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Ask, and listen

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One of my favorite books is Dale Carnegie’s "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I read it every year, and still find something useful every time I pick it up.

Chuck Bowen | January 24, 2011

One of my favorite books is Dale Carnegie’s "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I read it every year, and still find something useful every time I pick it up. Carnegie offers up several principles – ostensibly for salespeople – that apply to most every professional situation.

His fourth secret for success in business and life is to be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. He provides a very vivid, if somewhat off-putting, example to drive this home:

“Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people. A boil on one’s neck interests one more than forty earthquakes in Africa.”

Famines and boils aside, our cover story this month is a special report on what customers want from their landscape companies in 2011. While I think it’s a pretty good list, I’ll freely admit that not every one is going to apply to every one of your customers.

But I know one surefire way you can figure out exactly what each and every one of your clients, former customers and prospects wants from you.

Just ask them.

Want to expand into a new service segment? Ask your current customers what they need done. Wonder why Mrs. Smith just canceled her lawn care contract? Ask her. Interested in getting business from that new office park by the airport? Ask.

But that’s just the first part. The second – and much more important – step is to actually listen to what they say. Most people will be fairly clear about what they want from your company if you give them the time to tell you.

I make my living asking people questions and listening to what they say, so it’s pretty easy for me to encourage you all to do the same.

But consider this: According to our 2010 State of the Industry Report, 74 percent of readers experienced customer cutbacks last year. There’s a reason for that, and there’s only one way to figure it out.