How the Voice of the Customer Can Propel Your Business Forward

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Here's a story that hits a marketing sweet spot. John Downs, CEO of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), recently went on a "listening tour to hear members' concerns and share data that helped win them over [to a new industry standard]," reported Associations Now.

"While he traveled, he heard a common issue from members—consumer demand was reshaping the industry. Candy lovers wanted smaller portion sizes. '[The tour] helped us to realize that we needed a new kind of messaging and purposeful positioning for our product.'" Downs said.

The tour led to a strategic initiative called Always A Treat, a member agreement to create smaller portion sizes and produce packaging with clearer labels and calorie counts. It has been very successful so far.

Nothing can replace listening to your subscribers and/or members. Events expert Diane Arseneau from SIPA member Zagora told me last week that she's amazed that clients of hers still think of putting together a conference without talking to their audience. "They think they know what people want, but I wouldn't put a program on without having heard from that market. It might take a little time and effort," but it will be very worthwhile.

Arseneau will speak at our upcoming Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) presenting a session titled, Top Money-Making Event Strategies and Ideas, but also listening to people, as she advises her clients to do. "[Your event program and marketing] has to convey that you understand the pain points of your audience," she said. And that can best come from listening.

Here are some keys to a successful listening tour:

Meet with members where they work. This "gives you a much better understanding of their supply chain and the complexities of their business operations," said NCA CEO Downs. He always shares data with his members to build a "platform of understanding."

Sit for customer one-on-ones. "When was the last time you sat opposite a prospect and listened to their objections?" asked Robin Crumby, founder of Melcrum and now Novatum Group. "When you come to make recommendations about changes, it's so powerful to be able to quote customers. If it originates with the customer, it has so much more power."

Set up a separate space at your events to talk to people. This is a rare time you can have their undivided attention—plus it can save you lots of travel time.

Learn what your customers' best communication channels are. American Dental Association's chief communications officer Stephanie Moritz conducted a listening—and observation—tour of her members' offices. She saw that they were often busy but took time in the day to check Facebook. That led her team to try Facebook Live video streaming. That "observation" piece can be important. I once recall Greg Merkle, VP user experience at Wolters Kluwer, telling us that, "Sometimes, innovation is subtle. Through observation you can find little shifts."

Make it easy for customers to reach out to you. Give them several channels. EB Medicine won a 2017 SIPAward with a program designed to provide emergency departments with Clinical Learning to Eliminate Avoidable Risk. The program came about because a large customer group approached them in 2011 looking for a way to train its clinicians on risk management best practices. They had no supporting or reinforcing educational materials or test/measurement methodology, not to mention the lack of a route for users to earn much-needed CME credits for their lessons." EB Medicine won for Best New Success Story.

Create a hub or sub-group. Your listening tour might convince you that a hub or community needs to be formed. NCA's Always a Treat website is a good example where resources and information get shared.

If you can't travel, use technology. "Consider whether virtual meetings, using video conferencing or 360-degree video tools, can accomplish the same goals and feel nearly as personal as an onsite visit," Associations Now suggests. It's not the same as face-to-face but it can accomplish similar goals.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…