You love a good conversation—where both participants care what the other has to say, demonstrate interest, listen, and respond appropriately. A good conversation allows both parties to reveal themselves, uncover what is important from their perspective and shared values. A good conversation offers an opportunity to learn something new about another person, about yourself, or the world.
You’ve also experienced bad conversations—where the other person asks a question and interrupts half-way through your answer, turning the topic back to themselves; they’re not listening, but simply biding their time until it’s their turn to talk again. It only takes one encounter with such a boor for you to start actively avoiding contact with these desperate attention hogs – whether it’s a neighbor, someone in your social network, or a co-worker. They waste your time, frustrate you, and do nothing to positively further a relationship.
Being in business should be like having a good conversation. Too often, however, that conversation is very one-sided, and it seems like most businesses are talking at their customers rather than with them.
When a business talks at their customers, that business sabotages critical opportunities to hear, learn from, and respond appropriately to people with whom the business hopes to engage.
The unintentional message is delivered all too clearly: “This business does not really care about who I am and what I have to say.”
A one-sided conversation
Recently, one of my coaching clients had a remarkable realization about this. He has owned and operated a small construction and remodeling business for about five years. He came to EMyth to get help organizing his business, and from our earliest meetings, it was apparent that one of his biggest problems was the absence of a Marketing Strategy.
I introduced him to the EMyth perspective that “Marketing” is not about getting more customers, but starts by defining who you are as a business, why your business exists, and how it intends to serve a particular group of people in the marketplace.
He began to realize that from the beginning he had been trying to be all things to all people, taking any kind of job that came his way for which he was remotely qualified – regardless of the scope, monetary value, profitability, or alignment with his core competencies.
Since he had never really defined what his business was about, out of desperation he was operating from the position that he would do anything and everything for anyone in order to make a buck!
Because he didn’t know who he was as a business owner or to whom he should be talking, there was no foundation for any kind of productive conversation with his customers. Everyone seemed to be shouting at and past each other, with no opportunity to agree on mutual needs. It was all noise and no music.
He had essentially surrendered himself to a perpetual and on-going series of bad conversations.
That was not the business he wanted to create, and not surprisingly, it wasn’t working very well for him either.
He lacked a clear message to attract the right kind of customers or employees, and had no way to differentiate his business from competitors. He frequently found himself renegotiating contracts and compromising his principles in dealing with people, barely breaking even or taking a loss on many jobs.
Turning things around
A big breakthrough came when we were able to have a conversation about the power of market research and target marketing and started to apply these concepts and practices. Market research is simply exploring what opportunities exist in the marketplace, what niches your business can fill.
Target marketing is determining what specific groups of people your business can best serve, and then designing your business to consistently and predictably fulfill their needs.
Without leveraging strategic market research and target marketing it is impossible to define who you are, or communicate effectively, to those specific groups of people your business will be able to best serve.
How to start
Hiring a market research firm that specializes in your industry or field is definitely a good option if you have sufficient capital, because whenever you have the opportunity to work with marketing experts you should.
However, many business owners don’t feel they have the extra cash to pay for professionals. The good news is that, as long as you understand the value and make it a priority, conducting your own market research is actually pretty simple to do.
My client began by reaching out and engaging with previous and existing customers in new ways, he asked them what they liked and didn’t like about their experience. Paying attention in these good conversations provided foundational feedback for what worked and what did not. He was able to re-examine his business’s strengths and sweet spots from his customers’ point of view.
He also did some soul-searching to get real about who he was as a person, what kind of an impact he wanted his business to make, and what kind of work best suited his skills and interests. As he clarified his own identity, and by reflection, the kind of customers he wanted, he made the shift towards true communication with them.
Things started to come together
In my client’s case, he realized that he needed to focus on more high-end remodeling jobs specifically kitchens and bathrooms. Once he refined that focus, and identified more clearly the demographics of his ideal customer base, he was better able to speak to those prospects from a position of authority, and be more attentive to the qualities of a Good Conversation with them.
Things you can do
- Clarify who you are as a company, and why your business exists.
Define what your business is all about and what kind of impact you want it to make on customers. This seems basic yet few small businesses cultivate a strong identity or company brand. If you and your employees aren’t sure, or are not on the same page about this, you’re bound to be sending mixed messages to customers.
- Create a dialogue with your customers.
Find out what your customers think works about your business, and what could be improved. Consider using surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, or just simply having a Good Conversation about their experiences whenever you get the chance. Involve every level of your employees as well.
- Clarify who your target customers are, and what is most important to them.
Be specific about who your business is designed to serve best. Ultimately, every aspect of the customer experience you create should be designed and orchestrated to meet the unique needs of the people in your target market.
With this clearer understanding of Who You Are and Who Your Business is Best Positioned to Serve, you'll have laid the foundation for the hallmarks of a Good Conversation.