“When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.” - Richard Ford
Listening. Such a seemingly simple skill, yet it takes years of hard and dedicated work to master. To many, listening seems to be a passive activity. Yet, those who learn to use this skill are some of the most powerful and influential on the planet. We live in an extremely noisy world. Along with all of the traditional sales and marketing messages, we are now bombarded with emails, social media and the endless amount of content available through the internet. For many in the marketing and sales world, the goal is to become the loudest voice in the crowd, hoping that this will attract more people to them. But, what if the opposite is true? What if instead of shouting louder, we got quiet and actually listened to what the people we want to engage with are actually saying?
The marketing and sales process has changed. The buyer has more autonomy than ever before. While not all traditional sales and marketing tactics are dead, we can say their effectiveness is waning. Even some of the “new” tools such as blogging, social media marketing, and email marketing are becoming over-saturated. As more and more of the buying process is done anonymously, how can we prepare ourselves for when we do personally interact with a prospect or repeat customer? How can we position ourselves as the best solution to their problem and differentiate ourselves from the competition on more than just price? Creating a human connection by actively listening to the person you are engaging with will create a foundation of trust money only wishes it could buy.
Advantages of Listening
The first advantage of listening is showing your prospect that you care. Empathy is a very popular word in today's business culture and, if learned and used, is extremely powerful. But, you can’t fake empathy. While you may be able to fool a few people into believing you care, eventually you’ll get found out if you're faking and the backlash to you and your business' credibility will be devastating. On the other hand, if you learn to use empathy to truly connect with those you interact with, you’ll build a foundation of lasting trust that can improve your marketing and sales like nothing else. Empathy is a learned skill and unless you actively nurture and grow it, you won’t be able to effectively use it. It all starts with getting to know the other person you are interacting with. Listening is a powerful tool to do just that.
The second advantage to actively listening to your audience is the ability to better qualify your leads. It’s all about finding the right fit. Whether you're on the marketing side or sales side of things, your audience will leave clues to their intentions all the way through the buying process. The only way you’ll be able to pick up on those clues is if you are listening. By getting to know their situation and the pain they are trying to solve, you can then help them find the right solution from your company, or direct them somewhere else if they aren’t a good fit. This is a win/win in the long run for both parties. First, the prospect will get their needs met and second you will have helped the prospect which builds your brand's trust. What's more, you won’t have the stress of dealing with a client that's a bad fit.
Stop Focusing on What You’re Going to Say
"A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” - Blake (Glengarry Glen Ross)
One traditional and tightly held on to sales quote is “Always Be Closing.” While looking to close a deal isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, if your entire process is built around simply closing you're going to come up short in the long run. When solely focusing on your desired outcome you will often bulldoze your leads into a solution that rarely meets their needs. While you may have closed the sale, the chances of them being a happy customer is slim to none.
If we are going to continue to be able to grow our businesses and serve our customers, we have to shift our focus a little. We must learn to listen first, speak second. This is hard for us because when our brains are in “listening mode” they are also in “doing mode.” This means we are processing the information heard and thinking of what we can do about it. But in doing so, we often miss some of what the other person is saying. We need to instead shift our brain into “thinking mode.” We need to listen to the whole issue and the way it’s being presented. How are they saying it? What is their tone? Are they nervous, excited, confused? What is their body language? Remember, everything leaves clues!
When a person comes to you with a problem, most of the time they haven’t fully uncovered the real issue. They are just experiencing the symptoms of a deeper issue. If you don’t listen fully, you won’t be able to uncover what is really going on. "If you jump too quickly into a mode of trying to solve the problem you are facing, you may cure a symptom rather than curing the disease.” - Art Markman - Fast Company
How to Listen in a Digital World
"Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t." - Seth Godin
So we have talked a lot about why listening is important as well as the need to shift our mind from “doing” to “thinking.” But how can we listen better in a world where much of our communication is done through digital channels? Here are a few things I recommend you do to become a better listener in our digital world.
Social Listening: Social media is a great tool if used for it’s intended purpose. While many have turned this communication platform into a self-promotion tool, many others are still using it powerfully. Social listening goes beyond looking for brand mentions. You need to interact with your followers and see what they are posting. Listen to the conversions they are having and make note of trends you see. This can help you uncover other needs you may have been unaware of.
Email: While email is a powerful tool, it can be very hard to read the tone of the message being sent. Sure, if the email is in all caps, they are probably angry, but everything communicates so always keep your listening ears ready. Look at the words they use as well as sentence structure. Do they seem rushed? Confused? Happy? While you can’t be 100% sure, you can uncover some information.
Phone: While the internet has helped make the buying process more anonymous, it has done the same to the marketing and sales process. It’s easy to respond via email, text or social media because it allows us to control the pace of the conversation. But, it’s less personal and leaves much of the conversation up for interpretation. Getting on the phone with a lead or prospect will help you better understand where they are coming from and what their real issue is.
It's no secret that communication has changed. We can talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time for free. We all have the access to global reach and that access is getting faster and faster. But, with all of this technological expansion, we have to remember that people are still people. While they may be using new tools to search for products, services or answers to their questions, they still have the need to be heard. By listening to those we are looking to do business with, we can create better products, services, and content to meet their needs. The best way to differentiate yourself and cut through the massive amounts of digital noise is to listen to your audience and deliver a personalized solution to meet their needs.
Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.
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