Customer listening. Insights about the customer, their priorities and challenges is at the heart of account-based marketing, customer listening, process improvement and almost any program for business improvement.

I have two favourite business quotes in my library about customer listening. The first comes from Samuel Walton, founder of Walmart;

“If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will.”

The second comes from Steve Jobs;

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.”

Listening is a major challenge for senior leaders and marketers at large companies. When you aren’t meeting with the customer every day - it’s so hard to understand the problems they face, their priorities for solving them and most importantly how we as suppliers can add value for them.

Here are my tips for client listening programs;

Listening is not one person's responsibility

Every day, all throughout your company, your colleagues are speaking with your customers. There is an absolute wealth of information available here that needs to be passed on to the wider organisation. 

Your account managers, customer service staff and frontline sales team should know exactly what stresses their contacts are under, what their individual goals are, what gets them excited and what they like and dislike about your offering.

Organisations that do customer listening well put in place a process to feed this information throughout the wider organisation. This can be as simple as a team-wide email after a meeting that says “I’ve just met with x, they talked about y as being really important for them”. 

When listening can be decentralised in this way, marketing and sales can action these insights much faster - which is all the more valuable to the customers.

Listening means nothing without action

We use an expression here all the time “winking in the dark” to describe something that makes you feel good but nobody else really knows about. Listening without action is a bit like winking in the dark.

Insights from customers can turn into service delivery changes, updates to a product and importantly for marketing and sales - custom content that opens doors. 

Being able to demonstrate that you’ve listened is an important outcome, but customers will care more about the value that listening will bring to their business. 

A goal for a client listening efforts should be to produce something demonstrable for customers that solves a problem they are having now.

Listening is not something you do once

Client problems do not last the length of a listening program. Rather than an intensive program that lasts for a set time, successful firms will look to bake client listening into their activities daily. Each meeting, phone call or event is an opportunity to feedback to the wider firm what a client cares about and wants to be seeing from your firm.

Listening should be something that is assessed and improved constantly, with goals and KPI’s for frontline people feeding insights back and BD staff to action those insights.

To be successful and drive advantage, listening needs to be a constant, measurable process for uncovering customer needs, applying your own expertise, delivering an understanding of the solution and then engaging with the customer again to demonstrate and deliver value.