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3 Ways To Critically Evaluate Sales And Marketing Trends

3 Ways To Critically Evaluate Sales And Marketing Trends

The next time you're presented with trend information about the market you're serving as a sales team, think through a few areas to determine whether it's worth your while and if so, the best way to move forward.

When your manager sends an e-mail with a subject line like “Interesting read,” or “Something we should explore,” you know you better start reading. If you’re the manager, on the other hand, you may be passing along an article, a research report of some other piece of content because you know the implications are important but not what to do.

Particularly as more information moves online, we are almost besieged by experts who make predictions about the future of an industry, or suggest that the competitive landscape is evolving in a particularly urgent direction.

Of course, some things turn out to be passing fads, but other trends could make the difference between who leads a market and who’s a laggard.

The next time you’re presented with trend information about the market you’re serving as a sales team, think through a few areas to determine whether it’s worth your while and if so, the best way to move forward.

Look Past The Executive Summary In Research

Countless research reports are published every month covering all kinds of particular industry sectors. Some will be based on a significant number of responses to an online poll, while others will be based on first-person interviews with representative members of your target audience. While many of these research studies will be freely available online, the key stats might be summarized so you don’t have to look at the results in detail. Before you use any data to influence your sales strategy, though, go the extra mile and scan the fine print:

  • Sample size — If it’s less than 100 responses, does it really reflect the prevailing opinions of your market? Should you (or your manager) take the numbers at face value?
  • Geography — Look for any regional breakout data or if there might be a similar study conducted more locally.
  • Timelines — There can be a significant lag from when an online survey was conducted and a research report published. Check for these dates and think about what you know about market activity during this period. How might it change the way you see the results? Also, if the research is between six and 12 months old, it may be less relevant, even if you (or your boss) came across it recently.

Spot The Biases In Articles and Media Coverage

Content on many newspapers and web sites can be engaging and educational, but what gets covered doesn’t always tell the full story about a trend. A profile of a small and medium-sized businesses that grew without using much in the way of technology, for example, may make for an interesting read, but it could be more of an exception to the rule than a growing trend.

Experienced trend researchers tend to examine news stories, blog posts and similar content through a more critical lens, and you should too:

  • Where did the story or blog post seem to come from? Was it likely pitched to the writer from a company trying to drive a particular message, or was it genuinely based on something new the writer discovered?
  • What kind of credentials does the writer or publication have to suggest trends from which businesses can learn? What seems to be the readership based on online comments, social media shares and so on?
  • What’s left out of the story? Do you have enough evidence of a new approach to selling that really suggests a trend, or should there be further research and follow-up stories?

Take Advantage Of ‘Next Step’ Opportunities

By definition, a trend is a general direction of something that’s happening, whether it’s the way clothes are designed, hair is styled and, yes, the way companies market and sell their products. Trends only become significant when two things happen: a critical mass of people or organization follow them, and when it’s clear to outsiders how they can follow along, too.

Imagine you hear about a trend to save time and win more business using the cloud, for example. There may be research that has you or your boss thinking about trying to be among the early adopters, or a series of case studies and blog posts profiling cloud users similar to your firm. There either needs to be enough detail to show some of the steps involved (as well as the risks) in the initial content, or opportunities to learn more concrete actions.

Some great examples of this ‘next step’ content includes in-person events, webinars, social media chats and even good old fashioned books, which tend to get published only after trends have been more proven in the market. In any of these opportunities, go in prepared with a few questions:

  • What’s the estimated time for return on investment in this particular trend, and what kind of resources will be required?
  • What other priorities or needs might conflict with pursuing this trend, and where might it dovetail with an existing strategy?
  • What’s the true cost of doing nothing? Ignoring trends may seem safe, but not if all your competitors are hopping on the bandwagon.

Naturally, you can’t orient your entire sales strategy on a series of trends, but becoming better at identifying the game-changers versus the flash-in-the-pan tactics should be considered an important sales management skill in and of itself.

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