
Now you’ve got a trajectory-changing idea that comes from multiple places and forms into a choice for growth.
Building intuition can save time and help you make trajectory-altering decisions. The steps to proceed are simple:
- Schedule customer calls two to three times per month.
- Talk to experts outside of your bubble once or twice per month.
- View raw data and form patterns once a month.
There is no magic to having a strong intuition. Just like any skill, it takes time and repetition. You’ll build your intuition over the years as you become the expert in your business area. Just remember: It’s worth it. Fine-tuning your intuition will save you time and lead to more-than-just-incremental growth.