Listening is something hugely overlooked in business. People pay lip service to this seemingly passive act - almost out of politeness - without really understanding the incredible benefits to being a good listener.
In a way, listening IS a passive act. It demands you stop what you're doing and give your full attention to someone as they communicate to you. To the preoccupied individual, that can seem like a disruption, a nuisance even. And yet, the most successful businesses are the best listeners. Listening can end up saving the busy individual a lot of time and effort. They person they are listening to might just unlock a new market, give them an idea for a new product, alert them to a new business opportunity, help them refine their product or service. Listening can be likened to simply taking the time to grab hold of new opportunities.
So in the B2B world, how does one listen effectively? And just who is it we should listen to?
Listen to your customers
Sometimes you have to encourage someone to speak in order to listen. Following up on customers is a good way to do just that. Ask them about their experiences of your product or service. Most individuals are very happy to share their opinions, and there's nothing more valuable than the opinions of your customers in order to improve your product/service. If you're selling a tangible product, every detail matters. From the packaging foam
of the delivered item, to the wording of the instructional manual, every issue becomes an opporunity to make improvements. And of course, it's not all about listening about things to be put right - it's also about the compliments. Maybe a salesperson created a wonderful rapport with clients, and there are methods to be learned from such good communications (for other salespeople). Listening to this kind of customer feedback is invaluable.
Listen to your target market
Market research is a form of listening. You can find out the ambitions and frustrations of your target market by asking them certain questions. You can then shape your service/product in a more helpful way based on their needs.
Listen to your employees
Business owners - listen to your most valuable asset - your employees. They are the people on the frontline. They are the ones talking to your target market and customers all day long. They will see the snagging points of your business on a daily basis. They will also see the new opportunities that pop-up and need to be investigated further. Ensure you have regular, meaningful meetings with your employees where they can air their grievances to you, and also share positive news stories/opportunities with everyone. There should never be a sense they "shouldn't" speak out about anything. A culture of open communication enables good listening. You can't listen to someone who's too afraid to speak, after all!
Listen to yourself
OK, this is a bit more esoteric, but it's an important one: listen to yourself. By that, I mean take the time to check your feelings on a business deal, on a customer, on a product/service. If your intuition is sensing a problem or an opportunity, don't dismiss it. Investigate further. Ask clients if there's a problem. If you sense they need EXTRA help from your company, that's potentially an opportunity for more business. Never assume anything. Again, asking questions means you get to be the listener.
Listening is actually far from passive when looking at it from a wider perspective - it's the first step to improving something, or to finding a new opportunity.