How Well Does Your Sales Team Know the Marketplace?

By Jose Palomino

Most sales teams have a reasonably good grasp of their competition. They’re able to rattle off the key differences between solutions and explain why their product is the best.

But top-performing sales teams take their knowledge further: They understand their industry’s ecosystem and recognize how outside forces can impact both their products and their customers.

Hallmarks of a Top-Performing Sales Team

Current trends play an essential role in shaping how consumers view products, and often dictate whether tomorrow’s customers will buy more or less of what your company has to offer. Thus, a keen sense of the marketplace gives your sales team a powerful advantage.

This “marketplace awareness mindset” is one of the seven hallmarks of top-performing sales teams. The others are negotiating, prospecting, product knowledge, sales acumen, account management, and business acumen. Taken together, they’re the drivers of your sales team’s success.  

Marketplace awareness is especially important because macro trends are often effective predictors. For example, think about Kodak in the late 1990s. Its salespeople were so focused on their main competitor, Fuji, they missed the rapid changes in technology that made digital cameras possible. As a result, the one-time giant was largely unprepared when its film business began to slide.

How to Evaluate Your Sales Team’s Awareness of Market Trends

You can evaluate your team’s understanding of macro trends and their impact simply by asking the right few questions and listening carefully to the answers. To facilitate the conversation, try these ideas:

  • Hold a postmortem to discuss recent sales losses and listen to the way your team describes each situation. If your salespeople can talk about the reasons for a loss in precise terms – and with an eye to what might be common among these situations – they likely have good marketplace awareness.
  • Similarly, a sales professional who understands that a loss resulted from either a competitor’s actions or a change in the customer’s situation is paying attention to events in the market.
  • Look for signs that the team is closely following industry events and global trends. Have they taken the time to prepare strategies for dealing with your competition in light of them?
  • Try asking these pointed questions: Can you name each of our competitors? How well can you articulate your company’s strengths and weaknesses versus each competing firm? Can you describe the market’s historical biases toward our products?

Tips to Help Your Sales Team Develop Awareness of Market Trends

If your team fails to demonstrate marketplace awareness, there are several ways to help them develop it.

  • Routinely challenge them to be sure they have a holistic view of both competitors and trends.
  • Make sure your people are asking customers meaningful questions. For example, which competitors are your customers considering, and why?
  • Help develop sharp answers to competitive threats. While sales teams at larger corporations often get reports from their marketing teams, those at smaller organizations will need to conduct their own competitive research.

Pursuing market and competitive research is something all salespeople should be able to do. To keep themselves informed, have your team  

  • Take advantage of information available on competitors’ websites.
  • Explain to customers and prospects that they’d like to better understand their organization and the marketplace. Have them probe to learn more about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create a Google news alert for each of your competitors, prospects, and customers – as well as for the top keywords about your industry. This is an easy, low-cost way to keep up with marketplace developments. 
  • Look for market research on your industry. Analysts such as Gartner and Forrester examine new products and technologies before they enter the marketplace, and can provide intelligence about what’s coming down the pipeline.
  • Regularly read both the general business and trade media. 

Simply put, it’s not enough to know who your direct competitors are. Sales professionals can effectively position your products and services only if they constantly monitor the marketplace for changes, disruptions, and competitive moves.

JosePalominoToday’s post is by Jose Palomino, CEO of Spyglass Selling.