An Ear for Listening

Originally published February 14, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press

We are each the master of our trade. We find our groove and pump out our product in the same consistency our customers, members or clients have grown to know and love. All of a sudden, sales go down or we lose a couple clients. Same masterful product, same creative you. So what has changed?

We often find ourselves in this declining position, and we have a tendency toward introspection. We ask ourselves questions on how we can be better, or what we can do to keep another client from taking their business elsewhere. If you’re like me, you immediately flip to your favorite trade journal, book or even trusty Google to find the answers. A lot of good ideas are born that way, but it doesn’t always fix the problem.

Enter the concept of listening. When I started as the executive director of the chamber of commerce, I knew we had to do something different. We were losing members and people seemed to be questioning the chamber’s value as a whole. I wanted to reach out to other chambers, read articles and cling to my search engine vice. As I sorted out “what to do first” in my brain, a friend pointedly suggested I merely listen to our members. Simply find out what they want.

Less “Field of Dreams” and more Burger King. I immediately latched onto this concept and decided we are not going to tell our members what they want based on a potentially antiquated path of thinking, but rather go out and seek their desires. This will allow us to facilitate membership packages matching those expectations.

Born of this: The “Montrose Chamber of Commerce Listening Tour,” a three-tour stop platform where the business community is invited to sit down over free food and drink and spill their guts about all things chamber and business related.

I challenge you to do this in your world. Ask people to talk to you about your product, service or concept. Buy coffee and ask questions.

I specifically recommend the round table discussion model as it promotes idea sharing and allows someone to throw out a concept others can build upon. You can ask things like, “What is your exact expectation of product x?”, “Have you had another experience with product x from another company that was particularly good?” or “What is something you wish existed in this market that does not?”

Surveys are great, but a live environment round table atmosphere will give you depth of insight you won’t gain from SurveyMonkey. Plus open conversation gets your users even more invested in your brand as they hear other people’s excitement surrounding the concepts you create together.

Worried about getting people to attend? Don’t be. Seek out your biggest fans and your biggest critics and make sure you have plenty of each. These two specific group of people will be more than happy to talk about your business. 

Think about your favorite business. Would you be willing to share ideas about how to make it better? Would you be willing to talk about really positive experiences you’ve had with this business? Me too. People feel delighted to be on the “ground floor” of discovery and research for something they really care about. If all else fails, you’ll probably get one or two people to show up just for the coffee.

“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing — building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help,” said David M. Kelly.

Join us for the last Chamber Listening Tour stop at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Proximity Space, 210 E. Main St.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. Her passion is business innovation.