Special thank you to Ian Altman of Forbes for publishing an article dedicated to the influence a listening-based approach can have on your customers.

Link to the article:


Here is an excerpt from Altman’s article, ‘The One Thing Most People Forget When Asking Questions’:

B2B marketing jedi, Bob London, heads-up Chief Listening Officers. To be effective, he says, leaders and managers must leave the confines of their offices and actually talk to customers to understand what they care about, what they need, and what they’d like to see done differently. Bob’s mantra is “shut up and listen.” Few people, he notes, do it well.


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The webinar started at 2 pm, promising useful, practical tips and tools. At 2:15, the expert was showing pictures of his “beautiful” wife and kids. At 2:25, he was talking about the abuse he suffered as a child. At 2:35, with not a tool or tip in sight, I logged off.

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If there’s one quote that sums up my extremely jovial but pointed interview with Sales Guru Ian Altman, it’s this:

“It’s the company’s responsibility to arm salespeople with stuff that matters to the customer. But ‘stupid marketing’ makes it hard for sales people to do their jobs well.”

Here’s the link.



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OK, before I get into this post I have to get my point of view out there:

“Not only is every year the year of the customer, so is each goddamn each second, minute, day and month. Every freakin’ millennium is the millennium of the customer.”

 – Bob London, Annoyed Marketer

That somewhat understated perspective explains why I get agitated when I read marketing copy like this from an email promoting a report titled “Knowing Your Customer.”

“Forget content: the oft-overlooked king in today’s increasingly complex B2B landscape is the customer. As well as being always – or nearly always – right, the customer is the start and end point of any successful marketing campaign, B2B or otherwise. Without a deep understanding of these often elusive and hard-to-pin-down individuals, you’re playing a guessing game, darting between marketing strategies as you desperately try and hit that much sought-after ROI.”

“Oh, content isn’t king anymore? It’s the customer this year? Got it, thanks.”

– Bob London, Sarcastic Marketer

(BTW, the report itself was not bad! Some useful insights. I’m just taking issue the way it was positioned and marketed.)

My long simmering frustration is this:

Why does every year have to have a new marketing theme? It’s like the Chinese Zodiac: ABM. Content Marketing. Buyer Personas. Buyer Journeys. Growth Hacking. And when marketers focus on individual shiny objects and trends (I call them parades), they do so at the expense of real strategic thinking and planning, driven by what the target audience is really thinking and actually needs. (I call this the “Customers’ Elevator Rant.”)

Instead marketers end up focusing on the last big parade they (or their boss) heard or read about. And often what they hear or read about is from a semi- or fully-conflicted source within the marketing-industrial complex (i.e. vendors, niche media, service providers and analysts).

Some parades turn out to be worthy of marketers’ attention and budget because they prove to deliver real, long-term value (i.e. Marketing Automation, when done right, The Lean Startup Movement, The Challenger Sale/Customer approach). But there are many that are just shiny objects and have only a short arc or very limited application for marketing (QR Codes anyone?Snapchat maybe?). So they are just a big time- and money-suck. There are even examples of parades that start out hot, die down and come roaring back years later (Podcasting).

“Well, where’s the goddamn ‘customer listening’ parade? Not automated analytics and social sentiment, but actual listening to and insights from humans?”

– Bob London, Agitated Marketer

Actually a Forbes columnist has an interesting take here, which is that “2017 is the Year of the Empowered Customer.” But I still argue that customers have always been empowered to a degree; true, they are becoming more so but do “empowered customers” deserve their own “year”? Heck no! They deserve their own century.

I’m not hating–well, maybe I am.

I’m not naive; I don’t blame the players or even the game. I’m making the point that for every hour (or year!) a marketer spends chasing a parade is an hour (or year!) they are not building the underlying foundation for success. Which to me has always and always will be that:

“The marketer’s True North should relate to the customer’s True North. And until we know where that is, we shouldn’t spent a boatload of money chasing parades.”

– Bob London, Chief Listening Officer

But alas, 80% of the companies and CEOs I see don’t have a complete (or even good enough) grasp of their target audience’s perspective. They’re still pushing their perspective (product strategy, features, etc.) and hoping it’s relevant to the audience. Hopefully we can get that number down to 70% in the next decade–then we can really say that’s “the decade of the customer.”

Some free tools to help you find your customers’ True North:

Free Download: The Customer Re-Discovery Playbook
Free Webinar: “Burn the Whiteboard. Trash the Dashboard: 5 customer questions to uncover hidden growth opportunities.

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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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