Mini Mind Maps put listening to work

Insight Planning: Putting “Listening” to Work

Posted on Posted in blog articles

Pushing toward a relevant truth is the clearest pathway to hearts and minds. If you can deliver on relevant truths consistently, you’ll find that relationships follow. But why is it so hard to find these truths? We’re gonna talk about why it’s hard, and then illustrate the process using a simple example.

Insight Planning Tells You What They Need to Hear

Most messages get caught up in the noise. How do we get customer insights that tell us what we should be asking? The answer is simple; but if you don’t know what you’re doing, the process is hard.

Put simply, insight planning is asking the customer for the deeper/real reason they buy, and so you can create advertising that tells it right back to them. And if done right, it can seem like cheating. Unfortunately, people don’t know how to listen…or they don’t think they do.

In business, it’s easy to think the customer is a machine. On one level, we know they’re people. But we’re in a hurry, and we need to do more with less. So instead of connecting with people, we look for tricks and shortcuts. And instead of doing more with less, we end up doing even less…with less.

Insight Planning is Simple, but Hard

Why don’t more companies conduct insight planning? Because it’s not easy to measure, and everyone wants results right now. So the only people who do it are those who want a deeper connection with their audience. You know, people who are willing to do the hard work of relationship building.

In other words, you have to

  •        Really care what your customers want
  •        Believe there’s something about them you don’t understand
  •        Have the confidence you can get that information if you have the right kind of conversation.

Example Workflow

But instead of me explaining the process, let me jump right to what it looks like. Let’s use a tactical training company in our example. They train people on how to use firearms effectively and safely. Take a minute to translate these questions into your business.

First, some advice. The key to interviewing is to do one-on-one interviews, make them feel relaxed, don’t interrupt, get them talking and slow down the rhythm. You want to go deeper into the questions they seem interested in answering. You know, exactly like you’re talking to a friend who really needs a listening ear.

Insight Planning by Role

Here’s who you talk to and the kinds of questions you’ll ask.

Sales. You talk to sales because they’re close to the customer and often know what turns people on to buy. They also know what topics they try to avoid with customers because they’re embarrassed. But be careful, salespeople aren’t always the best listeners, and they have blind spots too. Often, they’re blind to customer objections, depending on their personality.

  • What is it that people don’t understand about the service?
  • What’s the hardest idea to sell? Why?
  • How are people using the product? Why?
  • What do they love about it?
  • What kinds of objections are people bringing up most? Why do you think that is?
  • Why do people go to a competitive product (even if it’s choosing to do nothing)?

Customer service. You talk to customer service because they’re dealing with repeat issues and can tell you the general feeling of customers after the sale. But be careful, since they’re more concerned with minimizing problems than creating opportunities.

  • What are the biggest complaints? Why?
  • What are the things you’re most proud to tell people? Why?
  • What are the things about the product that seem hardest for customers to understand?

Customers. Talk to customers because, locked within them, they have all the answers you’ll ever need about what will make them buy. But don’t expect them to innovate for you. Often, they don’t know what you’re capable of doing, so they won’t be able to give you ideas for “how to serve them better.” Instead, you’re looking for them to tell you about their lives. Then you come up with things you’re able to to do to make things better. So take your time.

  • What’s your motivation to participate in training? Tell me more about that.
  • What’s your biggest fear that training would prevent? What’s the gap in training for you? In other words, where’s the remaining insecurity that you don’t think training could provide? [Here, you’re guiding them to an insight that your competition doesn’t thinks is there.] Tell me more about that.

Schedule of Tasks

Here’s how insight planning plays out for our fictional tactical training company.


  1. Write a discussion guide.
    • For sales and internal.
    • For customers.
  2. Schedule 6 meetings:
    • 2 with sales on Tuesday.
    • 2 with customer service on Wednesday.
    • 2 with customers on Thursday.


  1. Have your first 2 interviews with sales.
  2. Build your skills with your sales and internal folks. See if you can get them talking about their jobs and relationships with customers.
  3. Edit the discussion guides as much as you see fit.


  1. Conduct 2 interviews with customer service.
  2. Record/capture your insights from sales and customer service in clearly edited format, with quotes.
  3. Create a working hypothesis for the kinds of things customers would be interested in talking about and adjust your discussion guide for tomorrow.


  1. Conduct your 2 customer interviews, creating a relaxed, generous environment where you ease into the conversation and free them to speak, unjudged.
  2. After both are over, capture insights and quotes and build a 2-page summary of only the most clear insights. This is just a draft.


  1. Edit your insights. Write well and be as clear and blunt as possible.
  2. Share those insights with your team or partners and determine 3 ways that the insights should change the way we do things.

Pro Tips

  • This exercise is ideally done with 12 customers by a skilled interviewer. But most businesses would benefit massively from just having even just a few conversations, like in the above example.
  • Keep the conversation going. Let this spur an ongoing effort to block off time to think strategically, not just putting out fires, so you can build a long-term effort. Let me know if you need suggestions.
  • Record video of the customer conversations if you can. There’s nothing quite as convincing as having your customers’ voices and facial expressions telling the story, especially if you need to convince others of your results.
  • Snowball: Ask the interviewees who else you should be talking to.

Now that I’ve told you how to do it, don’t follow this process. Make it your own. Do it faster or slower. Mix up the numbers.

This is Just the First Step

If you can create a tradition of listening well, with the plans and processes to put the insights to work, you won’t be a fake. Instead, you’ll be putting your money where your mouth is, creating value for customers as a humble, listening servant-leader. And you’ll grow relationships as people start to love you for it.

Care to discuss?