My father has a string of aphorisms he’s been saying for years that still resonate with what’s going on today. One of my favorites is this: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should spend twice as much time listening as we do talking.”
This seems particularly relevant in our current socio-political culture -- most of us do a lot of talking and very little listening -- but it's also important in a business environment where much of our efforts involve telling colleagues about ourselves, explaining our point of view and describing what’s important to us.
Doing this is a necessary evil to get your brand noticed, but you need to make sure you never forget the driving force behind entrepreneurship: How can you solve your customers' problems?
1. Listen to your customers.
Your first priority should be listening to your customers, understanding what they need so you can figure out how to add value. Business is about relationships, and relationships go both ways.
If you work as a small, community-driven business owner and you know your customers directly, this should be easy -- just ask them some questions and then stop talking! Let them talk about their lives and listen intently. Take notes and then later map out a plan for how you can help them out.
If you don't have direct access to your customers, you might have to work a little bit harder but there are still a lot of ways to listen, starting with social media. By following your customers on their social channels, you'll see first hand how they are living their lives. You can observe their struggles and triumphs and then determine a path on how you'll add value. Plus, if they happen to be following your channels, then you have permission to interact directly with them and listen first hand.
Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People
2. Listen to your employees.
They know more than you give them credit for. They may even know more than you -- after all, they are on the front line and they know what’s going on.
Random acts of listening won't give you the depth of understanding you need to truly serve your employees, so approach them in a structured way. Give them multiple forums to communicate with you, both virtually and in person. Send them surveys to fill out and, if you can, build a company ambassador program where your leadership team can spend meaningful time with employee groups and hear their concerns.
It never hurts to hold an all-company town hall meeting on a regular basis as well. Just make sure you don't do all the talking!
3. Listen to your competitors.
Listen to your competitors, too. They are another insightful source of information, and they can give you a new, different perspective. Whether they are one step ahead of you or lightyears behind, pay attention to what they are doing in the marketplace. Analyze what’s working (and what's not) so you can apply those lessons to your business.
There are many ways for you to track and listen to your competitors and, once again, social media may be your best weapon. Follow your competitors' social channels and you'll get a window not only into their marketing activity, but into how they interact with their own customers -- and even more importantly, how their customers interact with them.
4. Listen to the world around you.
None of our businesses or brands live in a vacuum. We are all part of a greater community that must coexist and collaborate with other businesses and communities around us. By accepting this and listening to the larger world, we can deliver more to our customers and employees.
One final thought: On your social media platforms, you should be even more extreme and listen four times as much as you are talking. For every 10 posts, only two should be about yourself and your brand. The other eight should add value to your fans and followers. It's perfectly appropriate to tout your product attributes, but only once in awhile. The vast majority should be about them!
Remember: two ears, one mouth!