Hawaii TechnologyWritten by Emre Tuncbilek On 25 July 2011

“Listening is the key to success.” It is a cliché and it has been said thousands of times by thousands of people, yet it is still a key weakness for many businesses regardless of their size.

In the past, marketing was mostly about differentiating yourself and getting the word out effectively. Today, professionals emphasize that in addition to differentiation, it is mostly about listening and engaging. A very recent study confirms that businesses that listen first and then engage in conversation with their customers perform better than those that do not.

There are a number of tools that you can use to listen to your audience who can be your customers, members, students or fans. You can use conventional methods like surveys, polls and focus groups; or you can tap into online tools like search engine alerts, social media sites and forums. None of the listening methods are perfect; they all have their advantages and disadvantages.

You can quantify and analyze a large number of responses in a relatively short amount of time with surveys, but please keep in mind that you are missing valuable qualitative information. Focus groups can be very useful to identify your strengths and weaknesses but it is a fact that most people behave differently when they know they are monitored. People also may not be as open and frank as they would be in an informal conversation. The results can be heavily biased based on who asks the questions and how.

It is hard to verify the demographics of a person and almost impossible to detect whether they are (or were) a customer of yours, but online channels make it much easier to listen to blunt, open and relevant comments from your audience.

Social media is one of the most comprehensive and easy to use channels for every business. It is social because it is about listening first, engaging second. Most successful communicators on social media spend more time on listening than talking.

Listening to social media can help you stay on top of your competition. For instance, if you manage or own a business, you can listen to your existing customers (people who are connected to you) and your potential customers (people who are connected to your direct competitors) as well as the claims made by your competitors.

Search engine alerts are free and most of the conversation is public on social media; the conversation is out there waiting for your attention.

Please remember the five habits of people who listen effectively.

Listening is a process: Listening is an active, ongoing process that includes hearing, understanding and recording. Good listeners don’t just listen, they make sense of what they hear and more importantly make a note of the lessons learned. Please keep track of what you need to know for future reference and keep listening.

Practice makes it perfect: Like other skills, active listening needs practice. The more you concentrate on listening, the more easier it will get to engage in the conversation with your audience.

Ask Questions: Asking a relevant question in a timely manner is one of the best things you can do as a good listener. It not only shows that you care but also creates an opportunity to convey your expertise and perspective.

Avoid emotional involvement: When you are too emotionally involved in listening, you tend to hear what you want to hear — not what is actually being said. Try to remain professional, objective and open-minded.

Never be afraid of being an amateur: New to social media? Does online interaction look confusing? No problem, just be an amateur. In fact, the word amateur comes from Latin for “lover” and refers to a person attached to a particular pursuit without pay and often without formal training. This is not necessarily a disadvantage when it comes to listening to your audience.  You do it, because you like to do it; otherwise you wouldn’t be doing what you do, right?

Do you have any questions or suggestions? Please feel free to comment.

Photos: ky_olsen, etunch

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About Author

Emre has a diverse work experience including IT consulting, sales force coordination, analytical/predictive reporting and operations management. He has an IT background, BA degree in Business Administration and earned his MBA degree in 2011. Currently, he takes part in various consulting projects and assists graduate level marketing and consulting courses at HPU. He is looking for opportunities for developing cloud based CRM systems, CRM analytics and social media integrations. (www.etunch.com)

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