Eric Fletcher is a friend of mine. We met when we both worked at my old law firm. Eric is a Chief Marketing Officer. He writes a blog and has close to 7000 people following him on Twitter (significantly more than I have). I am one of his followers and, if you are interested in lawyer marketing, you should be also. I asked Eric to write a guest post for you and here it is.

All listening is not created equal.

Consider the differences in the way you listen to talk radio as you sit in traffic; to a keynote address; to the argument of an adversary; and, for the first faint whimper of the new born down the hall.

Listening is done at many levels. Like audio engineers mixing the soundtrack of life, most of us become adept at adjusting the volume of the multiple channels vying for our attention. We learn what to listen for, what resonates, how to zero-in on key words, phrases or even subtle intonation. And we learn how to respond.

But as we become skilled at reactive listening — in essence, mixing to a manageable level everything we’re taking in — we are inadvertently contributing to the demise of something that is central to effective communication. As it turns out, it’s one of the ingredients we need most if we hope to build relationships that lead to long-term business development.

Intentional, Proactive Listening

Perhaps it is due in part to the fact that we are constantly multitasking — reacting and mixing all we are expected to hear. Perhaps it is a byproduct of attempting to pack as much into an hour — even a brief conversation — as possible. Whatever the cause, we rarely think of listening as the centerpiece of business communication, marketing, client development or sales.

Rather, we view these as calculated acts of messaging, carefully crafted to convey an idea, iterate services and capabilities, win a decision, motivate desired actions. And this is where we invest virtually all the time and resources earmarked for business development (and, for that matter, marketing).

Listening is what the audience is supposed to be doing.

So focused are we on delivering our message that in those (usually all-too-brief) moments when our target is questioning or commenting — providing insight into what is most important to her — we can’t do much better than half listen. Primary attention is being given to the content of our next message — our response.

The unfortunate fact is that the ability to multitask and master-mix the noise of our marketplace notwithstanding, communication begins with the act of listening. The poetry and/or profundity of a message has only marginal impact on an audience that is half listening. (Every parent knows this from personal experience.)

If you’re wondering how to differentiate your business development efforts, the question is — how much more effective might our attempts at communication be if our intent was first to listen?

Intentional listening reveals the voice of those with whom we want to connect. And by voice, I mean the cares, aspirations and concerns of your target audience. It is the key to the most basic principle of effective communication — that connection takes place in the context of shared experience.

Put another way — intentional listening will identify, outline and define the language of the closest you will ever come to a can’t-miss-message.

Translation: the shortest distance between where we are today and a relationship that results in business development that will change your practice is less about the construction of a long list of capabilities, and more about one or two questions that instigate dialogue. Less about what we do, and more about where our clients live each day. Less about what we know, and more about what we can learn if we’ll listen first.

Game-changing business development — not to mention, the road to becoming a trusted advisor — is much less about beginning with a compelling marketing message, and much more about intentional listening.