Your B2B marketing can’t be all about you. It has to be about the customer–his or her needs, pain points and priorities. Thankfully more marketers are getting it right.

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In my experience up until a few years ago, seeing a doctor felt like a one-way transaction. Wait here. Sit there. Open wide. Take this pill. The doctors tended to be in a rush, which sometimes felt off-putting or intimidating–and compressed the time available for asking questions or having an actual conversation.

Then I switched to a doctor who, at each checkup, sat me in his office for a good 20 minutes before and after an exam so we could chat. “How are things going–life, work, marriage, kids? How are you feeling? Any changes since we last met?” Then, when my test results came in, he left me a voice mail to call him back. When I did, he took another 15 to 20 minutes to go through the tests, make sure I understood everything and see if I had any further questions.

I remember the odd sensation of actually feeling heard…which helped me think clearly, articulate my points and hear what he was saying. I can’t say my health has improved–it was good to begin with–but now that I’ve had a doctor who makes time to listen, I’ll never settle for anyone who doesn’t practice medicine that way.

In her book, “What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear,” Dr. Danielle Ofri, associate professor of medicine at New York University, a practitioner at Bellevue Hospital in New York, argues that the most powerful diagnostic tool is actually the doctor-patient conversation. According to Ofri’s web site:

…(while) what patients say and what doctors hear are often two vastly different things, Dr. Danielle Ofri proves that it doesn’t have to be. Reporting on the latest research studies and interviewing scholars, doctors, and patients, Ofri reveals how refocusing conversations between doctors and their patients can lead to better health.

Why am I–a marketing consultant–talking about patient-centered healthcare? Because two-way conversations and professionals who make time to listen apply to both disciplines. How many valuable insights do marketers miss by not having regular, human-to-human interaction with customers and prospects? Or by looking at the market through a “big data” lens or dashboard–or assuming (or intuiting) the answer? What information will stay forever in customers’ heads because we never ask them the right questions–in the right way?

I always encourage marketing folks to go and meet with customers and prospects outside of the sales process. Get an independent perspective on their priorities and challenges, how they are solving them today, how they want to buy and more. Doing this enough makes you an internal authority who can stand up and say, “Based on what I heard from the market, here’s what makes the most sense.” It’s tough for anyone to argue with what the customer thinks and needs.

Read Dr. Ofri’s NY Times article here, and listen to her NPR interview at here (at 28:44).

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B2B marketing has become like the Chinese Zodiac: A different theme every year. Let’s just agree every year is the year of the customer.

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