For those of us active in the social media space, I’m not talking about listening to what your customers say about your brand by monitoring “listening tools” like Twitter Search and Google Alerts. I’m talking about actually listening to people sitting across the table from you.
A fellow PR pro I’ve know for a few years called me to say that she was helping develop a new business presentation for a potential client. They were using a PowerPoint deck that was typically used by the agency for its credibility discussions with potential clients. She was struggling with the fact that it was more than 80 slides and all 80 were about her agency. She felt like it was a bit over the top and wanted my opinion.
For the record, she didn’t divulge the potential client or any information from, on or about the PowerPoint deck other than what I’ve just told you.
Here’s my opinion. Too many times we marketing types talk way too much and don’t listen nearly enough. We spend the entire hour or two in that first meeting with a potential client talking about what makes us great, what makes us different and what previous work sets us apart.
The first problem, in my humble opinion, is that we don’t actually sound that different from each other. I’ve seen credibility documents from other agencies and you’re fooling yourself if you don’t think that a lot of the time agencies sound the same. I’ve even heard some folks on the corporate side say as much after a glass of wine or two.
Of course some of us work hard to truly differentiate ourselves from the pack and actually be different. But even then we can fall into the trap of talking too much. So here’s what I said to my friend.
- What if you spent as much time in that first meeting talking about them as you do talking about you?
- What if you spent half the time (or less) sharing your agency’s background, two or three relevant case studies and a couple tidbits that show how smart you’ve gotten about their category in a short amount of time?
- What if you asked what keeps them up at night?
- For that matter, what if you asked more questions altogether?
The truth is that people can tell how smart you are as much by the questions you ask as by the things you say. So what if we asked more questions and engaged potential clients in conversations, instead of leaving five minutes at the end for Q&A?
This doesn’t only apply to potential clients, by the way. We should be listening – really listening – to all our clients. As I’ve said before, your clients are someone else’s potential clients. As my friend Leo Bottary says, client service isn’t always about doing what no one else can do; it’s about doing what anyone can do, but just doesn’t.
I challenged my friend to nicely push back a bit with her supervisors if she felt strongly enough that the presentation was too long and too focused on the agency. In the end, though, it won’t surprise me if that presentation doesn’t change much. After all, we’re human. And humans like to talk about themselves.
Do you think we listen enough? What practices do you incorporate to help you talk less and listen more?
*Image by Striatic.