Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who loves to talk?
Take the gal who rambles on and on about herself. (Please!) Or the guy who won’t shut up about a topic that bores you to tears.
Perhaps you’ve been in a group where so many people were talking at once you couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
I bet you felt like finding the nearest exit as quickly as possible. Or poking your eyes out rather than listen to that voice another minute. Ugh!
We’ve all been in bad conversations before.
Imagine how visitors to a website react when the content communicates something they have no interest in. Or companies use their websites to chatter about themselves and how great their products are.
Such a self-centered approach to marketing is off-putting to your prospects and customers.
You would be well advised to remember the adage: “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
The key to effective communication is empathizing with others, including your perfect customer. Pay attention to the people that matter most to your business and listen carefully to what they have to say.
Use a customer-centric model for business success
When you visit a business website, you can readily see what a company values.
The message will either convey a company-centric model or a customer-centric one. You can tell by the language it uses.
A company-centric message, for example, will use a first-person point of view with the pronouns “we” or “us.” You will also find a message littered with gobbledygook or corporate speak. The writing style will likely be stiff and formal like a business letter or other official document.
A customer-centric message, on the other hand, uses second-person pronouns that speak to “you” the reader. The language is less formal and is plain-spoken, with a friendly and approachable tone.
Not only do a lot of companies talk too much about themselves, but they also pay lip service to the idea of making the customer king.
Whatever your business practices, I am assuming that you are one of the more enlightened digital marketers who wants to improve the customer experience. To do that, you must learn to listen.
Principles of effective listening
“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles
are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his
own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure
to have trouble.”
— Harrington Emerson (1853-1931), management consultant and efficiency expert
People learn a lot about the world around them from listening. This is no less true when learning about your customers.
Four principles should be borne in mind as you progress through this lesson, and indeed the remaining lessons of this course.
- Silence — Speech is silver, but silence is golden.
- Attention — If you want attention, you have to pay attention.
- Patience — Good things come to those who wait.
- Empathy — Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes.
That last principle (empathy) is especially important for getting to know and understand your customers. It serves as the basis for a later lesson on building customer relationships.
Methods of listening: Asking the right questions
Listening is usually thought of as a passive experience. But as a skill of learning, listening must be active if it is to be effective. In practice, the essence of active listening is asking questions.
Research methods are classified according to the types of questions researchers ask: quantitative and qualitative questions.
Each type of question is based on the type of data or information you are gathering. Both types are necessary to get a full picture.
Quantitative questions ask “how many” or “how much” and are based on numerical data. Examples include web analytics, keyword research, and A/B split testing.
Qualitative questions ask “why” and are based on personal data that is subjective in nature. Examples include interviews, online surveys, monitoring social media, and usability testing.
To ask the right questions of your readers or customers, you need to think like a journalist. In other words ask open ended questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. If you ask closed-ended questions that elicit a yes/no answer, you will not get the insights you need.
Your goal should be to gather information that will help you develop your buyer personas and scenarios. Learn everything you can about their needs and expectations. What is their biggest challenge?
Think in terms of what problems your readers need to solve. Once you define their most pressing problem, you are halfway to figuring out a solution.
One final piece of advice: Don’t forget to talk to your sales and customer service people. They are on the front lines every day interacting with customers.
These methods are all well and good. But you need some tools that will help make your job of listening easier and more efficient.
The tools of listening: Working smarter, not harder
One of the advantages of marketing on the Web is the availability of online tools for listening to what your customers are saying. Here are some essential tools to get you started.
- Google Analytics: Set this up on your website to gather usage statistics and conduct A/B split testing. [free]
- Wordtracker: Learn what keywords people are using to search for your type of business, product, or service. [paid]
- Google Alerts: Discover trends and news relevant to your industry, market, and company. [free]
- Survey Monkey: Solicit comments from your website visitors with this online survey tool. [free and paid version]
- Usertesting: Improve user experience on your website with this convenient online usability testing service. [paid]
- Twitter: Use the search function to see what’s trending on a topic related to your industry or market. [free]
- LinkedIn: If you are in the B2B market, connect with others in LinkedIn Groups to find out what their biggest challenges are. [free]
- Hootsuite: Set up a dashboard for all your social profiles with this social media monitoring tool. [free and paid]
Many other tools are available. I suggest you use a search engine such as Google to find others that suit your needs.
Technology is great for gathering information about your customers. But now comes the hard part: thinking. You must now analyze and interpret the data so you can craft your core marketing message. That is the subject of the next lesson.