Are you still trying to solve the same marketing problems that were on your plate three, four or five years ago? Do your marketing efforts keep looping back to the same unresolved issues?
If so, it could be that you are caught in an unproductive cycle and only providing answers to your own questions, not to your customers’. If that is happening – and it is in many organizations – it is time to ask whether you are listening to your customers, really listening to them.
Using the Power of Ingagement to Hear Deeper Marketing Insights
I would recommend a new way of asking questions and listening. I write about it in my new book Ingaging Leadership, and I believe you will see its potential to deliver deeper insights from your conversations with customers.
- Take the practice of active listening to new levels. Most of us have been trained to avoid interruptive listening, which happens when we are so busy formulating an answer that we no longer hear what is being said. Of course, it is good to avoid that. But it is far more effective to cultivate the habit of listening in an ingaged way for what is right in what other people are saying, not for what is wrong – and to capture those positive nuggets of wisdom to discuss and explore further. This is an opportunity to hear genuinely new things from your customers, not only your own opinions voiced in new ways.
- Structure interactions in ways that allow customers to tell you new things. If you only ask customers 12 yes or no questions, you are only going to get 12 pieces of binary data – and only about the issues that you defined ahead of time. So be sure to use every opportunity to ask open-ended questions that allow your customers to go beyond yes or no and share their emotions, experiences, values and provide other “softer” responses. Among other benefits, this approach allows you to be sure that you have defined underlying issues about what is working in your marketing efforts – and what is not.
- Be sure that your systems allow you to capture input from customers that is new, genuine and possibly unclassifiable. Of course you are gathering and analyzing data – that’s part of your marketing job. You have developed scripts for phone survey-takers to use, questions that are used in focus groups, and spreadsheets where you classify and report data. You need those tools, but you also need a way to capture the “softer” information that you get through ingaged listening – it could be just one unusual insight offered from just one customer. Be sure there is a field to capture that kind of intelligence in your reports.
Opportunities to Talk to Your Customers in a Powerful New Way
This new way of listening and gathering data can work well in traditional surveys, focus groups and other market research contexts. However, it can work especially well in these settings too, which you might not be using currently . . .
- Create customer advisory councils. Invite high-value customers to become members and ask them to take part in brainstorming sessions about what your current marketing objectives are, what they should be, and more. Generally speaking, this works best if you are selling a relatively small number of high-value products and services to a small number of customers – not a lot of lower-value offerings to a large customer base. It’s one of the most effective ways to break out of the tunnel vision that can affect many companies as they define and address marketing challenges.
- Engage actively with your own front-line employees. They are uniquely positioned to tell you how customers are reacting to your marketing, what their concerns and issues are with what you are selling – and more. It is interesting to note that in their confusion and rush to develop new marketing solutions, many companies overlook this vital source of intelligence.
Putting Together All the Pieces Together
As you gather new information in new ways, it is important to capture it – not let it pile up until it becomes overwhelming. I recommend creating a master communications plan to track all your efforts on gathering market intelligence. List all the contact points you are using to gather customer insights, what questions you are asking through them, and summarize what you have heard.
The result can be a growing body of marketing information that is useful, concise and ready to use – perhaps unlike the data that you have been gathering in the past.