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Marketing is about listening

Marketers: Shut Up, Already.

No, seriously.

Those of us who are in marketing & bizdev are generally fairly extroverted people – and we love to tell people about our products.

But that just doesn’t cut it anymore. Times are changing.

It used to be that marketing and advertising consisted of coming up with a great tagline and putting it out there on billboards, magazines, and circular ads from the weekly newspaper. But we all know those days are long gone.

Then came the era of the internet…and along with it, personalization. Hey look! We can now tailor ads and campaigns to someone based on their exact wants!

(Never mind that we didn’t know what they wanted. We assumed we did, and that was cool. For a while.)

And then Frank Eliason decided to create a Twitter account to help Comcast customers – and in so-doing, opened up a whole new marketing world. Not only did Twitter and social media make customer service into a new marketing channel – but it also gave marketers a new imperative: listening.

Marketers could now scan and join conversations in real-time. They could connect directly with their prospects. They could create interactive experiences like never before.

The possibilities were endless!!

And in the past 4 years, what have we done with those possibilities? For the most part, we’ve kept on broadcasting, just like we did in 1965.

There are several notable high-profile exceptions – like Old Spice’s real-time social media campaign, or Sharpie’s videos featuring their users – but the vast majority of the business world still seems bent on screaming at the top of their lungs, “Look at meeee!!”

Problem being, in today’s business world, you can’t just yell and expect customers to come running to you. In order to better know your customers and prospects, you have to listen.

So how do you broadcast less and listen more? Here are 5 ways:

1. Surveys

Most marketers and business stakeholders love the idea of sending out surveys. And here’s a news flash: most consumers hate them. But that’s not because of the survey itself – it’s because most surveys are executed with bad survey practices.

We could do an entire post on good survey practices, but for this post, let’s boil it down to one thing: are your intended survey respondents invested enough to take a survey?

If you’re asking people to take a survey who aren’t invested in your product or your company, you’re wasting your – and their – time. They have no incentive to spend 5-10 minutes going through your questions.

No thanks.

So how do you get people to respond? Keep it short & simple. Rather than doing formal surveys, think of them more as polls. Ask only the top 1-2 questions at a time, and you’re much more likely to get the data you need.

You can use tools like Qualaroo or Google Consumer Surveys to do short research on your site – or do quick polls of your social media followers with apps like Loop. A single-question survey that gets 100 responses is a whole lot better than a 100-question survey that gets 1 response.

Your existing customers are a little more likely to respond to surveys than random visitors, but they’re still not likely to do so. And if they ever feel like you’ve wasted their time with a pointless survey, forget ever getting them to respond again.

So don’t waste their time. Follow the KISS principle and get the feedback you need. Get greedy, and you’ll get nothing but bad data.

2. Double down on social media – it’s not just for broadcasting

Social media may not offer a ton of last-interaction conversions – but it keeps your brand top-of-mind, and it lets you interact with your customers on a more personal level. So interact with them, already!

Social media is still one of the best illustrations of why you should listen more than you broadcast. It’s been said that social media is a big cocktail party. If that’s the case, don’t be that guy who walks around trying to sell MLM nutrition supplements to all the attendees. Stop tweeting about lead generation forms, whitepapers, and webinars…and start talking. Talk only about yourself, and you’ll be surprised how quickly the room clears out. Take an interest in your followers – and they’ll take an interest in you.

(And even better, listen for conversations that are relevant to you and your brand! If you help people solve their problems – without being overly pushy, or even necessarily promoting your company outright – people will take notice. In a very good way.)

3. Ask questions

You know that you wouldn’t have a company without your customers. Which is why you should constantly be trying to figure out what they want and improve their experience.

Reach out to your customers regularly and ask them questions – whether it’s about general info (do they have pets? When is their birthday? What is their job title?), or things they think would make your product better. Set up 15-minute interviews (and offer a t-shirt for their trouble).

If your product or UX team is regularly conducting user interviews, sit in on them! It’s your job as a marketer to know what people want. The more you learn about them, the better you can tailor your offerings to them – and communicate your offerings to them.

4. Encourage complaints

If a customer is upset about something, count your blessings! One sure rule of business is that, despite your best efforts, there will always be someone who will be upset. It’s just the nature of the beast – and it often is over something you had no idea was an issue!

So the key is to get people talking.

Here’s a sobering statistic: for every one complaint made, there are 26 that go unlodged with customer service. (Which, when you think about it, means that there are a whole lot more people out there who are annoyed with your company that you know about.)

It’s also often pointed out that it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than it does to keep them. So let’s do the math – if it costs $100 to acquire each customer, that means there’s $2600 of additional new customer acquisition costs on the line for every complaint you hear. You could let those 26 customers go – or you could spend just $364 to keep all 26 of those customers. That’s 715% savings (not to mention the profit that each of those customers brings in).

Meanwhile, here’s another useful statistic: resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor and they will do business with you again 70% of the time.

Of course, all of this depends on getting those customers to let you know there’s a problem.

So make sure to give them ample opportunity to lodge their complaints – be it a Uservoice widget on your site, or a readily-available way to contact support. Encourage people to talk to you.

If your customers aren’t telling you what’s wrong, you have no way to fix it. Getting customers to complain gives you the opportunity to improve – and to retain them as customers. Everybody wins.

5. Watch what your customers and prospects are doing.

No, I’m not talking about watching their every move. I’m talking about noticing trends. If someone continually does the same thing over and over again on your website or in your app, there might be a problem with that feature…or it might be important in a way that you don’t understand.

Reach out to those customers whose behavior seems odd, or stacked in one way or another. Get feedback on any roadblocks they’re seeing. Again, you can’t make your products better without knowing the problems people are seeing.

And it’s not just about product. From the marketing side, the key here is that listening isn’t just about asking questions and talking to customers – it’s about knowing where they are in the customer lifecycle, and anticipating what their next steps might be. For instance, if they’re just getting started with your freemium product, it might not be the best time to approach them about upgrading. However, if they’re reaching the limits of their free account, that would be the ideal time to start nudging them to upgrade.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just about being customer-focused.

The key lesson from all of the above tips is this: marketing is not about you, or your company, or your product. It’s about your customers.

And when you think about it, that makes sense. The product you’re selling exists because of your customers – without them, you wouldn’t have anything to broadcast about.

We’re no longer in the days of Don Draper. We now have a whole arsenal of tools that lets us get more insight than the original marketers ever dreamed of. It’s time we all started acting like it.

Those of us in marketing need to stop loving the sound of our own voice, and let our customers do the talking – today, that’s the only way to win big.

And with that, I’ll stop talking. How about you? How do you juggle the tasks of broadcasting enough to let people know about your product, but listening enough to make your products and marketing relevant?

**Don Draper image via AMC.com

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