Listening Should be a Central Component of Any Marketing Program

Another session I attended at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit, which was held on April 21 in downtown DC, was the always entertaining Bob London, CEO of Chief Listening Officers. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Bob speak on this topic before and even the condensed version of his presentation was just as interesting.

Bob’s session was titled, “Burn the Whiteboard! Stop Brainstorming and Go Ask Your Customers These 5 Questions.” I should note that this notion of listening to your customers is not just some idea Bob throws out there as a best practice that he encourages others to do. Bob actually lives by this advice and in 2016 he rebranded his company from London, Ink to Chief Listening Officers to better reflect what his company is all about.  

As you can probably already tell, Bob’s session discussed listening to your customer and not just listening to them, but actively engaging with them to ask them questions that help you get the answers you need to better serve them.  

Let me start by offering you the same quiz Bob offered during his session. Imagine two cellular company coverage maps if you will. One map touts 99.87% coverage while the other touts 99.9% coverage. Could you tell me which map belonged to which cellular company? Despite AT&T and Verizon spending upwards of $500 million on ads, most people can’t point to the correct coverage map and identify the carrier. Want to know why? Because nobody cared. (For the record, I’m a nerd and knew that AT&T was 98.7% and Verizon was 99.9%. When you regularly visit places like North Dakota you know which carrier has coverage there.)

So if people didn’t care about coverage – which AT&T and Verizon thought was all that mattered, what did they care about? London tells us the tale of John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile since 2012. When Legere came to T-Mobile he heard all the normal rumblings from his sales and marketing staff (marketing says the network sucks while sales blames the marketing). Caught in the typical back and forth between these two groups, Legere did something London says more CEOs (and marketers) should do — he listened to his customers.

Legere spent days and nights working at a T-Mobile call center to hear first hand what customers were upset about. Want to know what he learned? Turns out none of the technology mattered. Instead, there was a plethora of hatred for the wireless industry in general and a long list of things people wanted to change. And it turns out the number one thing people specifically hated and wanted to be changed was being locked into contracts.

Legere took what he learned during his time at the call center and turned T-Mobile on its head, getting rid of contracts and saw a spike in customers. More recently the company got rid of its various plans in favor of one unlimited data plan and it seems to have been the right move for the company.

So what’s the moral of the story? T-Mobile listened to its customers, has had great rewards because of it, and regular business can learn to do this as well. As London says, “You’re a marketer. Go listen to the market.”

To help you get started, below are the five key questions London suggests you ask.

  1. What are your top two or three priorities for the board?Customers (whether they are the CEO or CMO) are used to being asked “What are your pain points?” or “What keeps you up at night?” but phrased this way this question is coming from an angle they haven’t heard before. This forces them to rethink the canned response they are used to giving. The customer response allows you to tie your product or service to their goals and budget priorities and at the end of the day what you should be striving for is knowing what value you can add to their business
  2. Does your industry have a reputation (good or bad)? You might be wondering why does this matter? It’s because everyone already has preconceptions about your company, or as London puts it, “everyone has a thought bubble when they go by a trade show booth.” Our customers have to address the preconceived notion others have about their industry. This is the elephant in the room that your positioning needs to address.
  3. Name something annoying that vendors do. While not directly a question, this is a more specific version of the previous question. What you are trying to do is drill down for specific complaints. London notes, everyone talks smack about vendors when they aren’t around. But what if we, as marketers, could tap into that? There’s always at least one juicy industry complaint you can position against.
  4. What do you do better than anyone else? Contrary to popular belief, buyers don’t want to buy from companies that are all things to all people. The reason this is important is that buyers want a job done right. They want to purchase the thing you do best, not a portfolio of “semi-good” services. As a company, your sweet spot is the foundation of your positioning, of everything you’re going to do. Your reputation, confidence, and strengths all lie in this one area.
  5. What would make you a customer for life? London notes that the interesting thing is that most people have never been asked this question before, meaning they often need to think about the answer. And, as London also points out, don’t we all want customers for life?!

Armed with those five questions, London cautions you don’t need to ask everyone – just a segment of your customer base. Depending on the size of your company this could be five calls or it could be 15-20 calls. London also has a few tips for how to handle yourself when making these calls, including:

  1. Relax, it’s a conversation. You’re seeking their insight.
  2. Be genuinely curious.
  3. Leave your ego and biases at the door.
  4. Never be defensive.
  5. Absolutely no selling.  

London concludes by saying don’t stress about the results, patterns will start to emerge and you’ll know the insights when you hear them.  
So what do you think? Equipped with this information are you ready to pick up the phone and start listening to your customers?

Let’s talk.