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Listen and Learn: A Lesson For Marketers

Jun 19, 2008
I love my dad: it's necessary to make that clear before I tell you this story. My dad is always wondering when I'm going to give up this lark and get a real job. That's not the worst of it - the worst is that he's not at all sure what 'this lark' is! Yes, I've told him - and told him, and told him ... Those who are avid readers of The Marketing Edge will know that we here at Zee2A help our clients to craft a Verbal Signature - a brief statement which encapsulates who you work with, what problem you address and what the outcome is of addressing their problem. My dad has heard my Verbal Signature on many occasions - so why doesn't he know what I do?

The answer (I'm sure you've already guessed) is that hearing doesn't mean the same thing as listening. Perhaps you're wondering what on earth this has to do with marketing, so let me rephrase that: Speaking, telling, talking - none of them mean the same thing as listening! And yet we as marketers are always focused on telling, not so? We just assume that the person we are talking to has listened.

I'd like you to participate in a short experiment in case you're not convinced. Quickly write down the names of five people who are close to you but not people you do business with - family, friends, community members. Done? Right, now call them one by one and ask a simple question: 'What do I do?' If you got five accurate, congruent answers I'd like to hear from you - you'd be a world-first! You've told them (almost certainly) but how many listened?

I recently participated in a very interesting experiment under the direction of Maureen Scott of Mascott Training. Maureen wanted to graphically illustrate to a roomful of hard-nosed business people the challenges we face in accurate communication. She did so by splitting us into pairs and assigning one of the pair as the talker, the other as the listener. To the talker she gave an envelope containing a simple sketch, to the listener a pen and a blank piece of paper. Then, sitting back-to-back, the pair had to reproduce the sketch on the blank piece of paper. Get the idea? The talker cannot see what the listener is drawing, while the listener cannot see what the talker is seeing.

I was the listener in my pair but it wouldn't be difficult to imagine the challenge faced by the talker: how do you even begin to describe what you are seeing? (You may be interested in seeing what I drew, which you can do by going to www.zee2a.com/assets/listenandlearn.jpg) Do you describe the scene? Do you describe each line in detail and let the overall picture form as the process continues? What about colour? Positioning of the drawing on the page? Page orientation? (Our pair made the mistake of assuming that we were both holding the paper in the correct orientation, so the picture you see was inaccurate in that it should have been in portrait orientation.)

It is a deceptively simple experiment with so much meaning to be derived from it. Different people listen and visualise in different ways, so understanding whether the person you are talking to is a visual listener, an auditory listener or a kinesthetic (touchy-feely) listener is immensely useful in guiding how you present a proposition to them. Equally, as a talker you need to be a good listener too, because you should be sure to check regularly whether the person you are talking to is developing the correct image of what you are presenting. Maureen illustrated this concept by suggesting that the goal of communication is to create a shared vision, so we should imagine two 'thought-bubbles' emanating from the respective heads of the talker and the listener. If those two thought-bubbles are overlaid on one another, are they identical? If not, there is more (and perhaps also better) communicating to be done!

What can marketers take out of this? Here are three keys to effective communication:

oNever assume: Remember the mental exercise of overlaying your 'thought-bubble' with that of your prospect. Are they identical? Or does your communication need enhancement? If you don't know what is in your prospect's thought-bubble then you need to listen more!

oBe adaptable : Different people need the same information to be communicated in different ways. Are you talking to someone who seems to get frustrated when you try to talk detail? Chances are they are visualisers - start using verbal 'broad brush' strokes to paint an overall picture. (This type of person is vehemently opposed to presentations that rely on scores of Powerpoint slides - you have been warned!) Are you talking to a detail person (career engineers are a good example)? They are auditory listeners - break your proposition down to its key components and allow the prospect to build the picture as you supply the components. Touchy-feely listeners really struggle with a service proposition because they can't run their hands over it! Make sure that you provide lots of references (the closest thing we in the service profession have to a tangible offering) and offer to set up calls with or visits to satisfied clients. Some kind of demonstration of how your service works is also powerful if you are selling to a kinesthetist.

oListen more than you talk - Always! Yes, you are trying to communicate something to someone else, but never think that you don't need to listen. Only by listening carefully and diligently can you understand how your message is coming across to the prospect. A ratio of '2x listen : 1x talk' could be called the Divine Ratio - because we were given two ears and one mouth!

In conclusion we could perhaps say that rather than listening and learning, the goal of our decision to be good listeners as marketers is because listening leads to more profitable clients. Now that's music to my ears ...

David Deakin and Zee2A Limited 2008.

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About the Author
David Deakin, CEO of Zee2A, works with Professional Services Executives yearning to take their business to the next level. Through one-on-one mentoring he helps them create sustainable marketing strategies that attract more clients at profitable rates. To learn more, sign up for his e-zine, or enquire please visit www.zee2A.com.
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