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01/14/2009 More on Listening

I received a great compliment yesterday.

We were presenting a client with a new strategy, structure and layout for its Web business. The entire business and sales team loved what they saw and heard and realized that the new site would deliver on their business goals.

Then they said “Thank you for listening to us.”

Aside from “you’re hired” that’s one of the best things you can hear from a client. They appreciated our taking the time to get to know them and coming up with an authentic way to tell their story. After all, it’s their story, not mine. Apparently, the previous group didn’t listen so well.

Not listening happens all the time, on both client and agency side. It’s too bad because when you listen that’s when the magic starts to happen. Why is it so hard? Here are a couple of things I always focus on when jumping into a new client or strategy project.

  1. Don’t figure it out first – If you’ve already figured out the problem, or what you want to do about it, you won’t listen very well. Or rather, you’ll listen to the parts that confirm your preconceived notions and discard all the rest. Instead, start with as much of a beginners mind as you can, and keep yourself open to new flows of information. I liken good listening to improvisation; you have to be able to go with the flow because that’s where the nuggets are. After all, if you listen well, you might learn something new.
  2. Do your homework – Even though you don’t have all the answers, you need to have a good understanding of whom you’re taking to. Make sure you’ve done your background homework so you can ask the right questions. More importantly, you’ll be able to recognize when something special pops up.
  3. Practice repeating what you heard – One of the biggest challenges is to listen to a group of people but then not be able to tell that in a strong way to the rest of your team. We tend to fall back on written documents, creative or strategy briefs, for example. These documents rarely do a good job of storytelling. But listening is part of an oral tradition, as is storytelling. After you’ve listened for a while, practice telling these stories to your team. It will show you how well you’re listening and what gaps to fill in. It will also help your team practice listening.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of carrying on oral traditions. We marketers are storytellers. We listen to client stories in order to craft new, compelling and authentic stories. While we could just make up the stories, listening provides us with the authenticity to make emotional connections.


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