Humans are not born good listeners. They learn the ability to listen over time.
We all know what bad listening looks like, because we have all experienced it. When we feel truly listened to, we open up, expose more of ourselves, feel liberated, feel respected and understood.
It’s a beautiful thing.
In the business world, effective listening is crucial. When your marketing team, agency, vendors and partners listen effectively, you can:
- reduce mistakes
- save money
- accelerate growth
- produce more profit for your business
Paul Donoghue & Mary Sigel said it best when explaining the impact of listening between clients and professionals in their book Are You Really Listening?: “Finding the professional counselor or therapist who will listen to our doubts, confusions and questions and then direct us with clarity is a tremendous relief.” (pg 64)
This applies beyond therapy to any partner you choose to provide you with guidance for your business. Your agency should be your support and guide while navigating the digital marketing landscape. They shouldn’t just be there to tell you want to do – or what you want to hear. In order to have the most sound strategy for your business, your agency has to bring their expertise to the table, but they also need to be ready to sit down an listen.
The Four “Blocks” to Effective Listening
Donoghue and Sigel identified four primary “blocks” to effective listening between professionals and clients:
- Vulnerability. Often clients bring a problem or concern to the conversation. In admitting the problem the advertiser is showing vulnerability. From the other direction, the agency does not want to appear out of control and admit fault or defeat for not knowing the right solution in that moment. This fear of being vulnerable leads to us having a lot of internal noise blocking our ability to truly listen to what is being shared. Partnering with an agency who admits limitations or fault will inspire confidence and trust.
- Conflicting Agendas. Both sides may have very different objectives for a meeting or conversation. This can be minimized by clear agenda setting at the time of scheduling and also immediately in the meeting. That said, a good partner is also able to abandon their original agenda and live in the existing conversation, seeking to understand.
- Burnout. Agencies can seem like they have “seen it all before” and clients can wear their “ghosts of disappointments past” like a coat of armor. We get it. This feeling of burnout and skepticism is common and cant get in the way of productive conversations. Agencies and clients who trust each other experience better listening and output overall.
- Problem Solving. We’ve seen the sad aftermath of an agency jumping to solve a problem but ultimately solving the WRONG problem. By not understanding the actual problem, they can make changes or suggestions that actually hurt your business. A good partner does not look at you as a problem to be solved, but rather a person to be heard and understood. Only then can they identify the core root of an issue.
Do any of these sound familiar with your current partnerships? Let us give you one more gut check. In order to maximize your agency relationship and results, it is vital that they are 100% aligned on the following questions.
Does your agency know…
… what digital success looks like?
Is your agency defining success of their program the same way you are? Have you both explicitly discussed what success looks like?
Whether it be traffic to your website, increases in new customers, increased leads, or more revenue, you have to be rowing in the same direction.
Are they often celebrating wins of secondary, less important goals? Are they unable to bridge the impact of those secondary goals to the primary goal?
These are common issues and, unfortunately, a key indicator that you are not rowing in the same direction.
… what metrics are most meaningful to your business?
Does your agency continue to report on metrics that are not valuable to your business? Do they focus on average cost per click or average time on site when you are worried about revenue-to-cost ratio?
Often agencies miss the opportunity to bridge the gap between what are important metrics in their world the numbers that you prioritize.
Even if this gap is well-intentioned, if your agency is rigid in their ways of reporting, how can you be sure they really understand what metrics are vital to the health of your business?
… what keeps you up at night?
Whether it be that competitor that you always see trying new on-page optimizations or a fear that you’re wasting money in your PPC account, every advertiser has their “thing.” It’s what nags at you, and it may even give you some anxiety.
Is your agency listening to that anxiety and keeping it on the forefront of their own monitoring or reporting practices?
Great agencies can balance a myriad of optimization tasks. But at the end of the day, they need to care about what you care about – and be able to prioritize it.
… what other (non-digital) things are working in your business?
When is the last time your agency asked about your non-digital initiatives or overall business performance?
Great agencies know that paid and organic traffic are just one part of your overall marketing strategy. It would be incredibly detrimental to allow them to operate in a silo.
Marketing successes should be collected and shared both ways. What’s working online may inform offline efforts – and vice versa.
In a world with multiple touchpoints with your brand, subtle inconsistencies may actually harm your brand story to potential customers.
A Challenge For You: Ask them.
If any of these questions gave you pause, it’s time to bring it to light.
Your agency should be your partner. They should be ego-free and receptive to feedback.
If they truly are a great agency, they should have no problems answering these questions. Ideally, you get confirmation and realize your agency is working WITH you and not just FOR you.
If you get any other response, it’s time to refresh the conversation. It’s time to hold your agency accountable for listening to what you need and ensure everyone is on the right side of the rope in the digital advertising game of tug of war.
If you want to hear more about our approach to partner relationships, we would love to speak with you. We look forward to learning more about your business and what success looks like. We’re all ears!