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Expert Advice: Strategic Listening is the Secret to Business Success

Expert Advice: Strategic Listening is the Secret to Business Success

Future Gazing-survey-monkeyHey there, marketing mavens and business buffs! Whether you help run a small startup or champion a Fortune 500 company, it’s always a good idea to keep an ear to the ground–so you can stay in-step with the competition when it comes to how your organization operates internally and externally.

Speaking of, well, listening, here’s what our friend across the pond, Nick Pearce–Strategy Director at the UK-based brand consultancy JPC–thinks is the key to business success.

As a branding expert, he has a lot to say when it comes to why organizations should practice strategic listening–and when and how to listen up.

Take it away, Nick!

Before we begin, let’s first dissect the word “insight.” Insight is the act of looking inward, asking the difficult questions that will evoke honest answers from business leaders, teams, customers, to ultimately benefit the business. It’s a strategic way to listen and shape business practice around what the market says it wants and needs.

Surveys are a great way to harvest these insights, tap into the lifeblood of a brand, and grow it against its truths. Back in the day, surveys could cost $1,000 per question, rendering strategic listening a laborious and big-budget affair, a luxury rather than a necessity.

Now with companies like SurveyMonkey, listening to public opinions has become widely accessible. There’s no more excuse for brand builders to claim, “I didn’t know what the customer wanted.”

Strategic listening can avert disaster for investment or start-up plans. A venture capital fund called us recently requesting a new business market viability assessment. It was a cosmetics delivery concept surging in popularity. Could and should they get in the game? We had an instinct it was not as stable as it appeared – but no insight.

So as part of the overall business due diligence, we used SurveyMonkey to tap into the pulse of the market. A short survey, 95 target audience responses and 48 hours later, we converted our instinct into a first stage insight that the demand/required profit ratio for this product was likely non-existent. By then undertaking a further wider market study, we connected this relatively small qualitative insight with larger quantitative market insight. Further analysis warned would-be new entrants (regardless of plentiful venture capital funds) that the market was saturated. Having the combined analysis was key to our decision in avoiding what could’ve been a very costly mistake.

SurveyMonkey’s Dave Goldberg recently posted on LinkedIn about attracting and retaining talent with insight. I very much concur with what he said: “Too often we focus on titles, compensation and perks to attract great people,” when what they really want is flexible work hours. I wouldn’t be surprised if Goldberg has received a dozen highly relevant candidates’ applications as a result of that LinkedIn post.

Similarly at JPC, we discovered what our people really wanted was the freedom to choose their own career paths.  Armed with that insight, we could have gone to a recruitment agency for talent sourcing, but finding the right fit is SO much more than that. With something as subtle and nuanced like culture, permeating all aspects of a business, how could we rely on a recruiter to articulate and present our DNA?  They can’t – as they have (or should have) their own.

So instead, we took it into our own hands, reached out with our blog, infused it with our authentic voice and showcased our star performers on the ‘Make Your Own Career’ journey, to initiate content-led conversations with talents at large. Within a week of publishing the first MYOC blog, we attracted the interest of Michelle, who came from a unique background of management consulting and creative writing. That lead resulted in a successful job offer, filling a position we’d been unable fill for months previously. No recruitment agency would have spotted and matched her less traditional skills/background with our fast changing communications industry, which is ever more in need of business DNA as well as creative DNA.

People always ask me how to cut through the immense noise in the communications landscape, and I always tell them: be authentic. Times have changed. You can’t build brands now by telling people what they should feel about you. It’s a democratic world. Surveys are a vital part in offering you ongoing insight into where and what changes are occurring in your sector and wider field. In a ruthlessly fast changing world, this is quite literally listening to your future.

Failure to do so effectively was best summed up by General Eric Shinseki, (former) chief of staff of the U.S. Army: “If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 2.59.50 PMJPC is a strategy, content, and experience consultancy that creates, builds and grows strong brands and businesses. The consultancy’s scope spans communications disciplines, creating compelling brand identities, campaigns and events for the likes of BT Global Services, Dyson, Neals Yard Remedies, Imperial College London, Beazley Insurance, Harrow School, Logica CGI, Sodexo and Carnaby.

Have your own thoughts on strategic listening? How do you listen to your customers and employees? Let us know in the comments below!

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