One of the challenges many people face in business relationships is their ability to listen to their partners.

The brain can listen to people at a rate of 125-250 words per minute but thinks of 1,000-3,000 words per minute. So, instead of listening, we are often thinking about what we want to say next, or what to watch on Netflix later or what needs to be added to the grocery list – any number of things other than what our loved one is saying. This often leads to arguments, hurt feelings and leaving your partner feeling “unheard.”

The same holds true for business. Many business leaders assume that they know what their target market wants, and proceed to dish it out, in the form of marketing materials, products or communication that doesn’t connect.

How can you presume to give your customers or potential customers what they want if you’ve never listened to them?

There are many ways to “listen” to your target market.

Meet With Them

One way to listen to your target market is to meet with them. Set up regular meetings that are not sales-related, but provide the opportunity for you to get to know your customers. Host open houses, customer appreciation events and other celebrations that allow your target audience to meet with you and your staff in an informal setting. Face-to-face meetings provide the opportunity for you to get the answers you need. Ask what you’re doing well, what you could be doing better, what other products or services you should be providing. This feedback is priceless.

Survey Them

Surveying customers used to be an expensive and time-consuming process. Now, free and low-cost online tools like Survey MonkeyZoomerangSurvey Gizmo and Poll Daddy provide you the opportunity to design, send and analyze surveys to get the information you want and need from your customers, potential customers, and subscribers.

Research Them

Like surveys, market research used to be reserved for companies with large budgets and marketing departments. Now, the Internet makes it easy for you to do your own research on your target market. Set up Google Alerts and do keyword searches for names, companies, or trends. Research the websites of companies you want to work with as well as your competitors. Stay informed by subscribing to and reading company and industry blogs, which are usually updated more frequently than website content.

Develop A “Listening Engine” On Social Media

The ubiquitous nature of social media is another great resource for researching your target market. There is even a term – “developing a listening engine” – for using social media to keep your finger on the pulse of your target market. Use the search functions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular social media websites or a social media management tool like HootSuite or Social Report to “listen” to the ongoing discussions about your products and services, your competitors, industry and more. This insight, which is like having an ongoing focus group at your fingertips, can be invaluable.

Remember to use these tools to “listen” before you speak to your target market and we’re sure your conversations will improve.

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