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The least respected, most valuable skill any marketer can have is listening. To illustrate, here’s a story of two firms. The first is a company like IBM, well rooted in the world with a strong product full of features. The second is a company like Dropbox, old enough to be competitive with the big guns, but too young to have a truly diverse feature set. The two companies bid on the same project, IBM presents for eight hours on all their features and capabilities, super proud of what they have to offer. Dropbox presents for twenty minutes, then asks questions for the next three hours. Guess who won the contract?

Why did they win? (in case it was unclear, the Dropbox in this story won). Dropbox won because they understood what the client wanted after listening for three hours. Dropbox was able to pinpoint the real pain points in the organization and then show how the features they do have could address the issues presented. Instead of pushing features, they were able to talk about solutions.

How to Listen Online:

  1. Just Ask: A couple walk into a London restaurant on a Saturday night and are seated at a table in the middle of the room. The restaurant is fairly empty and there are plenty of other tables. After a few minutes, the couple realizes the table is super uncomfortable and asks to be moved. The waiter obliges and they are moved. Ten minutes later another couple walks in and is seated at the same cantankerous table. They to ask to be moved. A third couple walks in, is seated at the bad table and also asks to be moved. The waiting staff starts whispering to each other trying to figure out why everyone asks to be moved from that particular table, never thinking to ask the actual customers. Finally, the first couple that arrived at the restaurant pulls a waiter aside and explains that the table is uncomfortable and that’s why they wanted to be moved. The moral of the story, just ask. Get on the phone, provide support, and ask questions to your actual customers.
  2. Quiz: Portland Monthly recently ran a quiz that was shared more than 2000 times and drove tens of thousands of new visits. The quiz was fun and was shared organically, with no monetary incentive, but at the end of the day, Portland Monthly ended up with loads of data on their web visitors. Make surveys fun by turning them into quizzes.
  3. Customer Service: Wufoo did something miraculous – they created droves of loyal customers from form software. Forms such as the one you have on your site for contact submissions. Forms aren’t the most stimulating product, you kind of just need them to be there and work. However, Wufoo provides incredible support and handles more than 800 inbound calls every week. Each of these calls is an opportunity to ask questions of active customers. Wufoo leverages their excellent customer service to learn from their users and create a product that is loved.

How to ask good questions:

  1. Avoid Yes or No: Yes or no questions are set up to illicit a response that isn’t open-ended, which is exactly what you don’t want from a customer. Ask questions that allow the customer to say what they think.
  2. Why? You don’t like that feature? Why? It doesn’t look right? Why? It doesn’t match your site? Why? The styles are different? This could go no for a long time. The point is that continuing to ask why will dig to the root of the problem quickly.
  3. Don’t Interrupt: If your customer starts talking, don’t interject and tell them they’ve said enough (you wouldn’t do that, but all interjections are viewed to some degree as saying that you don’t care) Genuinely listen, feedback from customers can come across as degrading to your work, but if it’s honest, you should listen.

Two ears, one mouth – listen twice as much as you talk. Our example Dropbox did it and beat out a larger, existing company, Wufoo did it and created an army of loyal customers, you can do it and anchor your business as a must-have. Listening isn’t as sexy as presenting cool features, but it sure can create success.

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