How to Improve Client Relationships by Listening

by | Dec 3, 2019 | Content Marketing, Copywriting, Digital Marketing

First, are you asking the right questions?

What do the words “want” and “need,” really mean? It’s possible to want something you need, and to need something you want. Yet these words aren’t synonymous.

Steve Jobs once said a customer doesn’t know they need what you’re offering. This isn’t to say that the customer doesn’t know their business. And it’s not because customers don’t know what they want, either.

In fact, customers have the answer. It’s up there swirling around their heads—lost in the masses of information the brain handles in a single day. In order to supply that answer, your mind needs to prioritize what to remember. What you need to do as a marketer to support that priority, is to ask the right questions.

Normally, when asked a question, your brain drops everything to find an answer. But, when asked a question using the right words the brain will actually release a chemical cocktail, relaxing enough to actually access your memories, which enables it to provide a thoughtful answer.

Simply put, if you ask your clients good questions, you’ll get better answers. But you can’t get those answers if you don’t listen to your clients in the first place.


Listening is a Two-Way Street

Listening goes both ways. Arguments are made in support of, or in opposition to, listening to your customers.

On one hand, you’re never going to win clients over if you don’t listen to them. On the other, customers may not always be the most reliable source of information, thanks to the way the brain functions.

Through the process of reconsolidation—how the brain attaches a context to memories—older memories may be revised to include new information. In other words, memories may not have actually happened as you remember them.

For example, in order to decide between two brands–say, Heineken or Beck’s–your choice may be influenced by your memory of the experience drinking either or both.

Well, that memory you have of either Heineken or Beck’s can then be altered based on how a marketer associates that brand in their advertising.

If both are portrayed as having a rich taste, marketers can get into customers’ brains by refining the perception of that taste to represent something more. Classic reconsolidation.

Sometimes this process is conscious, as Seth Godin points out in his book, All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories:

Recent research on brain function has focused on… [the way we’re able to] deal with the significant amount of information we process each day… Once we’ve made up our mind, once we’ve got some assumptions about causation and we’ve made some predictions, then we stick with them. We ignore contrary data for as long as we can get away with it and focus on the events we agree with.

For example, a consumer may exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But they might choose to indulge in fast food binges a few times a week. After all, if they worked out, that effort should act as a counterbalance to the binging habit, right?

It’s not that easy. It takes one hour and twenty-three minutes of walking, or forty-three minutes of running to burn the caloric intake from a large quarter slice of pizza, according to Insider. Naturally, more work is required to burn off calories than to consume them.

So when the fast-food industry creates cognitive dissonance with their marketing, some people might believe that they can eat whatever they want without consequence so long as they exercise. McDonald’s tried this with an active lifestyle ad campaign in 2005 to help fight childhood obesity.

The point is that the brain is capable of misremembering, and filters messages based on what it wants or thinks it knows, which redefines brand perception.

All Ears for Improving Client Relationships

So far, all I’ve told you is how the brain interprets questions and feedback. But I haven’t told you how to actually improve a client relationship by listening.

For that, we turn to how you’re asking a client questions. You’re not going to get a useful answer if you frame the question in a yes or no format. Asking open ended questions allows clients to answer in their own words.

In fact, an old interviewing trick is just to stay silent for a few moments before moving on to the next question. The silence usually prompts the client to fill in that space with words. These words may or may not be useful, but it’s data.

And you need all the data you can get.

This list of books provides more best practices for communicating with clients and prospects throughout their journey.

The Art of Asking Data-Driving Questions

A book that can help you ask data-driving questions is SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackham. According to Rackham, you don’t want to focus your questions on a client’s problems—they already know them and will be annoyed by your reminders.

Rackham believes there’s special punishment in hell for salespeople who ask too many of these questions. These are known as “situation questions.”

They are a necessary part of the SPIN framework Rackham details, but an experienced marketer shouldn’t dwell on them for too long. Examples of such questions are below:

  1. What kinds of software do you use?
  2. How long have you been using this software?
  3. Do many people use the software?

Questions like this are only useful when they’re intended as a springboard for asking more detailed questions. They’re meant only for collecting facts, which doesn’t leave room for more revealing and relevant information.

Clients Need to Enjoy Answering Questions You Ask


Because how well a client answers a question is related to the quality of the data.

As Dale Carnegie points out in How to Win Friends and Influence People, you need to ask questions that clients will enjoy answering.

Questions of this variety include those that involve the client directly. In general, people love talking about themselves. Two examples of “client-pleasing” questions are:

  • How does the philosophy of your business affect your marketing tactics?
  • Why does your business execute its marketing strategy the way it does?

The key is to make the question open-ended so that it invites a detailed response. Open-ended questions usually begin with “why” and “how.”

After all, the fourth principle in his book is “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

Wrapping up, if you ask a client the right questions, you’ll be in a better position to help them. Understanding what happens in the brain when you ask those questions is key to listening for those insights that will help shape your marketing solutions.

What are the best tips you have received about listening to clients? Drop us a message in the chat below about your experiences and other ways your business improves client relationships.

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Marketing Agency

MESH is a digital marketing agency that has pioneered Account-Based Marketing via our proprietary Outcome Driven Marketing (ODM) methodology. We keep our focus on tightly integrating (or MESHing) lead generation, inbound, and outbound methodologies. We help you understand the hidden levers that impact your customers’ buying decision process, develop the right marketing strategy for your unique business case, and effectively execute and measure all aspects of your Account-Based Marketing program.

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