Your Customers Voice is Where you Test your Direction
by Kevin D. Crone
For many years, I conducted listening meetings at a terrific organization that wanted to grow despite their changing and competitive marketplace. Who did we listen to? First, it was the executive team who had to see the reality about what was going on. As I found out years ago in doing this work, reality is an acquired taste. They listened to each other, examined some research, and, in the end, had to align around what they aspired to be for the business.
Leadership today has to create the environment and structure for this listening to go on. Listening, truly listening, isn’t about imposing your view, filtering out anything that doesn’t match your view, nor about conjecture, opinions, and world views. It is about the search for facts in the marketplace and in our operations. As Jack Nicholson said in one of his movies, “You can’t handle the truth!” Well, it has been my experience that as long as the facts are clear, management can handle reality.
Then we listened to their customers. They invited a small group in and I facilitated a discussion around not only the fundamental questions about whether they liked us or not, and why, but most importantly, what is the truth for them. What are they struggling with to compete? Why? What do they need? That meeting was amazing, like the so many I have done over the years. The customers were so engaged and gave terrific insights once the dialogue got rolling. The managers were not allowed to speak for two hours and I dramatized the point humorously to all by showing the duct tape I brought for their mouths if they did. Again, listening, truly listening for their issues and challenges, without interruptions, justifications, denials, blaming the customers, etc., can be challenging; for everyone has preconceived views and notions.
Afterwards, everyone was amazed and surprised at how easy it was to actually listen to and engage a customer. Not just to get information you can use to sell them more stuff, but ultimately, to see how you match up with their needs, wants and motives so your offering and messaging can be more compelling, which is so important if you want to compete to win. Too simple you say? Well maybe it is or maybe we complicate life and business by thinking we have to have all the answers.
Unless we’re going to buy our own stuff, then getting to know the customer’s business is slightly more important than getting to know ours. If nothing else, it can help you test your strategies to get you from your realities to your aspirations.
- How many listening meetings have you done or taken part in since the great world slowdown?
- How many internal listening meetings have gone on to keep different departments from inadvertently fragmenting and fracturing the organization so it can’t compete?
- Are you fighting over resources and your needs instead of collaborating to support the company’s business strategy?
Something to seriously consider this summer is to get engaged in true listening and experience its magic whether it be with external or internal customers. Maybe start off a training meeting or conference with a listening meeting. Maybe it’s as simple as listening to your fellow associates or team, or an employee one-on-one. Perspectives can be altered. New simple actions can be taken. Alignment is possible. New business strategies can be created. New offerings can be invented. New sales and marketing messaging and sales systems can follow.
Collaborative relationships that allow momentum on change are possible because of listening. (Again, not just physically hearing others, but actually listening without your filtered, automatic, preconceived views).
Ask pertinent questions, milk the answers, record what people say and review it with others. Set some actions and then act. Watch what happens.This works most times like magic.
Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
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