To put it bluntly, if your business doesn't adapt and evolve it likely won't last long. That statement rings true in just about every facet of life as well as in the professional world. There is almost no career in the world that allows you to be the same person and do the same things over and over and find the same results as the years pass. It doesn't matter what industry you're in. Banking changed dramatically with the evolution of the Internet. Doctors have had to adapt and change as technology has. Even professional athletes, while possessing an elite skill set compared to the general population, have to constantly adapt to their game and those around them. Your business is no different.

Some of the biggest changes businesses will deal with happen in markets as well as in customer taste. You have to keep up with the times if you want to survive, but that's easier said than done, right?

Fortunately, this isn't as tricky or as much work as it might seem. With a plan in place and an eagle eye on how things are changing, you can make sure that your business doesn't fall behind. Here a few tips to get you started:

Evolve with the market--don't fight it.

Have you ever tried to stop time as a kid? You know, where you squint real hard and try with all your might to freeze the world around you? It didn't work, of course. You can't fight time. It's inevitable. So is the evolution of each respective market in the business world. All things change and you can't do anything to stop it, so don't try fighting it. Instead, do what you can to evolve with the market:

  • Pay attention to trends.
  • Discuss with fellow competitors.
  • Read up on the latest articles and insight into your field.

The more you can research and understand what's happening, the better decisions you can make about how to react. You have to think ahead to the future and almost guess what's going to happen.

Examples of Those Who Adapted (and Didn't)

Your respective market doesn't exist in a vacuum. It depends on the consumers and their changing interests and needs. Fifteen years ago, we didn't know what "Cyber Monday" was, but now it's an important piece of holiday shopping (maybe as important as Black Friday to some people). Newspapers have radically changed over the last decade. As everybody buries their nose in their smart phone or other devices, the number of people who read a physical newspaper is dwindling. Those outlets that didn't adapt quick enough to the changing times and develop an online presence likely aren't around to speak about it.

Another example comes with the economic conditions around the country. As the U.S. suffered through a recession, economic downturn and slow recovery in the late-2000s, it became tough for some car dealers to survive. People didn't have as much money to spend, so they opted for cheaper, used cars rather than brand new options. Dealers had to find ways to survive that, too.

Always Work to Keep Feedback Coming

Regardless of the market you're in, standard elements of success apply to just about every business to help you keep up with the constant evolution of the market and your consumers. For one, you need feedback. No business that deals directly, or even indirectly, in some cases with their consumers, can survive without feedback. Whether it's surveys, social media, focus groups, studies or even just a complaint jar, the consumer's ability to have their voice be heard is a vital aspect of any company. Don't underestimate that aspect.

But it's not only about constructive criticism or ratings or reviews. You need to find out what your consumers want. Without that knowledge, you run the risk of constantly being one step behind the game and constantly playing catch-up. You can use the surveys and focus groups to find out what consumers want. You can view numbers and sales and play around with deals to determine what products/services of yours are hot at various times.

Let Employees Use Data to Get Insight into Consumer Needs

And then, of course, there's the data available to digital marketers and data scientists. Given the sheer volume of data, most of which you can get from Google Analytics, many people take the conservative approach and believe only those qualified, like data scientists, should have access to the numbers to help decipher and translate. Others, however, believe in the democratization of big data, allowing anybody who so chooses to venture into that landscape.

If everybody had access to the miles and miles of data available, even the smallest of companies could acquire deep insight into the consumers' needs as well as the needs of the market. Data democratization tools like SecondPrism or DataHero allow businesses to determine which information is useful and to use that information how they see fit to help evolve and keep customers happy and coming back.

Work on Strengthening Bonds with Consumers

You can turn all that information you have into a stronger bond with your consumers. Your consumers and clients want to be understood.

One way to do that is to host online meetings or web conferences through platforms such as Google Hangouts or ClickMeeting to connect with people all over the globe. A web conferencing service allows your business to make presentations, hold meetings and even train people from anywhere in the world. You can meet with clients without having to absorb the expensive travel costs and, for bigger companies, train staff without having to deploy people around the country or globe.

Let's get back to the newspaper example. Newspapers and magazines held an extremely vital role in society for decades, dating back in some form to our country's inception. But in the span of just a few years, physical papers have become borderline obsolete, replaced by tablets and computer screens. However, newspapers and magazines still exist. Those that are around now adapted with the times and kept up with the ever-changing market and consumer base. Others went bankrupt and folded, or were sold, unable to evolve with the times. It's a cautionary tale for any business. Unless you work as a psychic, you don't know what the future will hold for your business, but you should know that you can't ever stop evolving. If you don't adapt, you won't survive. It's that simple.

Published on: Feb 5, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.