How We Allowed Analytics to Kill Intuition (& Why That’s a Bad Thing)

March 27, 2015

When I served as the director of ExactTarget’s board from 2004 to 2013, I had the pleasure of working with a pretty incredible collection of executives and advisors. Many people in the tech world hail the PayPal “mafia” as one of the greatest groups of entrepreneurial talent (a fair characterization given the founders and companies it produced), but ExactTarget has also churned out an amazing roster of executives and founders.

Most folks know about ExactTarget co-founder Scott Dorsey and his story (if not, I highly recommend watching this video). But I was just as impressed by the rest of the company’s management team — in particular, the cohesion and balance between its sales leaders.

Scott Bleczinski joined ExactTarget in 2002 as one of the company’s first sales executives. Scott was a true sales pro, but his skill set skewed more toward an intuitive management style. I was consistently impressed by Scott’s understanding of the market and his reliable instinct of which levers to pull. But Scott was also a realist. He knew that to truly achieve dramatic growth and scale, his intuitive management style alone wasn’t going to cut it.

Enter, D. Wayne Poole.

In 2002, D. Wayne was the Director of Agency Development for ExactTarget and, like Scott, he was a skilled sales manager. But D. Wayne’s talents were rooted more in analytics. Instead of gut feeling, he relied on metrics and data to drive decision making. In many ways, that made him Scott’s antithesis.

At most companies, that clash in management style would cause unneeded disruption and in-fighting. But at ExactTarget, Scott and D. Wayne’s differences turned out be one of the key drivers of the company’s incredible growth. In fact, their combination of analytical and intuitive management was deadly effective. Together — and with the help of many other important people and unrelated factors, of course — they helped grow ExactTarget from $2M in annual revenue to more than $100M. And in 2013, the company was acquired by Salesforce for $2.7B.

The Fall of the Intuitive Manager (and Why That’s a Bad Thing)

Since working together, both Scott and D. Wayne have gone on to do phenomenal things. Scott was the EVP of Sales for Compendium and the President of Zmags (disclosure: an OpenView portfolio company), and now serves as the Chief Revenue Officer at Docurated. D. Wayne stayed with ExactTarget through the Salesforce acquisition and is now the EVP of Global Operations for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

What has changed significantly since they worked together, however, is the SaaS world’s opinion of intuitive management.

Today, intuition has largely been devalued in favor of analytics. As a result, managers and executives who thrive on intuition are being pressured to be more analytical. Fail to adapt, and many executives fear they’ll turn into dinosaurs — relics of an old and outdated way of doing things.

But I think that perspective is garbage.

Real intuition is as valuable as it’s ever been. In fact, I think it’s an incredible gift to inherently know or understand which levers should be pulled. You can’t teach that skill and, frankly, very few people actually have it. When someone does, why the hell would you want to suppress or eliminate it?

Embrace Your Strengths, Hire Your Weaknesses

That being said, the very best intuitive managers, executives, and founders (like Scott Bleczinski) are also smart enough to appreciate the value of analytics, and they’re quick to identify people who fill that skills gap (see: D. Wayne Poole).

But those executives also understand that there’s real value in the differences between intuitive and analytical management. Intuition gives you irreplaceable line of sight into problems or opportunities you might not know exist. Analytics allow you to validate those gut feelings with facts and take appropriate action. Combined, the two can be incredibly powerful.

So, stop trying to be someone you’re not.

If you’re analytical, embrace it — and surround yourself with someone who is intuitive. If you’re intuitive, embrace it — and surround yourself with a team of analytical thinkers. The key isn’t to be one or the other, and you certainly shouldn’t feel bad about being intuitive or analytical. The real secret is to blend the two together in a way that delivers interesting insights and incredible results.

Photo by: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.