Listen up, marketers

The power of listening has been on my mind recently. As a long-time editor for BuyerZone, I like to think that I know what our buyers want: timely, accurate information that helps them make the right purchasing decisions. But it’s been a while since I really listened to what they’re asking for, and a current research project is reminding me I should do that more often.

Survey says

We recently did a buyer survey and I asked about the types and sources of information buyers look for as they’re researching a major purchase. Some of the results were consistent with my expectations: the number one answer is pricing examples, and detailed product specs and vendor web sites are also at the top.

The second most popular result surprised me: user reviews. I would have expected that in a B2C environment, but not in the B2B world of BuyerZone. Another surprise: other than user reviews, the rest of the social media options I included are all at the extreme bottom of the list. Blogs, Twitter, even discussion forums all got less than 10% support as an information source for B2B purchasing.

That may seem strange in a time when headlines like New Research: 60% of B2B Decision Makers Use Social Media are common — but if you read more carefully, that study is simply saying that the decision makers use social media in general, not that they regularly use it for making their decisions. Score another point for long-time social media skeptic The Ad Contrarian.

Listen to succeed

Listening doesn’t have to mean conducting formal surveys to gather opinion. I’ve also been calling BuyerZone users and asking them to tell me about their research.

I’m always cautious about taking up too much of their time on these calls, but they’re often eager to talk about their plans and to tell me all about why they need to replace their old equipment, how the sales guy down the street is a weasel, or what new features they’ve heard about and would really like to take advantage of. Simply letting them talk is giving me some good insight into how they work and what we can do to help them out.

A great Harvard Business Review article (Marketers, Calculate Your Talk-Listen Ratio) makes the point that the simple act of directly listening to customers can be good for sales results:

Being listened to makes people feel good — it signifies to them that they are interesting and what they have to say is valued. Imbued with the confidence this brings, they reveal more about their beliefs and feelings. It is no surprise then that successful salespeople are frequently described as great listeners.

Bad examples aren’t hard to find

Finally, a couple of recent high-profile examples show how not listening to your customers can backfire — or, depending on how you interpret the message, that belatedly listening can help you correct a business blunder.

First Netflix announced, then recanted their plans to separate their DVD-by-mail and online streaming businesses, in a great example of how not listening to customers can backfire. Then in an even more surprising blunder, Bank of America announced a $5 monthly fee for using a debit card, and was forced to reverse that decision based on the customer outcry.

What  are you doing to listen to your customers and prospects? Are you going to step into the same trap as BoA and Netflix, or do you have the finger on the pulse?

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