The Facts About Facts
Have you ever used a statistic you found online to justify innovation? Too many of these “facts” are, when you scratch the surface, unresearched, undocumented or inaccurately quoted. Market-driven teams are only as good as the data their working with; it’s up to the Market Strategist to be careful with facts.
Recently, I was trying to validate whether telemarketing is a bad idea for a B2B tech company trying to reach U.S. buyers. I was looking for a statistic on how many B2B phone calls go directly to voicemail, and found a great one. It was in a blog post from a very well-regarded CRM platform provider*, originally published in 2020 and updated August 10, 2021 for “comprehensiveness.” Here's the quote:
“First-time sales outreach response is plummeting. According to noted expert Jane Smith, 97% of all business calls now go to voicemail.”
When I Googled the statistic, I found dozens of recent references to it on websites of well-known and respected call centers, CRM solutions and other vendors.
Bingo! A stat from 2020 is a little old, but not bad. And there was a link to Ms. Smith’s site in blog, so I could get more detail from the primary information source.
Well, not exactly. When I clicked through the link, it took me to another blog post – from 2013 – on a UK cryptocurrency site that quoted “sales strategist Jane Smith” and the same stat, but without any link to her site.
I searched for Ms. Smith on my own and found her website. A quick review gave me no whitepaper, survey or other mention of this statistic as something she’d researched. Because I knew how old the data was, I thought perhaps she'd archived the detailed research but had it available somehow. After all, this statistic was being quoted in posts written as recently as a few weeks ago, so I contacted Ms. Smith for comment. Surely she would be able to give me more background on her original research and this widely-quoted statistic? She was kind enough to reply:
I wish I could help you with that statistic, but it’s been years. It most likely was a statistic from a tech company like ABC.com or XYZ.com … but that doesn’t help you.
In other words - nobody knows where this widely-quoted statistic came from. But it's out there, influencing decisions and justifying actions by product teams around the world.
I tell my clients and students that they have a sacred trust to justify product and go-to-market recommendations with market data. But it's got to be pertinent data, from a documented, reliable primary source and current enough to be meaningful. Just because you see a statistic everywhere doesn’t mean it’s current, or pertinent or even real. Be careful out there!
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the sloppy.
About the Author
Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org.