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2009: The year of the listener

OK, this proclamation of the Year of the Listener is completely made up….by me. There is no culture or religion that officially deemed 2009 as the Year of the Listener. In fact, outside of the Chinese calendar (which has 2009 as the year of the Ox) I don’t know of any other year naming system out there. So it appears as if I am at best a pioneer or at worst just another blogger trying to get attention ;-).

Here’s why I say that this year is the year of the listener. We are obviously in the middle of very tough times economically. While times are tough it doesn’t mean that we stop doing business. What it does mean is that the nature of the business that is conducted may be different. How will it be different? I believe that we all will need to listen very closely and carefully to find out. Here are a few quick areas that will require our full attention as internet marketers and as consumers of internet marketing services:

  1. People will say anything to get or keep business if they are desperate enough. I have talked about this before, but now it’s going to be more important than ever to listen carefully. If you are shopping for Internet marketing services, you will hear more outrageous claims than ever before. I was told by a local businessman that his Yellow Pages rep told him that the reason he had #1 rankings for a ridiculously low traffic term was due to the YP’s efforts. This owner is ignorant of search marketing, so this could work if he didn’t have people looking out for him as to the validity of the claim. There was just ONE paid search ad for that term, so the interest was low to begin with, thus making organic rankings much, much easier. Fact is, they may have given him a link at best but they NEVER touched his actual site. That is not doing SEO, but that was their claim.
  2. What are people REALLY saying? Whether you are a DIY Internet marketer, or an agency providing services, you now must look far beyond the research and the numbers and truly apply some logic to understand customers in this economy. What I mean is that it is not enough to find keywords and key phrases that have high traffic and then determine that you will direct your efforts that way. It’s a piece of it for sure, but it’s not enough. Stopping there is the easy way out that will probably lead to low conversions, which is another way of saying you are wasting valuable time and resources. The reality is that no matter WHAT people SAY they are looking for, there is the underlying current of getting it cheaper (possible for free if they can) and, at the very least, they are going to demand extreme value for any dollar spent. I believe that this applies to both head of search and long-tail search terms. We are in the age of having to get past the attitude that many businesses will have which is that “You’ll have to rip these marketing dollars from my cold, dead hands.” If you can’t prove your worth by truly understanding their plight and answering their real needs, then you are not getting their money. So it’s not enough to “hit the high points” and simply act as if the keyword tells the entire story of what people want. People are too smart for that simplified approach, and they are under duress. They are asking for much more, and we are going to need to listen more than ever to get to the real issue, which will lead to real business.
  3. True listening requires true empathy. If you are using the old trick to listen to people to hear their needs, then hitting that point to gain their trust, you are just scratching the surface. Anything that is stated by the vast majority of people is their “public” response. This response is one that implies need, but does not reveal how they really feel. No one wants to admit a deficiency in any area to another business person. At least not fully. People have pride, which unfortunately often prevents them from getting to real solutions. We have to listen for these areas then ask more questions and then listen even more. Until you get to the point where you can say that you really know what they need, how they feel, or what they really want to accomplish, then you are just scratching the surface of their need, thus providing only a surface solution. People will need to have an abnormally high amount of trust to part with their dollars these days, so we cannot confuse building rapport with actual empathy. Rapport may sell the business but empathy keeps it.

There’s a ton more to talk about here, but I can’t tell if you were listening or not. One way is to know is to comment and start a conversation here to address some of the unique situations that we face in 2009. I suppose another way is to just move on and do it the same way you always have. If that is your approach, then 2009 may well be your Year of Bankruptcy.

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