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Listen first, then talk to your buyers

How much time do you spend truly listening to buyers and customers? Marketers get little, if any, quality time with the real people they hope to persuade to listen to them.

Once or twice a year, you may attend a client dinner or an industry conference. But even if your company hosts a customer advisory meeting several times a year, it will probably spend at least 80 percent of this time presenting to customers, and whenever a customer is speaking, the topic will focus on solution support or usability, not the customer’s buying experience.

If you’re like most marketers, you rely on the sales people for your information about how and why buyers make their decisions. Since sales reps typically talk to customers all day, you could assume that they know their buyers.

But, to paraphrase the the Gershwin song from “Porgy and Bess,” it ain’t necessarily so. If sales is telling you that price and features dominate the buyer’s concerns, you can be darn certain it ain’t so.

Many of you will identify with my client Dave (not his real name) who related that his organization was so focused on making the sale and pitching to clients that “we were just shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Dave is a product marketer. His organization had a common problem. Years ago, management saw a specific business problem and brought to market a solution to address it.  Each new customer had a brand new set of enhancement requests, and the company had been completely focused on solving the current customers’ needs. Suddenly a competitive threat emerged that would require senior management to redeploy limited resources.

This dilemma provided the perfect opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath and listen to buyers. And that’s exactly what Dave did. He started interviewing recent evaluators. Each interview became another opportunity to get comfortable with the probing questions that revealed surprising insights. After a relatively small number of interviews, he began to see the themes that spanned all of them.

From these conversations, Dave knows how his product addresses a pervasive problem in the industry. He knows what the buyers are saying about the competitor’s approach, including their strengths and weaknesses. Analyzing his product’s successes and failures, he can apply this insight to potential market segments.

This is a starting point for building the buyer personas that Dave needs to develop an effective marketing and sales enablement strategy. Dave has even found a novel approach to developing highly qualified leads that he hadn’t thought of before.

All of this information came from simply stopping the endless selling (and marketing) and starting to listen and learn from the only people that really matter – the target buyers.

Why do many marketers never get around to talking to customers and buyers?

I’ll let Dave answer: “Sales people keep saying they just need more leads, ROI calculators and that sort of thing. We’re so busy working on our marketing checklists that there is never enough time to get out,” he told me. “I always knew my opinion was irrelevant but I never guessed that the opinions of the sales people were also irrelevant.”

While I’ve changed Dave’s name and a few minor details, everything else I’ve shared here is true. I’ll keep Dave’s secrets about what he actually learned from talking to customers though. That information is an advantage that would be lost if his competitors got their hands on it.

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