I’d like to introduce you to the first great marketing philosopher. Way back before Coke was teaching the world to sing, and, about the same time that the guy selling the round wheel cornered the market on transportation, a guy named Zeno of Citium was positing on the very important marketing attribute of listening.
Said Zeno, quite presciently: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
Forget about the fact that these words were probably etched on some sort of stony substrate – which should have lent credence to the gravity of their meaning. Today, many businesses continue to ignore Zeno’s sage advice – deciding that it’s more important to tell its story, without understanding its impact on the intended consumer.
As an interim Chief Marketing Officer, I often start my engagements by observing this sort of “mouth-first” behavior. After talking with employees, customers and even competitors, invariably I learn of a significant disconnect when it comes to the kind of “active listening” that comes from involving the “ears” in the discussion. And, that this lack of frequent market research translates to an ongoing struggle with achieving sustained growth.
By lacking a systematic way of capturing feedback from these key audiences, it’s a challenge for these companies to evolve.
What’s the best way to get meaningful insights from your customers? Ask them for their opinion. They will often be more forthcoming when these questions come from a third party such as myself, but once you get them started, this process should migrate to an internal resource and be conducted frequently – as often as once a quarter.
Dialogue vs. Monologue
The goal is to have a dialogue with your customer – not just a monologue. A monologue comes from nothing but outbound communications such as press releases, social media posts, email campaigns, etc. A dialogue comes from taking the time to really listen to your audiences and find out how they feel about your relationship.
A recent study by The Hinge Research Institute proves this point. They studied high-growth versus no-growth companies and found that more than one-third of high-growth firms conduct market research on a frequent basis (at least quarterly). None of the no-growth firms conducted frequent growth.
So, how can we construct this dialogue in a way that is productive, sustainable and fosters growth? Here are four ways that high-growth companies have cracked the code:
- Direct Questions: Sophisticated tools do exist to incubate consumer dialogue, but I find that the best way is to get on the phone and start talking. I had a recent engagement with a B2B telecommunications company, and we decided on a simple mission as our starting point -- a series of conversations with its customer base. Rather than the types of dialogue that sales reps typically engage in to make the sale, we asked more pointed questions: “What helped you decide to use our company?” “What are you looking for from us to continue the relationship?” We found the customers were more forthcoming and candid with us than they would be with a third-party research firm, because of the inherent trust built in the relationship.
- Interactive Content: For those consumers that are truly happy, we would agree that they represent our best, and most credible, promoters. Consider asking them to participate in case studies and video testimonials that add a third dimension to their satisfaction with your company and its products and services. At one engagement, we turned a series of such conversations into a dynamic YouTube channel that the sales team now uses as part of its dialogue with new prospects.
Additionally, the types of feedback you gain during these conversations will form a series of insights that can help your company shape its overall content marketing strategy. Once that happens, no longer will your content seem preachy, but it will take on an approachable tone – almost written by the customer, for the customer.
- Industry Insights: Bear in mind that one of the goals of this two-way dialogue that you’re undertaking is to identify key differentiators in the marketplace. You want to understand: How can you stand out in your customers’ and prospects’ mind when the moment of truth arrives? Who will I partner with? It’s more likely to be a company that talks with me instead of at me.
- Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: This is not a one-shot deal. At a minimum, you’ll want to develop dialoguing tools that are touching your consumer on a quarterly basis. This will help your customers to understand and appreciate the depths of your company’s efforts at continual improvement; you’ll find, as a result, that they’ll often look forward to these opportunities to reporting on the progress of your relationship, or on any slippage of service, from their perspective that could be affecting your relationship.
The bottom line? Always remember the sage advice of Zeno, and lead with your ears. Start -- and keep -- a conversation going with your customers and prospects to make sure you stay -- or move into the high-growth category.