August 29, 2015 Michael Hardiman

The importance of actively listening

The importance of actively listening

Technology is something that I’m sometimes a little bit cynical about. Simply being new and shiny isn’t enough for me. My favourite gadget is my Swiss Army knife and I still have a Melways in my car. I even resisted getting a smart phone for as long as possible. But I am a complete convert to social media.

Years ago I left a standard 9-5 job to do my own thing as an independent consultant. I didn’t use tech much. After being invited to join LinkedIn I created an account and then ignored it for the next 5 years. Twitter passed me by. I was fortunate enough to have a steady stream of projects coming in from an existing network to keep me sufficiently busy. However, what I was doing was a classic case of working in my small business rather than on it.

So while the work was really interesting and paid well, it was actually hard work keeping it coming in. I knew that productisation was the answer, but I couldn’t ever quite refine that. I kept going project to project until I was tired enough to seek a return to the 9-5 world. That was end of that business incarnation. Not long ago I started the next one.

This time around I was completely determined to sell products rather than hours. I even knew what the product was. It was something offered in other markets, it had application here, people were interested in it. I put everything in place to start selling it. The product was well-planned and well-constructed economic models and reports forecasting business conditions. These would let users project expected sales, compare sales to other industries and enterprises, and then know which activities to direct attention to, know which were the most likely profit sources.

People sounded interested when I spoke about this. I started a twitter account and got a few followers with absolutely zero effort. I even updated my LinkedIn profile. I was on social media.

While the networks I have on these channels are not massive, it’s important to keep in mind how connected your connections are. Friends of friends can end up creating quite a reach.

After years spent sourcing work through an established network of contacts I considered strategic offers of lunch reservations to be the greatest source of opportunities. I was unprepared for how helpful digital connections could be.

Once I launched out into social media to promote my business I started receiving approaches from interested people, and started having conversations that otherwise simply would not have occurred. Often these conversations drifted towards what kind of consulting services I could offer. Interesting chats but not ideal for someone determined not to be a consultant!

But that’s the thing… I’d focused so much on selling product that I’d been pushing it into a market that was kind of interested but actually wanted something else.
The end result was me refining the business offering and meeting the market on its terms.

My business still sells products that distil years of IP development but importantly doesn’t leave it at that. We get involved and help clients use that product. We consult with them to do what we always said could be done. We help clients optimise their markets. We help them direct their energy towards their most likely sources of profit.

It’s ironic that initially we weren’t even doing this ourselves.

If we hadn’t pushed a message out through social media and then listened actively in the conversations that resulted, we’d be anything but optimised in our approach.
What this means is that I’ve completely changed my view of social media technology. Rather than a simple tool of one-way self-promotion, it’s a way to actively engage in productive dialogue. Even if the most productive conversations eventually are held off-line, maybe over lunch for example, it is so much easier to initiate talk over an online channel.

As an introductory offer to this blog’s readers I’m happy to offer a discount on the monthly subscription price: 30% off to the first 5 customers of each subscription type.  So, visit our website and if you’ve got any questions at all, you know I’d be keen to talk!

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About the Author

Michael Hardiman After graduating as a biologist but spending years working in finance, Michael Hardiman consulted as a business analyst to blue chips and government. He knows that understanding how people work is the key to understanding your business numbers. ZenBus Advisory can help you find the most profitable sales patterns in your business data. They harness experience in finance, capital markets and consumer insights, and combine macroeconomics and behavioural science to analyse business performance, provide a macro view of a market and point your way to a more profitable share of it.

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