Customers want us to listen more

online marketing researchThis morning, I had an interesting experience. Among many emails, tweets and webinar offerings, I managed to expose myself blindly to two that focused on one challenge I have to overcome the most – talking too much and listening too little. Interestingly enough, neither of the messages was specifically targeting individual or style shortcomings, and the subject line of these presentations was not about listening skills. If this is not a moment of serendipity, then I don’t know what is. BTW it also synch with my favorite definition of serendipity: “…is when you come to look for a needle in a stack of hay, and you end up finding a farmer’s daughter.”

 

The first piece of content is a video from http://www.entselling.com/ that talks about challenges of entrepreneurial selling and is not focused on the selling or listening style at all. It is very good and I strongly recommend it to any startup team, but the listening piece resonated with me the most. I’ve been trained on the importance of this skill for selling many years ago, and judging by my performance at the time, I have even learned to apply it. However, as it may be obvious to people who know me, it is not one of my natural qualities :). The more I get excited about the subject of conversation, the less patient I get with listening to my conversation partners, particularly if I think I already figured out what they are trying to communicate.

 

I may be right about that, but it doesn’t create a great conversation experience, nor does it make them feel that they have been heard and that I actually do understand their concerns or problems I am proposing to address with my product or service. Apparently, it is a very common problem undermining many startup founders who are understandably excited about their creations to a detriment of their potential customers’ comfort, and subsequently a sales success. Maybe I should start looking for a startup founders “shut up and listen” support group. Please let me know if such a group exists.

 

The second piece is even more interesting and was presented by Rebel Brown at the Defy Gravity webinar sponsored by TreeHouseInteractive. Rebel is a very dynamic and passionate speaker, and she was talking about many marketers trying to use social media as traditional content broadcasting channel. The main lesson I took out of this presentation is about a challenge of institutionalized listening that needs to become a part of personalized conversation if a brand wants to be successful in social media. I suppose that no brand will be able to survive without social engagement with their customers, as the customers are creators of a brand.

 

“Advertising can help you sell good products, but only your customers can help you build a great Brand!”

 

The challenge is in learning what is important to your customers and communicating with them about this, as opposed to focusing on your product or your brand. I think the most difficult part is to not assume that we already know what it is, and not be afraid to learn from these communications.

 

Rebel also made a great point about the practice of counting followers and “likes” as a result of social media efforts. I will paraphrase it here as, “Do not confuse tactical metrics with actual meaningful results.” Let’s face it – these only exist because they are easy to count. Their relevance to business outcomes is very questionable, and the only thing they help to learn is how to manipulate or game the counting mechanisms.

 

I don’t think a “real” marketer can be helped by a mere support group or volunteer 12-step program. Perhaps there is an opportunity for a true “rehab.” All you need is a recovering marketing celebrity lending their name to this venture.

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