I’ve been watching a lot of these shows lately where a guest entrepreneur visits some business and tears it apart – telling the owners everything that is wrong with their business.  A couple of my favorites are “The Profit” and “Restaurant Impossible.”  The thing that amazes me – week after week – is the resistance these owners of failing businesses have to “change.”  Moreover, I’m amazed at their unwillingness to even listen to ideas about change.  Which brings me to the point of this blog…

“Listening” in and of itself has become a lost art!

doggy on phone

Before I entered the digital marketing world several years ago, I used to manage restaurants (which explains my fascination with Restaurant Impossible).  As a General Manager, one of the things I was tasked with was training new managers.  One of my favorite exercises was to bring the manager to the center of the dining room and tell him/her to close their eyes.  I’d usually get a little bit of a strange look from the manager but after telling them to trust me, they’d end up doing it.  The first question I’d ask: “What do you hear?”  Usually the response would be something like, “The restaurant is noisy.”  So – digging deeper – again I’d ask, “What do you really hear?”  Is the kitchen too noisy?  Is the music too quiet/loud?  Is there a loud group of guests?  Can you hear the servers talking about their personal lives in the service stations?

Once the manager really started to listen, they became aware of a whole different feeling within the restaurant.  After opening their eyes, they’d look around the restaurant and “see” things they really hadn’t noticed before.  And, as they got better at listening, they usually became better at using all of their senses to actually ‘manage’ rather than just be a staff/task babysitter.

How does this apply to choosing an online marketing agency?

Quite simply, if you are contacting multiple agencies looking for a particular service, you should be paying attention to whether you feel your contact is actually listening to you.

Are they asking questions about what you said?  Are they asking questions about your business (and not just your website)?  Are they making suggestions and sharing ideas about similar situations they’ve encountered.  Or – are they fixated on finding how much budget you have and then plugging you into some pre-determined “program” they have.

In fairness, YOU need to be a good listener too.

Is your contact making suggestions that sound aligned with your goals?  Does your contact seem to understand your business?  Are they repeating key points to indicate their understanding?  If so, you’re on the right track.

Part of your listening development will also be being open to suggestions. 

We often get calls from people thinking that they need SEO to solve their online marketing problems.  While pretty much every website eventually needs SEO – don’t pigeon-hole yourself to just that solution.  The questions you have to ask yourself are: what are your actual measurable online marketing goals?  If the answer is simply “sales”, you’re not listening.  While that is usually the eventual goal for all businesses, the real question is: how do I get there?

Increasing your keyword placement rankings doesn’t always mean more sales.  Traffic – yes… sales, not necessarily.  Maybe your site needs a better checkout process.  Maybe your highest traffic volume keywords don’t convert very well for your site.  Maybe you need to do some testing with paid search.

The point is, no two businesses are identical. 

What works for one will not universally work for another – online or in the ‘real’ world.  So, digital marketing companies offering cookie-cutter solutions are definitely something to be wary of.  Make sure your sales representative is listening and understands your goals – and/or is presenting new ideas you may not have thought of that are still aligned with your goals.

Practice listening to see if they are really listening.

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