How to Listen and Learn from Your Market

Good marketers have always listened and learned from their markets. Today’s self-published, social internet has made it easier than ever for brands to listen to buyers, but it has also made it less common because everyone wants to share their voices.
August 20, 2014

New buyers are driving an inbound marketplace, which means that now more than ever, marketers need to re-learn the importance of listening, and how to listen to new buyers. Consider:

Decision makers today have a more powerful voice than ever, but many companies don’t know how to listen, choose not to, or don’t follow through on what they learn. Listening where others do not is one of the most effective ways to establish your brand as a thought-leader and build trust. It is also the only way to consistently create the best content for your audience. Listening to the marketplace is a lot like listening in the marketplace. There are two ways to do it: eavesdropping and conversations.

How to Eavesdrop on Your Market

Buyers are already online, already shopping, already asking questions that your team can answer.

Marketers are surrounded by conversations about their industries and niches, we just need to pay attention and respond correctly.

How to Listen: Free Tools for Digital Sleuthing

The internet comes fully equipped with a big bag of spy tricks:

  • Hootsuite – With a free Hootsuite account, you can manage up to five of your social networks from one dashboard. Set up streams to monitor important words and phrases like your brand name, your industry, and/or your top competitors. See what people are saying.
  • Google Alerts – Set up simple, free email notifications based on words and/or phrases you choose. When content that passes your filters is published online, Google will let you know.
  • LinkedIn – Even if you don’t have time to actively participate in LinkedIn groups, there is still a benefit to joining them. Browse conversations and questions when you do have time, to gain some insight about what decision makers are discussing.
  • Q&A Sites – Browse sites like Quora and Yahoo! Answers for important keywords used in questions people are asking, and what kind of information they’re looking for, specific to your industry.

If you’re not already spying on your market, start where you’re most comfortable. If email is your forte, set up Google Alerts first. If you spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, jump into a new group or two. If Twitter and Facebook are your favorites, get set up with Hootsuite. As one tool becomes a comfortable part of your schedule, add another one and expand your scene.

What to Listen For: Cues As Clues

With your ear to the door, make sure you’re listening for what is being said as well as what is not being said. In small settings, someone may withhold a compliment or a criticism to avoid a potentially awkward conversation. But if buyers are talking about you, and they don’t know you’re listening, what they don’t say can be just as important as what they do say. How are you positioning your brand? Green? Community-focused? First in customer service? If your audience isn’t saying those things about you, you’re not hitting the mark. Are you focused on solving a problem that no one is having, or providing a solution that no one seems to be looking for? Maybe what you thought was bad marketing was actually just an uninterested market.

Why Spy? Don’t Forget to Respond

Seventy-one percent of Twitter complaints are not responded to, which means the bar has been set low enough for your brand to jump over all day long. Gather information to use in planning your content calendar and your next employee training event, but don’t forget to respond in the interim. Immediately. When a client shares a positive experience and you happen to see it, be thankful, humbled, and inspired. Re-post it, and then ask how you can help him get the answers or information he is looking for today. When someone posts a criticism or complaint, be thankful, humbled, and inspired. Contact her privately to apologize, get details, and solve the problem.

How to Have a Conversation With Your Market

There are a lot of tools and strategies to help marketers figure out what their prospects and buyers are looking for, what they want and need, and what they’re buying. Some of those tools are very helpful, but they can also distract from the power of a simple, honest conversation. There are two strategies for facilitating those conversations: you can sponsor private conversations, or host public ones. Each will emphasize different variables, and provide different degrees of feedback. Start with one strategy, and then branch out to the other. Your best plan is a well-rounded pool of input.

Sponsor Private Conversations for Deep Insight

Private conversations with buyers will provide opportunities to dig deep into your buyers’ perspectives, visions, plans, and struggles.

