Though I am often invited to speak at events across the US and globally, it has surprised people to hear that I actually don’t consider speaking to be one of my top skills. It’s something I’ve worked on and developed over the years, but in my view, it is not nearly my most developed or most important skill. Far more important to my business success has been my ability to truly listen to others — both what they are saying and what they are not saying.
Some of the best things that have ever happened to me and Pinnacle Group have come about as a result of actively listening to clients, associates, and job candidates. For this post I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned and discuss a few scenarios in which actively listening can reap incredible benefits for you and your businesses.
Client relationships are vital in any successful business. Every businessperson knows that retaining clients is so much more cost effective than seeking out new business. Pinnacle really stresses this and we focus strategically on the clients we have and meeting their needs today as well as in the future. We don’t just want to provide good customer service to our clients, we want to be crazy good at it. We want our clients to be blown away at the level of personal touch provided.
The first step in delivering crazy good service is identifying what the client needs. The most effective way to figure this out is to do your homework ahead of time to become knowledgeable about their business and their needs. Then when you have the opportunity to speak with them ask good questions and, most importantly, listen to the answers.
Only after you’ve done a lot of listening can you begin providing solutions designed to meet the client’s needs. If you’ve done your homework and been a good listener, the solutions will come much easier and you’ll be able to provide real support in the areas of greatest need.
But what I’ve always stressed to my associates at Pinnacle Group, and what I’ve written about on Medium before, is the importance of overdelivering. Every client expects a supplier to meet their needs, but just living up to expectations isn’t enough. There’s always someone else out there willing to do more for your client. That’s why overdelivering is an essential part of business. Going above and beyond what’s expected is how you can retain clients for a long time.
Listening is not a one-time deal, though. To be effective you need a good relationship with a client with frequent contact that allows you to keep listening so you’ll know how they are doing, what challenges they are facing, and what needs are being met well by your team (and if not so well, you can address ASAP). Are there opportunities where you aren’t currently providing services that you could help with? Gaps in what you’re currently providing that should be better filled?
Once you’ve got the relationship and you’ve established a good cycle of contact, questions, listening, and strong delivery, you need to start anticipating what the client will need six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, and more. Once again, you’re a listener. Your goal is to identify ways to continue to delight the customer and to evolve your services to continue offering new solutions to help with their problems.
Sometimes, that results in your company going into a totally new line of business. This has happened at Pinnacle many times through actively listening to our clients.
On the other end of the spectrum, though we aren’t constantly casting a wide net for new clients, we are always looking for the right new potential clients. When on the lookout for new clients, active listening is so important. You don’t always have a direct line to the potential company so you can’t just call them up and ask what they need. Instead you have to be listening for the right information when you are out at a conference, or talking to someone in-the-know, or in other situations where the right information is potentially available.
Diagnostic questions come into play here as well, as you’ll have to be able to assess potential needs as efficiently as possible if you do get the opportunity. Preparation is key, doing research before going to an event to see what companies will be represented, figuring out who you need to speak with and what they might be interested in, and being ready at a moment’s notice to have the right conversation are all important elements of looking for new clients.
Sometimes these conversations don’t pay off for years, or even decades. But it’s all part of the process of earning new business. This is why it’s so much more difficult to gain new clients than it is to maintain current relationships. At Pinnacle, some of our most significant growth as a company has come about as a result of a new client. We’ve expanded into entirely new business lines, new states, and even new countries because we listened to the needs of potential clients and pivoted our business to meet those needs.
As CEO I don’t get to be part of interviews as much as I used to, but it’s actually one of my favorite things to do. I love being in a room one-on-one and hearing someone talk about their goals and passions. It can be such an inspiring experience!
Every interviewer comes into the interview with questions they want to ask. That’s a given. But so many people forget that one of the most important parts of interviewing is listening. Awkward silences make everyone uncomfortable and it’s a temptation to fill in that silence by moving on, but it can be very beneficial as an interviewer to live in that silence for a time and allow the person being interviewed to fill it. Sometimes they are formulating an important thought that will blow you away and make you want to hire them. And sometimes, they are about to say something very revealing about themselves that will make you think twice. These awkward silences can sometimes reveal the most about someone’s character.
While you can’t get too personal in job interviews, it’s important to get to know someone’s motivations. What are they motivated by? Why do they want this job? At Pinnacle, we want everyone we hire to be an entrepreneur at heart, so I love to ask questions that bring out the entrepreneurial spirit in each candidate. I listen for examples that show that they take initiative, that they think for themselves, and that they don’t let failure get them down. Sometimes, what’s not said is just as important as what is said.
These are all things that can be hard to determine with simple questions and answers. They can be revealed in a conversation, but you must be actively listening for those things. Hiring the right people is the most important part of being a business owner.
Active listening is called “active” for a reason. It requires focus and intentional action on your part, but in business, and in life, it’s one of the most important actions you can take. It will have incalculable benefits for you and your company, no matter what position you hold.
What are some of your interview techniques? What types of diagnostic questions do you ask your clients or potential clients? Let me know in the comments below or on social media.