If there’s one marketing mantra that will always be true for businesses, it’s “Know Your Customer.”

Whether you sell shoes, dry cleaning services, computer software or multi-million-dollar widgets, that’s the one maxim that will never change, no matter what happens to society in the future. It’s the one thing marketers and salespeople alike need to master—because you’re not going to turn a prospect into a buyer without both of you knowing that prospect inside and out.

That’s why I get a little frustrated when I hear people say that this or that kind of marketing doesn’t work anymore—that the digital age has turned marketing on its head. That’s bull, and it’s always been bull.

Let’s take radio and the TV revolution. How many years were people marketing and selling to other people before mass media was developed? And did the advent of this new media suddenly change the fact that you had to get to know your customer before you could get them to buy from you? Of course not. The new medium allowed you engage and interact with more people, but your message still had to attract and mean something to them as individuals.

Yet marketers of the day got so excited about the ability to blast messages at millions of people that some of them got lazy. They thought they didn’t have to work as hard to get to know their prospect, and it became a numbers game.

Over time, advertising fatigue meant that many of those messages fell on deaf ears or blind eyes. However, those who were successful knew their customer well enough to capture their attention with the right message at the right time. They did the research. They talked to people, they conducted focus groups—they did the work. And yes, it was a LOT of work. But when someone was ready to buy that widget that was advertised on TV, the salesperson who won the deal knew enough to shut up and listen, ask questions and get to know where the buyer was coming from.

None of that has changed. The explosion of digital, social and mobile technology didn’t suddenly make buyers grow three heads. People are still people, and have the same wants, needs and desires they did 50 years ago. And you know what? Blast advertising without thought to “knowing” your customer on an intimate level didn’t work in TV, and it won’t work on social channels. However, these new technologies did turn marketing and sales on their heads in a different way—they make it exponentially easier (and less costly) to get to know your customer.

Shut Up and Listen

Digital tools like social give us infinitely better ways to understand where our customers are coming from. However, there are still those lazy marketers out there who use social as a blast advertising medium, and lazy salespeople who don’t use social to get to know their customer before they pitch them. In fact, the term Social Selling bothers me because many people just want to know how to use social platforms to “sell.”

Instead, we should be learning how to use social for the essential work of getting to know our prospects and customers. We need to use these fabulous new tools to listen—and listen closely—to what buyers want. There is so much we can learn if we just shut up and listen!

What used to take us weeks of pouring through research now takes us a fraction of the time studying profiles, sifting through conversations and reaching out to ask questions and add value. The modern buyer doesn’t want to hear your pitch—he’s done his own research online, and will ask the advice of friends and connections before he’s ready to buy. What he wants from you is value and information he can trust when making that decision. He wants you to know where he’s coming from.

Understand Their “Why”

Sure, advertising has its place. It always has and always will. But social gives us unprecedented opportunities to delve into our customer’s “why.” We’ve never been able to connect personally with as many people and find out so much about them as we can through today’s technologies. It’s a fantastic launch pad for doing something we’ve always had to do before we could get a prospect to buy from us—build relationships.

Social selling isn’t really about selling at all. It’s about being social, connecting, interacting, engaging and building relationships. So yes, social has turned the marketing world upside down, but not because we can get in front of more people. It has revolutionized marketing and sales because it allows us to find out more.

We now have larger amounts of data, platforms and apps available to allow us to get to know who our customer/prospect is. What interests them? What are their pain points? What causes them joy? Being fully connected and plugged-in in a connected world helps us not just talk to people, but to listen to them.

When we start using these tools to listen and add value—to study and understand who our customers really are—that’s when the magic will happen.

Originally posted at The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce

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