Glass Half Full or Glass Half Empty?
There’s always more than one way to look at things.
I’m the sort of person that always looks for the positive in everything- I was glad when I ruptured a disc because I lost some weight, had a nice lie down and the surgeon says it’s now stronger than the other discs. My wife on the other hand when offered a drink might well observe that not only is the glass half empty, it’s the wrong sort of water and she’s not thirsty anyway.
If you’ve followed this column over the years you’ll know that I’m really big on using data not emotion to make decisions in the business. One of the articles that sticks most in my mind was a few years ago when I was convinced that people were booking holidays later and wrote about how we were going to have to adjust to this new reality but when I ran the numbers it turned out not to be true at all, in fact bookings were coming in slightly earlier on average than before. See the entry for August 2014 at blog.abovebeachcottages.co.uk
The problem is that no matter how much data you have there is always scope to interpret it in different ways so we can end up right back in glass half full/empty territory.
Let’s take a simple and uncontroversial bit of data and conclusion- If you haven’t sold all your summer holiday weeks by now then your agent is doing something wrong. That’s completely clear except that if you have sold all your summer holiday weeks by now then your agent is doing something wrong!
What on earth am I on about? This is a perfect example of something that can be interpreted both ways- Demand exceeds supply in the summer holidays so every week should sell and how soon is a function of presentation and price married with the length of time a property has been available.
When a property has 20 weeks booked by the end of January the owner is really happy and may even send bottles of wine or chocolates into the office to thank us for doing such a great job. On the other hand how would we tell if we have got the pricing hopelessly wrong for a cottage and charged too little? Yes that’s right, you’d know because you would sell lots of weeks really early in the year! If the pricing is dead right on a property then it probably has one or two summer holiday weeks left at this point which will fill up in the next month or so but this is not what makes an owner happy so that leaves me with a further dilemma- do I set prices for maximum revenue or to make owners happy? Trouble is if I ask they will normally say they want maximum revenue but what they mean is they want to sell the most weeks earliest. Sometimes my job is like being on one of those staircases in an Escher painting where you keep climbing but end up back where you started. (see ‘Relativity’ on the Escher Wikipedia page)
The strict technical truth is that every week we sell was too cheap and every week we didn’t sell was too expensive but thinking about this too much will simply drive you to the funny farm so we are back to being slightly less technical about things- if bookings are below average then we’ll try and send more traffic to the page or reduce the price which is broadly speaking what would have been done before we had any data.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!
The next bit of interpretation is the self fulfilling prophesy or skewed data set to be slightly more technical. I once went to see a property in an excellent location that was looking at joining us as their bookings were poor. It was a normal sized 3 bed place but set up to sleep 10-12 with bunk beds and sofa beds. My immediate comment was that the place needed to be reduced to a sleeps 5 or 6 in comfort but the owner said that couldn’t possibly be the answer as everyone who booked used all the extra beds. Clearly this was a skewed data set- If we set up a horror themed cottage with black walls dripping with blood and skeletons in the corners all the guests who came would say that they liked the decor but I’m not convinced we would be maximising bookings at the property!
I’m still a big fan of looking at the data but maybe I’m kidding myself as there’s still as much art in the conclusions as there is science.