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I once moderated sixty (yes, sixty!) focus groups for the United States Postal Service over a 5 week time period.  And, with the exception of the one focus group where I had to eject one of the participants for unruly behavior, they were all pretty much the same.  I heard the exact same needs, requirements and ideas over and over again.  In fact, I probably could have stopped after the third focus group and correctly identified 98% of all of the mailers’ needs and suggestions for the USPS.

I bet it’s the same for you when you’re meeting with your clients.  After the first few conversations with your clients, you probably have a good idea of what they need and have the perfect solution for them. But, are you really listening to them? One thing I realized while doing the focus groups for USPS was that, while I might have heard the “same story” before, for each of the participants, it was their story, and they needed to tell it.  If I had jumped immediately to the solution for them, they would have felt that I wasn’t listening to them, or worse, that I really didn’t care what they were saying.

Keeping the conversation fresh and focusing on listening can be difficult.  But it pays off: you form trusting relationships with your clients and they become comfortable sharing more with you.  Think about it: during the focus groups, I was meeting with small business owners who were sharing their shipping needs.  While not exactly exciting stuff, it was important to the business owners, because shipping and mailing was important to their business.  Your clients are talking about something even more personal: their hopes, their dreams, and even their fears.  You want to have your clients walk away with the same feeling that my client at the USPS did when he said to me: “I know that you heard the same thing over and over again, but you made every one of our customers feel that his or his opinions and needs were important.”