  • Do lunch. Plan to do lunch on Fridays with some of your best (and worst) clients for a few months. Take them out one at a time, and don’t sell them anything. Just ask and listen (and take notes).
  • Organize a Private Round-Table. Set up a small, private round-table with a handful of your most experienced buyers talking, and your team as the audience. If you serve decision makers in a variety of industries, make it a series and gather clients in the same industry for each event. With everyone’s permission, record the session for future reference and/or training.

However you do it, plan to do very little talking. Start with big-picture, open-ended questions, and follow up to drill down to the details you need to serve your audience.

  • What are the most pressing questions they have, related to your industry or niche?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges facing their industry?
  • What are some of the most exciting opportunities facing their industry?
  • What was the greatest victory they had in the past year, and how did it happen?
  • What is their organization’s most glaring weakness right now?
  • Where do they see the industry in a year? Five years? Ten years?

When you get together with your clients for private conversations, keep them private conversations. Resist the urge to make it a marketing gimmick by shouting from the rooftops about how interested you are in your clients. Keep it real.

Facilitate Public Conversations for Influence Points

Social media continues to change the way people communicate, and especially so in the marketplace. Organizations of any size now have unique opportunities to hear from their audiences, so take full advantage of the possibilities. You can schedule specific events based on an industry, niche, or topic, or participate in (and even facilitate) ongoing conversations.

  • Schedule a Google Hangout. Video chat with up to 10 people from a free Google Plus Hangout, and/or live-stream your conversation for the whole market to see. This is a great option if you want to feature a few experts for your industry, or let the marketplace sit in on one of your team meetings.
  • Schedule a TweetChat. Set up a TweetChat in conjunction with your Google Hangout to make it easy for those not on camera to participate, or just use TweetChat on its own for a more decentralized conversation.

Hosting or facilitating ongoing, public conversations will keep your brand connected to the topics, questions, and solutions that your audience is discussing. It is a great takeaway resource to offer your audience after a scheduled event, and a simple way to get started with public conversations while you set up your first scheduled event.

  1. Establish a unique hashtag for your project, conversation, or brand.
  2. Share it on all of your social networks. Encourage users to include it where ever they’re discussing the topic.
  3. Use an app like Tagboard to display the conversation on your website or at a live event.

Private and public conversations will accomplish varying degrees of the same basic goals. Private conversations limit exposure, which means you won’t move the needle much on generating trust – except with the few clients you meet with. You will, however, gain some deep insight that will help in content creation. On the reverse, public conversations will help build your reputation as a trustworthy thought-leader, but you may have shallower conversations than you would in a smaller setting. Mix and match your listening opportunities as much as you can, but always remember that the goal is to gain insight, build your reputation as a leader (who listens), and generate trust.

Pipe and Deerstalker Not Required

Good marketers have always listened and learned from their markets. Today’s self-published, social internet has made it easier than ever for brands to listen to buyers, but it has also made it less common because everyone wants to share their voices. Be the brand that remembers the value of listening, and that utilizes the breadth of the social landscape to listen well.

Next Steps

  • Call one or two of your best existing clients and set up a lunch meeting. Show up with a short list of open-ended questions, and either a recorder or a notepad and pen.
  • Start participating in, or even facilitating, a public conversation. Ask your audience if they would be interested, and choose the social media channel that works best for them.
  • Put your ear to the door. Set up a free Hootsuite account with some strategic keyword streams, or plug your email into a few key Google Alerts.
  • Set a simple goal for responding to social media mentions. Start by responding to three compliments or complaints each day, and when that gets comfortable raise the bar.
  • Make time each week to identify one of your brand values or goals, and scan your social media channels for it. If it’s not there – or it’s not connected to your organization – schedule some time with your team to discuss what changes need to be made.
Nate Dame
CEO and Founder
Nate is the founder and CEO of Profound Strategy, a results-oriented SEO consultancy trusted by forward-thinking companies, including a few of the world's largest B2B and technology brands. Profound Strategy builds holistic SEO strategies, supports internal teams, and offers full-service execution to create an organic search presence that generates significant revenue.

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