Marketing data tools can provide key insights into both prospect and customer behavior, however these tools tell us what, not why. The best insights into marketing data come from both quantitative data from tools and qualitative data gathered by human interaction.

In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of new tools that allow marketers and product managers to better understand what is happening with groups of prospects and customers.

Web analytics, marketing automation, click tracking, eye tracking and heat mapping, event tracking, conversion funnel analysis, A/B testing and multivariate analysis are just a handful of the technologies that provide reams of data in ways that were never before possible. Organizations now have individuals and departments dedicated to analyzing data sources, not to mention selecting, implementing and managing them.

These data tools undoubtedly have the potential to improve marketing effectiveness by providing marketers with better information about what customers and buyers are doing. There’s only one problem: The tools only tell us what, not why.

Why are users not clicking on an obvious link on a landing page? Why is one email more likely to get opened than another? Why is the organization losing a lot of opportunities at a specific stage of the buying cycle? You can’t answer these questions with data alone. Data analysis can help identify the symptoms, but it can’t make a diagnosis.

In order to improve performance and effectiveness, we need to know why something is happening so that we know how to fix it. And we won’t know why customers are doing something if we don’t ask.

Incidentally, the same goes for understanding other audiences, like sales and channel partners. Yes, we can track what content is being downloaded from our partner portal or build reports in our sales force automation tool from sales-provided data. That tells us what content is being used, or what sales activities are happening, but it doesn’t explain why.

As wonderful as tools and technologies are, they don’t replace actually spending time talking with buyers and users. Too many marketers and product managers rely solely on data, spending hours upon hours analyzing and trying to make interpretations or draw conclusions.

Many marketers think that these incredible tools and massive amounts of information mean that it’s less important to interact with customers directly. The reality is that it’s almost more important now, because buyer and user behavior is changing so dramatically. Picking up the phone or going out and talking to someone in person yields insight and deeper understanding and may even uncover information that would otherwise be impossible to collect.

With all this talk of “big data,” I worry that marketers will spend even more time analyzing data and less time talking with customers. Maybe instead of “big data,” we should be talking about “big insight,” because nothing provides insight like spending a day meeting with customers, observing users or interviewing buyers.

The best insights come from a combination of the quantitative data provided by tools and the qualitative information gleaned from actual human-to-human interaction. Tools and systems are invaluable for collecting and processing data and explaining what is happening. Then, after identifying  areas for further investigation, talk with customers and conduct qualitative research to understand the why behind the what.