Listening Tour Achieve Business Success

 

I started my company Mavens & Moguls
~10 years ago just after 9/11.  As the world around
us was changing after the terrorist attacks, marketing seemed to be the
first thing that was cut universally in company budgets to conserve cash.

We grew steadily for the first 7 years at first quadrupling then
tripling, doubling as our revenue base grew each year.  We went into the
fourth quarter of 2008 with a robust pipeline and a record number of six
figure engagements about to kick off.  Then the world started to collapse
again with Wall Street firms closing and cash drying up again.  In a 10
day period we had 3 big projects get put on hold so I could see the world
as I knew it had changed.  The presidential election was around the corner
and uncertainty in the outcome made everyone hit the pause button.  It is
not my nature to sit still so I looked at my calendar for the next few months
and realized I had several business trips planned, speeches in other
cities and Board meetings coming up so I decided to take advantage of my
road show and line up meetings in every one of those cities to conduct a
“Listening Tour” to try and figure out how this new reality was affecting
my clients and prospects with regards to their marketing needs and
budgets.

I came up with a list of people I wanted to chat with and some questions
to get the conversation going.  The economy had pretty much come to a halt
during that period as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were dissolved.
The people who still had jobs did not have much going on so getting
meetings was not hard to do as everyone who was still employed was trying
to look busy.  I quickly filled my dance card in each of the cities I
would be visiting over the next few months.  I let everyone know that this
was a conversation not a sales call I was there to listen.  Almost
immediately I started to see themes emerge in my conversations.  This
Listening Tour” idea that politicians have used for years seemed to apply
to business as well.  I heard story after story about how budget approval
levels had been pushed down so people who used to be able to greenlight
six figure projects could now only approve spending at half or a quarter
of previous levels.  Where before retainer agreements were easily approved
now everything had to be done on a project basis instead, no monthly drain
on cash reserves.  Social media was just starting to take off as everyone
was asking for help on that front as well.

Based on the feedback on my Listening Tour I created new products and
services that required less cash to get started, bite sized chunks to
build the relationship and show a return on their investment.  We offered
more workshops and discreet projects as well.  I thanked everyone who took
the time to chat with me and shared some of my lessons learned on the
tour.  Literally the week that the new President was sworn in confidence
in the economy started to come back and my phone started to ring and
e-mails arrived asking for help.  I thanked them again for helping me
create new offerings like a social media bootcamp or a “lite” version of
our branding exercise and before I knew it we had new projects in the
queue.  Then as the economy was rebuilding we started getting calls from
some bigger clients we had pitched in the past but had ultimately stayed
with their incumbent agencies who then fired their agencies (during the
recession they were tasked to find new scrappier partners) and asked us to
submit a proposal and we picked up some great new clients, large public
companies helping us move up the food chain while less agile firms were
stuck or losing ground.  I am happy to report that our December 2011 was
our best year end since 2007 so that initial momentum has continued to
build!  During the downturn we also took the opportunity to upgrade our
team taking advantage of talent available and getting rid of folks whose
skills had plateaued.

We are a better firm now than we were before the recession.  Our message
is tighter our relationships are stronger and we move even faster than we
did before.  Here are a few tips that I hope will help your firm too:

*  Conduct your own Listening Tour to get real time market feedback.
*  Don’t be complacent, if people’s skills are not current it is time to
replace them with better talent, there are a lot of great people available
out there.
*  Don’t let budgets scare off potential clients, repackage your offerings
so they can afford to try you product and service in a smaller dose
*  When the tide is high all boats rise there is opportunity to move up
when the water drops if you are scrappy, recessions can be great
opportunities if you have a plan.
*  Stay positive and surround yourself with people who think big, it was
great to talk with so many prospects and colleagues about growth when they
know you are not selling the ideas start to flow.

Paige Arnof-Fenn is Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls
(www.MavensAndMoguls.com), a global marketing firm based in Cambridge, MA
with people in 14 cities across the US as well as overseas.  Paige is a
graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Business School and currently
sits on the Boards of both schools.  She is a popular speaker and is
quoted regularly in the media.

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