Monday, May 24, 2010

Persian Is Not French or Why Listening Matters

There has been a flurry of activity over the last week or so here at the 678 Partners ranch.  I can't tell you about them just yet but I will do so when I can...  I'm awful at keeping secrets so it's just best to distract myself by telling you about a funny little thing that happened when I was in LA last week.

I've been helping someone figure out a new living situation.  As you know, cost is the name of the game but location and amenities are important too.  And, though you can't put a dollar value on it, the type of people who will be your neighbors add some element to your "quality of life" or similar.  It's nebulous but it's also the truth.

The property manager was very patient and showed us the building along with several apartment options: layout, floor, view, etc.  It was pretty much standard fare until we got to one small question I had.  See, the person I'm helping is predominantly Persian speaking and I was curious if there were some people in the building or complex who were also Persian speaking so there would be some commonality even if it never went beyond basic chit chat. 

Author's Note: As background, LA and surrounding areas have the largest expat Iranian population in the world.  So, asking about Persian speakers wasn't totally random.  There's even a joke about Beverly Hills Persians in Clueless.

So, I asked "are there Persian speaking residents here?"  The property manager turns around and said, "Hmm.  Persian.  Persian.  Gee.  Let me think about that.  Well, there's a resident from Belgium -- can't remember the name.  But then there's also Mr. Ed Laval.  I'm sure there's more but does that help?"  I just nodded politely.

Did that actually help?  Not in the slightest.  Not even an iota.  Not even in an alternative universe was that helpful.  To be fair, it could be that when I said Persian, she heard French.  Or when I said Persian, she heard Parisian.  Either way, the result was comical and not unlike the hundreds of times I've been asked if I am French or was born (or conceived!) in Paris.

And then I realized it was a kind of sad symbol for the larger problem we have as Marketers and Salespeople.  The manager's job is to sell, sell and sell.  She has empty units to fill and a certain profitability target to hit every month.  She was on her script and, in fairness to her, she was fulfilling her job.  Except for the listening part.  And that's where she lost this potentially lucrative piece of business.

We don't listen.  Or we are not listening as much as we should be or in the ways we should be.  If you remember, in this recent post, I said that marketers are quick to provide a solution without bothering to make a precise diagnosis.  I also said that we have to take the time to ask strategic questions to get to the actual source of the problem so that we can provide better solutions and become a trusted advisor or a "go to" person.  

The danger point is in the assumption that we've heard and understood everything we need to hear.  So, I'm going to add that we need to be 100% sure that we're listening to and comprehending the answers we get when we ask those strategic diagnostic questions.  And if we don't hear or understand fully, we should ask clarifying questions until we get to the point or the heart of the business problem.  

Mitch Joel had an excellent post last week about listening.  Essentially, he argues that great marketing success lies in truly listening to the customer at the point of need.  At that precise moment in time, where a customer self identifies as seeking a product or service, our strategic obligation is to have razor sharp hearing, to comprehend the matter intelligently and only then deliver the right solution that matches the ask.

In other words, listening is rather like a form of pull marketing.  Let's go back to my property manager anecdote to flesh this out a bit more.  When the customer is at the point of need, like I was, is envisioning herself using that product or brand, like I was, and starts to ask very specific questions, like I was...  the pre written sales and marketing script checklist stops at that precise moment.  Because the customer, like I was, is asking for help at the point of need.

The diagnosis begins.  And continues.  And continues.  And only stops when the core issue is diagnosed/uncovered.  The smart Marketer or Salesperson only then adapts himself or herself to the precise situation and crafts the solution.  We have to be nimble.  We can't expect or demand the customer adapt to us.  We have to adapt to and mirror the customer.  Because the customer has choices, like I did, and walk out the door to never come back, like I did.

Some may balk and suggest that this is the work of many hours to get to a proper diagnosis and use time as an excuse to stick with the pre written script.  Not at all.  Smart listening leads to smart clarifying questions and can be the work of a few minutes to get to the heart of the matter.  It pays off.  Truly.

What's your take?  Please send me your thoughts!

Until Next Time,

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

1 comment:

  1. Listening is becoming a lost art with all the clutter out there. We need to step back and focus on the task at hand.