I was in a store earlier, getting some Christmas presents during a lunch break. In the queue in front of me was a lady in a wheelchair. I’m a very chatty person, so by the time we got to the front of the line we had been happily speaking for around 10 minutes.
I noticed that when this lady was being served, the guy serving her spoke to her s-l-o-w-l-y and loudly. She was neither stupid or (unlike me) hard of hearing. I asked the guy serving, why he spoke with her in that way and he explained that she was disabled, so he wanted to ensure she could hear him.
Now, I have previously heard people with mobility issues, saying that when strangers see them in a wheel chair, they often talk to them differently, but today was the first time I saw it in action. Why a leg or back related mobility issue might damage someone’s ability to hear, is beyond me. I just thought, “what an ignorant bastard!” (Ok kids, rant off)
Ironically, I am a fit and healthy guy of 45, BUT after 11 years of boxing and another 20 years (and counting) of sparring, my hearing these days is pretty poor. In my right ear, my hearing’s just 30%. I actually find it really helps when people speak clearly to me, yet because I look “normal” they don’t unless I ask them to.
Stereotyping is lazy and ineffective
It’s easy to stereotype people and it’s even easier to stereotype people incorrectly! Just as the guy in the store earlier called it completely wrong with me and the lady in the queue, so we too can get it wrong with the people we interact with in business.
I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard a business owner or salesperson, claim everyone’s a “time waster” just because they were unable to motivate them to make a purchase. And let us not forget the people who are unable to develop a successful blog, who claim that “blogging is dead!” whilst Mashable attracts millions of unique visitors a month.
In my experience, the best way to determine what someone is all about, is to be a little less judgemental, and spend some time listening.
Listening to your marketplace
Commercially, this means taking time to get to really know your clients and prospective clients. It means studying the marketplace in general, but connecting with people on a one-to-one basis when possible too. Social media makes this possible. In fact, it has never been easier to listen and learn.
If you want to know what small business owners are thinking, read the comments in blogs like this, with an exclusively small business readership. Join small business forums and groups on Linkedin and Facebook. Follow small business chats on Twitter. Social media becomes massively more powerful, when you use it as a highly tailored research and monitoring tool. There’s magic in listening – Real magic.
When you know the challenges and opportunities facing your marketplace, it becomes enormously easier to develop relevant answers. Now, being as your products or services are essentially the solution to your marketplaces problems, surely it makes sense to invest time on a regular basis gathering this key information?