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January 22, 2013


Failproof Listening method for Laser-sharp Content Marketing

by Tom De Baere
listening to customers

Image source: Flicker @digitalmoneyworld

A turkish proverb says “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold”.  We all know that proverb.

We have so much to say, because it’s important, isn’t it ? No-it-is-not.

But I am in marketing, so my  objective is that my customers listen to me? No-it-is-not.

But I want to speak since I have lot’s of stuff to tell my customers on how to make their business better, more efficient, lower costs, if they buy our products or services !

Our customers would be foolish to “not” listen to us, right? No-it-is-not.

How do we marry these 2 principles of listening and wanting to speak ? Yes you can!

First you listen

brian solis-listeningRecently Brian Solis posted this image on Flickr.

The intersection between listening to what buyers want, and talk about what they want, that’s exactly what you need to do to have him listen to you and start engaging with you.

Before buyers want to listen to you, as anyone in sales knows, you need to understand what makes your buyer ‘tick’: what is currently a top of mind issue today that you can solve?

Only when you can speak to him using the exact same words that he would use to describe his issues, then he will be listening.

So the trick is knowing what to talk about. And the only way to find out is to listen to “his world”. Now often, customers know their issues, or at least feel that somethings not right, but even more often than not, they don’t have a solution. In many cases it’s already hard for them to describe their problem.

So if it’s already hard for them to describe it, how on earth are you going to speak to him?

The answer, my friend, is by UNDERSTANDING HIS WORLD.

Setting up “listening probes”

Content MarketingOften when I talk about this subject, I talk about “listening probes”.

I guess that’s a little bit of the engineer in me talking. I graduated as a master in electronics (how I ended up in marketing, that’s another story).  A probe is a physical device used to connect electronic test equipment to the device under test. In short, it allows you to measure, or listen ;-).

To continue, if you would compare your buyers’ world to a house, I would set-up these listening probes in each of the chambers of that house.

listen to buyers

Any of these “listening probes” is capable of listening to these specifics :

  • Trends, threats, opportunities and solutions in a certain market and it’s related applications
  • Keywords used to describe trends, and issues
  • Channel & communication preferences
  • Frequency, recency, size and relevancy of certain trending topics.

Each listening probe creates a report on a regular basis, and feeds it back to a team of people which I call the ‘answer team’. I talk about that in a minute.

Listening to your buyers’ world

If we replace this so to speak “house and its chambers” with your buyers world, you end up with something like this :

listen to buyers_2

  • Magazines: go through a number of leading magazines and capture the keywords they are using. Capture the leading theme across articles and across magazines.
  • Online trends: follow a number of leading websites and blogs in your industry. Capture the major themes of what’s happening on these websites, including the keywords.
  • Social trending: Twitter and LinkedIn group discussions can be a great source to see what questions being raised, and what discussions are hot.
  • Trade-shows & conferences: go through conference schedules, and find out what the major topics are. Go to some of these conferences, and see which panel discussions and speaking slots catch most attention. Capture the keywords and questions raised from the audience.
  • Competitor content: which topics are your competitors talking about, online, offline and during events.
  • Customer Service FAQs: get your customers support team organized to aggregate the questions asked by customers into a report. Capture the keywords. If you have a customer forum, that’s also an ideal place to find out what questions your customers have.
  • Online survey on website: ask you customers in a form on your website about what they want you to talk about, or which market, business or technical questions they want to see answered.
  • In-depth partner / customer interviews: a very important “probe”is actually talking to your customers and talk about their business. Don’t ask what they think of your products or what they need, instead talk about their business opportunities, threats, strengths, weaknesses, etc… Capture the complete conversations, have it transcribed, and create a report from it, including keywords.

Each of these listening probe activities is actually done by a person within your organization. Obviously you can have less people working on this then you have bullets in the list above, but you get the idea. They basically go through these resources on regular basis, and create a detailed report about what they found out.

Am I spying or playing big brother here? Of course not, it’s his world. I am not intruding in his privacy because what I am listening to is what he says to me and what the public domain is telling me. The objective is to understand his world, and give him answers to his questions which I can relate back to my business.

Then you talk

Efficiency, CAPEX or OPEX, Easy of Use and Revenue increase is what makes B2B buyers tick.

buying cycleYou have been listening to your buyers’ world, and to himself. Now it’s time to answer his questions. You know what to talk about, start thinking about how you can answer his question. And how you can relate your answer to your company strategy, roadmap, and who you are as a company.

Create these answers in the form of great content, that your strategically place along his buying cycle (obviously you’ll also need good to great products and services).

How do you do that ? First you create content that gets his attention. By using the same words he is using, you’ll catch his attention. From there, gradually move him further in the buying cycle by consistently putting call-to-actions on each of the content pieces you put out.

And once he is a customer, keep on answering his questions. He will now become the advocate of your company, giving you word-of-mouth and social proof.

And then you have conversations

The nice thing is that when you put out great content for you buyers, they respond. They respond by consuming your content, call you up, react to your blog posts by commenting or sharing it. That’s when you start engaging your audience.

That’s when you know you are bringing valuable stuff to your buyers.


One question for you to engage with me: how is your organization listening ? how are you listening?

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere