Listen your way to business success

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It is well known that most businesses and startups fail within their first five years due to various roadblocks. Some of these main issues include:

  1. Lack of funding

  2. Lack of business education

  3. Bad market research

  4. ineffective teamwork chemistry/leadership

However, how many businesses and startups fail due to their lack of ability to listen?

Back when I was living in Denver there was a family that opened a specialty cafe. Their main niche was that they had a massive back wall full of boardgames. It was a great place to sit down with some friends/family and release for a few hours over a game of connect four and a cup of coffee. In theory, it was great and in the beginning they were relatively successful, as many new businesses are, mainly because… well… they were new. New things are exciting and get attention, however, that just isn't enough in the world of business. Over the next six months their customer base dropped and eventually they had to shut down. So what was their problem?

During their opening months, many customers had approached the owners and suggested that they change little things like adding or changing certain menu items. Not once did they listen. They stuck up for their business plan and values, which is admirable, but they got too attached to the vision of how they thought their business should look and lost sight of the actual goal of their business which simply should have been:

To make money by providing their customers with a product/service that adds value to themselves or their life.

They never actually did the market research to understand what would sell and attract recurring customers. They lacked the flexibility to evolve with their customers’ needs. It is a surprisingly common pitfall. A successful businesses goal should not be to provide its customers with what you think they want, but rather, to provide its customers with what they actually want. I am not suggesting that you forget your product vision and just become a black and gray blend of whatever your customers tell you to do. Your business needs a unique identity that distinguishes itself in the market and keeps people interested and returning, but you need to have the flexibility to listen to and evolve your business around its customers’ needs.

One of the most valuable tools I learned during my door-to-door sales stint was the value in listening. As a business owner this is a crucial skill. During my sales training the trainer would often say, “The customer will tell you how to sell them. All you have to do is listen.” It worked more often than not. By simply listening, addressing the customers’ concerns and showing them a solution they were always more interested in taking a closer look at the product. While a cafe is a far cry from door-to-door, the underlying lesson still applies. Listening to a customer and evolving your tactic and product around their needs will always produce a better product and a happier customer. The really good news is that listening is a skill that applies to many different aspects of life; not just business. I know, listening is not even a groundbreaking strategy, but sometimes the simplest strategies can provide the most successful results.