Over the past week we’ve been working on the prep work for several projects (it must be spring!) As a consequence time is at a premium, and there’s limited time for re-work. Weeks like this force us to exercise our “paying attention” muscles to the full extent of our capability. Fortunately as we’re in the observing and listening business, paying careful attention is a skill we work on. Here are a few key tactics you can use, that help will help you cut through noise and distraction when listening to colleagues, to pull together all the elements of your project without missing something important, or simply to remember all the points you want to make at your next big presentation:
- Aggregate – put together the pieces – when listening, this means seeking cues and context, not just words. With your project or presentation, it means keeping a file (paper, electronic, whatever works best for you) that has all the important information in one place, including a trail of changes that have been generated.
- Confirm – be sure that you understand correctly – by feeding back what you’ve heard, seen, or read and what you think it means.
- Retain – keep track of it all – when listening, it means taking notes, or making visual records. During projects, tracking software or other tools may be employed. For your presentation, notes fields or even old-school index cards will work.
- Summarize – weave all the threads together – use a visioning process to walk through what you have learned, what it means, and what action you’ll take as a result. In the listening example, feed back to your client or colleague what you think the result will be, and ask for their input. In the project context, make a process map or do a dress rehearsal, looking for gaps.
- Polish – fill in any holes you’ve discovered – ask probing questions, look up additional information, or seek clarification from your audience.
Most of all, although it seems counter-intuitive when you’re balancing many plates (and all of them are piled high) – take time. There’s no time like the present for that old adage, “measure twice, cut once”.
Focusing on the way forward,
Megann & Steve
Tools to understand your customer better are proliferating exponentially. Along with time-tested methods such as telephone and internet surveys, or face-to-face groups, software and social media have made it possible to listen in on conversations in a variety of ways. But simply asking and listening isn’t enough.
Last time, we talked about the importance of making research interesting, engaging, and dare we say, entertaining for the buyers or users of your product. We’ve also discussed how no amount of data is a substitute for understanding and interpretation. Another important aspect of getting to know your customer on a personal, relationship level is to engage yourself in the process. That means not simply firing off surveys and waiting for the results. Nor does it involve just asking a consultant to scan what the world is saying about your brand, using text analytics, geocoding, or a host of other tools to come back with a result.
Getting involved with your customer means more work for you. It’s as easy as that. Just like meeting an attractive other person, getting them to go on a date with you isn’t a single step. You need to make an effort. The other person will know. You’ll know. And your effort and engagement in the process will make a difference. Being stand-offish or distancing yourself is a sure-fire path to failure. So the next time you want to get to know your customer (or even your prospect) a little better, get yourself in gear. A few ways you can do that include:
- Front-end planning, with a backup (know what you want to do with what you learn, before you start – and have a bailout plan in case new information calls for a change of plans).
- Flexible methodologies (even if your process seemed like the right one, if the customer isn’t interested in responding, you have to adapt – to paraphrase one of our trusted partners, just because you have a hammer, why are you assuming everything is a nail?).
- Triangulation (verify and validate by considering the questions, and the answers, from multiple perspectives – you’ll get a richer, deeper understanding).
- Rewarding interaction – (conditioner removes tangles when combined with careful combing; social conditioning such as revealing more about yourself, taking time to listen to the other person, and offering an appealing, appropriate incentive will help lubricate the conversation).
Untangling the threads,
Megann and Steve