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What is qualitative business analysis?

Qualitative business analysis is using non-quantifiable methods to evaluate businesses and make the decisions. Rather than using data from income statements, balance sheets and other quantifiable data, a business qualitative data analysis will examine such things as the business model and the management team.

Gathering information for qualitative business analysis

There are many things to consider when performing a business qualitative analysis because there are so many factors that can affect a business. These include the following:

  • Vendors and distributors – Those who supply the business and sell its product are good sources of information.
  • Competitors – Who are the competitors in the field and how well are they doing?
  • Products and services the business provides – An in-depth look should be taken at the product or service that the business supplies.
  • Competitive advantage or lack of competitive advantage – Does the business hold any kind of advantage over its competitors by virtue of location, superior product or any other reason, or does a competitor possess an advantage of some type.
  • Outlook for the industry; what is the overall outlook for the industry the business is in currently, and what is the projected future outlook?
  • The company itself; There are many different elements of a business that need to be considered. Obviously as it is an analysis of the business that is being done; this is where the most critical information usually comes from.

There are several methods of collecting the data you need from the above sources or any other source. Qualitative data collection may include:

  • Analysis of documents such as annual reports and business publications
  • Interviews ranging from structured to semi-structured to unstructured
  • Focus/Discussion groups
  • Observation

Qualitative analysis of a company

Part of the qualitative business analysis will be looking at company specific qualitative information that has an impact of a business. A good analysis should take into consideration the following company specific factors:

  • Business model – How exactly does the business make its money? For some it may be obvious. They have a product and they sell it. For others it may not be quite so clear.
  • Management – This is arguably the most important factor in the success or failure of the company. To get useful information about management may require some digging. Past performance of executives before joining the company can be a good measure. If there is stock issued, what is management doing with theirs?
  • Corporate Governance – Policies in place within an organization that determine responsibility for meeting all rules and regulations. Good corporate governance involves financial and information transparency, stakeholder rights and structure of the board of directors.

Methods for analyzing qualitative data

After the qualitative data is collected it must then be analyzed. There are various methods for accomplishing this, depending on the data itself and how you with to present the results. Some of the methods used for qualitative analysis include:

  • Direct observation – Done during the collection process, it examines such things as tone of voice and facial expressions.
  • Coding – An interpretive technique that organizes data and provides a means to introduce the interpretations into some quantitative methods.
  • Recursive abstraction – Essentially data sets are summarized, and the resulting summaries are summarized again and perhaps yet again.
  • Computerized analysis – Using specialized software such as NVivo

Care must be taken during both data collection and analysis, that objectivity is maintained. There is little doubt that qualitative business analysis can be effective. Warren Buffet is a good example of one who has made excellent use of qualitative analysis and it would be hard to argue against his success. Visit the website for the Business and Economics section of the American Statistical Association http://www.amstat.org/sections/bus_econ/index.html to learn more about statistical analysis in business.