Listen to the market or get out while you can
Practice Management & Sales & Marketing for Professional Services & Strategic Issues

Listen to the market or get out while you can

April 7, 2017

by Tony Vidler  CFP logo   CLU logo  ChFC logo

listen-to-clients“Two Ears but only one mouth”blah blah blah…sales training 101, right?


We know how important it is to “listen” to clients, and we know the danger of losing touch with what they want and what they are thinking.  Every single professional has lost good clients at some point simply because the clients felt we weren’t really listening to them….or we listened but didn’t actually pay attention to the real message being delivered.


So we all know the danger of not listening to clients.  We all know that when we are with clients we need to listen to what they say, but far more importantly we need to really listen to what they do not say out loud.  We know that if we don’t they will leave.


blah blah blah……everyone’s got that.


But do you listen to the market?


The market?


The market we are talking about here is your target market: the niche or demographical subset of humanity that you would most like to work with.  Are you in tune with their collective mood or feelings about what matters and how they want things to be?  Are you?  Really?


Because if you aren’t, or if you think that the need to do so is rubbish, then you should get out while you still have a business to sell.


While some may feel that I am exaggerating for effect or scare-mongering might want to consider the recent experiences of some fund managers in this part of the world when a reporter figured out they many of them had investments in armaments businesses.  It was a PR disaster for many of the firms when it hit the media, and it cost fund managers business.  While their exposure to such investments may have been relatively inconsequential in their portfolios, and perhaps even inadvertent in that they didn’t realise they carried exposure to that sector in some cases, their failure to recognise the mood of the market and respond to it resulted in a mis-step which made some business walk out the door.  Had they not all responded swiftly and decisively the effect would have been much worse for sure, because Kiwi’s tend to not like war-mongering or anything which adds to international conflict.  They sure don’t like people profiting from it.  How did so many fund managers get something so fundamental (the psyche of their clients) so wrong?

It is a classic example of the impact of “not listening to the market“.   Clients walked.  It is also an excellent example of “suddenly listening to the market” and getting clients to stay, because most did.  There are a lot of reasons for that beyond the fund managers ability to suddenly listen and respond appropriately, but that listening and responding element was critical.


That is a simple example of something which should have been pretty predictable on the part of the businesses selling their services.  It was a common view held by the majority of the country it seems that arms-dealing is a very uncool thing and that people did not want any of their money going towards it.  It was such an entrenched mood of the market, and had been for so long, that it basically didn’t get any airtime in the media any more. Consequently it was disregarded or not considered as relevant, or perhaps simply over-looked.  It had become a “value” of a significant part of the population…


A lesson for every business from that, regardless of the size of the business, is we need to be listening for 2 things in our target market:

  1.  What their values & beliefs are
  2. What their mood and prevailing view of the future is

The first is relatively entrenched, whereas the second is frequently a rapidly evolving position driven by technology adoption and mass media information, and propped up by popular opinion largely via social media.


Consider one further example to highlight the danger of not listening – courtesy of that wonderful Capgemini World Wealth Report 2016 b(which is a “wealth” of fabulous insights – excuse the pun).listen-to-clients

Is it just me, or is there a pretty big gap between what the clients say they will consider doing, and what the service providers think the clients would consider doing?


Whose view will prevail?  And where will their business go if the incumbents didn’t see it coming? These same firms will be lamenting the rise of the robo-advice business soon…but the clients won’t.


Not listening to your market is deadly.  It literally is likely to eventually lead to the death of your business if you can’t do it.


Listening to the market is not all that hard really. It is simply about being curious and open to different perspectives, and then making a point of regularly looking for them.  One-on-One conversations with clients or prospects are invaluable of course for gauging opinion.  So too are the dreaded editorial and opinion pieces, together with letters to the Editor, in mainstream media.  They may well be nonsensical on occasions to the experts, however they are an excellent indicator of market beliefs and sentiments.  Blogs, chatrooms and forums, and social media are all excellent listening sources.


These are all relatively passive (but useful) tactics.  Far more pro-active tactics should be considered too, because they actually tell your audience that you are listening and wanting to know what they think.


The old once or twice a year customer satisfaction survey has its uses, but it has distinct limitations.  The key limitation is that it is “once or twice a year” so it measures mood at a moment in time, and mood or market sentiment can shift rapidly.  For this reason it is more useful to keep annual client surveys focussed on past measurable actions (such as “do you like the newsletter”, “how do you rate our coffee”, we do, etc, etc) or zero in on beliefs and values.  Those things tend to be reasonably static and slow to shift or change, so using surveys to understand views or positions on big long term issues (e.g. social responsibility issues!) can be very valuable.  The other 2 big downsides of these larger surveys is they tend to be pretty expensive in comparison to other communications exercises, and they are time-consuming (and therefore meet resistance).


To be really pro-active you can bypass these limitations and to be in a position where you are confident you can feel the pulse of your market in an instant (well within hours).  Using short and snappy polls, opinion pieces, or one line questions on a number of social media platforms (e.g. Twitter) enable you to post very quick and easy questions and get very fast snapshots of mood or opinion.


Building the same tactics into your branded emails to clients and prospects is even better, and will typically result in better response rates from a more tightly defined audience.


In the information rich and fast-moving world that todays professionals and consumers live in, market sentiment can and does shift rapidly.  The business that ignores such shifts risks becoming irrelevant.  The business that isn’t even aware such shifts occurred is already heading for extinction.


It has never been more important than now to be actively listening to our existing clients and our target market if wish our business to remain relevant to them (and viable for us).  It has also never been easier in many respects. We can see the evolving results of an online petition on Facebook which was started 14 hours ago and already has 30,000 supporters, and we can respond in whatever manner we feel is appropriate – press release, blog, social media posts, change of company policy and procedures….whatever) within minutes if we wish. THAT is suddenly listening: listening actively and suddenly responding.


If a business owner can’t or doesn’t want to do this, then they should probably get out now while their business still has clients and a value.

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