Start Listening !

We are all guilty.

No matter how much we think we do, it’s never enough.

Wherever you are in the supply chain, no matter what market you are in, we don’t always listen to our customers or suppliers’ Of course this does not always relate to our commercial lives, it is, invariably, true of our personal relationships . However, whilst I can’t profess to be a specialist in any field I am most definitely not one when it comes to personal advice.

2023 is going to be a challenging year with many hurdles. We all need to be on top of our game which not only means listening to the level below i.e. the customer but also with the level above i.e. the supplier . We may not like what we hear . We may disagree with what we hear . The key is to hear what is being said and then to evaluate whether/what action is needed .

So it came as no surprise shortly after Christmas , The Times reported research (on New Year celebrations ) carried out by John Lewis from their website that searches for the word bunting were up by 40% and balloons by 140%. Whilst the John Lewis site does carry a few(about 10) of each item(most relate to birthday), if you look in most John Lewis stores you would be hard pushed to find any. Is that likely to change any time soon ? Probably not. But then John Lewis would not be a destination store for that type of product . But why then are they making a press release about it ?

Why, when they have a very similar target audience, are Wilko’s suffering, whilst Home & Bargain, B&M and Poundland are creaming it. May I suggest that they all have access to the same listening (consumer data) but it is how they have dealt with what they hear, that makes the ‘not’ inconsiderable difference.

It is not only about talking to your customers and hearing what they have to say , it’s talking to your suppliers , your competitors even. They may not always say what you want them to say, more often it is what they don’t say that is just as helpful. Visit Trade Exhibitions and see and hear what is happening within your industry. Read Trade Journals, albeit much of the content is very benign, nevertheless, I guarantee every so often there is something you would not already know.

There is a huge amount of data bombarding us on a daily basis. Much of it is just noise. But we cannot pretend it is not there, the skill is filtering the noise and to do this we need to listen.

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing


At a very recent trade show , I discovered, inadvertently that a product a customer of mine was seeking to import from the US was actually made 100 miles from him in the UK. He would no doubt have found out eventually, but it might have been a very expensive route. This came about from a very random conversation with an exhibitor who was displaying something very similar to the product my customer had told me about. An argument could be made that my customer should have found this out by listening. Can’t argue with that.

Another retailer being a little concerned about their poor level of business over the Christmas period and putting it down to general economic malaise, then discovered from other local traders that many of the locals in their area (it must be pointed out that the average consumer in this area is quite affluent and used to spending the summer in Tuscany!) had indeed decided to go away for an extended Christmas holiday.

True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information

Winston Churchill

He doesn’t specifically talk about listening but that is what I take from the quote ( or at least in part).

42% of companies don’t survey their customers or collect feedback.

Hubspot Research

Ignore customers at your own peril

Back in the summer of 2011, Netflix ignored their customers by splitting its DVD and streaming businesses and effectively increasing prices by 40%. As a result, they lost a whopping 800,000 subscribers, their stock price fell to less than half its previous value, and the company became one of the 10 most hated companies in America.

Insider 2012

Not listening to your colleagues

The best example is from a Kodak engineer named Steven J. Sasson. He actually invented the first digital camera back in 1975. But his management did not take it seriously, it didn’t want to be associated with it. Kodak’s management failed to see digital photography as a disruptive technology because printed photos had been there for over 100 years, and who would want to see pictures on a television screen? At the same time, Kodak did not want to cannibalize its film roll business so it tried to keep the new technology under the radar.

Not listening to the consumer and the market place

BlackBerry believed too much in what they owned. The Customer experience is where BlackBerry turned out to be a laggard.

Both the above quotes come from http://www.togroundcontrol .com

The process of listening encompasses a whole gamut of activities. Be they visiting trade shows, attending conferences, speaking to friends, colleagues, customers , suppliers, associates , family, reading /listening to various media, being aware of what is happening on social media, especially, but not solely ,business sites like LinkedIn . There is a lot of guff in the latter two , but sometimes there are little gems .

There is an idiom in the English language “I’m all ears”. Not a great image as the guy below may testify but an imperative when trading in the current climate.

Big Ears, best friend of Noddy. For those who don’t know them, Shame on you -Google them! Big Ears listened to Noddy’s problems and helped him out a lot .

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Bernard M. Baruch

There is one resource we all have in our Commercial Toolbox , the facility to listen. And it costs nothing. Not using it can cost an awful lot.

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