In a relationship based-business, nothing has more impact than making contact – not to sell, but to listen and learn. Sure, it's important to call clients and partners with operational updates and new service opportunities, but too often we miss a bigger opportunity to ask questions and listen.
As part of our marketing consulting process we ask clients about how they interact with clients and partners. It’s not unusual to hear about administrative / operational communications and annual satisfaction surveys. Both are of value, but neither are ideal if your goal is to learn more about how clients feel about their world, their needs and their priorities. If anything, by our typical outreach we tend to reinforce what’s important to us via email blasts and surveys related to the delivery of our core services.
Think about it – when you meet with a client face to face in their boardroom, where does the conversation begin? Often, a first question is “How’s it going?” asking about their business and industry. Are they doing well? Growing? Hiring? Expanding? What does this information tell us about their current situation and retirement plan? Questions like these, if asked with honest empathy, reinforce the quality of our relationship and sometimes suggest ways in which we may offer expert ideas and advice. What better way to defeat the perception of commoditization than to offer real value that isn’t always easily discernable by clients (since so much of what we do happens behind the curtain).
The same could be said of our conversations with industry partners. Do they tend to be technical in nature or do they support the notion that we’re here to be a strong, competent, collaborative partner? It’s easy to fall into the trap of sending the same periodic messages about deadlines and plan designs and features and conclude that we’re conducting a communication “campaign.” It’s certainly a “messaging” campaign and can be a supportive element of a broader strategy, but it falls short of true communication. Since many referral relationships (advisors, attorneys, accountants) focus on something other than retirement plans every day in their core business we have an ongoing challenge (and opportunity) to define a productive path with them by not only leading and educating, but by listening and developing partnered approaches.
There are other important benefits of listening. For example, since your business touches hundreds (or thousands) of companies across many industries, you have the opportunity to distill your collected insights about the state of the broader economy (both macro and micro) into thoughts you may wish to share in your blog, webinars, presentations and other speaking events. The fact that the data source is original and based on your first hand interview of business leaders underscores your connectivity, but more importantly, your interest in hearing from those you serve. If you regard listening as part of a sales process, you may be doing so to validate your position or overcome objections. If you listen as part of your relationship with others, you elevate the action to the art of conversation. The beauty of the latter is that if done with true purpose, you win anyway. You had me at hello.
President, GSM Marketing
Article originally published in NIPA Strictly Business 2015