You hear what you listen for

One winter evening, two men left work in a busy city and joined the mob of people headed to the subway during rush hour. As they walked toward the station, one man stopped the other and said, “Do you hear that? It’s a bird singing.”

“That’s impossible,” replied the co-worker. “It’s winter in the city. All the birds have flown south. Besides, it’s rush hour. Look at all the people. Listen to the traffic. You wouldn’t be able to hear a bird above this din if you tried.”

The first man looked around, and sure enough, there was a robin on a telephone wire. The co-worker saw it and sarcastically said, “That’s great. Come on, or we’ll miss the next train.”

As their pace quickened, the first man reached into his front pocket, pulled out a few coins and pitched them into the crowd of people headed home from work.

“Stop!” the co-worker said. “Someone has just dropped four quarters!”

The first man grinned at his friend and said, “You hear what you listen for.”

I can’t remember where I first read that story, but the message has always stayed with me. It reminds me of the challenge of finding customers because not all customers have the same goal.

Where do you go to get information about a product you plan to buy or a service you plan to hire? How do you become aware of what you need? Who do you talk to before you make the step to call or meet a sales representative?

Word of mouth is a form of advertising. A good testimonial from a friend can be the highest rating a company can receive. The opposite can also be true. The difficulty is that two people given the same facts and experience can report it two different ways. Compare a trip you’ve taken with a friend. Do you both remember everything the same?

Perception is a funny thing. While it is true “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” first impressions are not always accurate. I’ve watched people draw the wrong conclusions based on little information. And, I’ve done the same thing only to learn much later how wrong I was.

Advertising and public relations are about informing the customer, potential customer or interested party. It’s about staying seen in the public eye. The experience that the customer has is the next step after being seen. Not all will accept the invitation to learn about the product or service. That’s why the message has to be placed where it has the maximum efficiency of finding potential customers. That location varies based on the interests of the customers.

Salesmanship is a part of marketing too. How a salesperson interacts with a customer affects the sale and the good or bad referral. And, the title “sales representative” is not necessary to be a salesman. The person who answers the phone – whether it is a secretary, a maintenance worker or the owner of the company – immediately represents the company. That person’s actions dictate the perception of the person calling in.

If you happen to get the voicemail message on my mobile phone, I tried to make it warm and friendly. I’ve gotten several compliments on it. I’ve been kidded about it too. Different people have different perceptions. I’m not saying their perceptions are wrong, I’m just saying their perceptions are different. Facts determine whether something is correct; opinions always vary.

I try to keep an open mind. I’m looking for a longer relationship than a first impression, and I’m willing to invest the time to establish that relationship. My hope is that I can hear the bird sing in rush hour traffic.

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