When we think of marketing, we think most often of the message we have to share. Yet the most powerful thing we might do as business owners is actually to talk less, and listen more.

In the early days of a business, of course, it's imperative to listen to ourselves. Making sense of our own story as business owners, and sorting out our intentions, helps us manifest them in the world. Branding is that process. It's the journey of finding your own voice, understanding your message and putting together words (and images) that share it.

That's why we engage in branding—as a way to manifest our ideas and meanings tangibly so others can understand them and associate us with them.

But that's only half the story.

If we picture communication as a table, branding sits on one side, and marketing on the other.

Your brand is, of course, about you. But your marketing is all about your customers. It is about understanding what your customers are looking for, how they're talking about their needs , and how your work meets their need. Marketing demands that we speak to the customer how and when they want to be spoken to, in terms that actually trip their emotional triggers and encourage them to buy.

Often we as business owners shy away from this for fear we'll be come manipulative. Or, we're just not sure what to say in the first place, or whom we should say it to.

Add to that the fact that as entrepreneurs, we tend to be insular. Very often we market ourselves based on what we understand, what appeals to us, and what we would click on if we were the customer.

The thing is, we aren't the customer at all.

Even if our target market is "people just like us," there will still be radical differences between us and them.

That's why one of the most effective things you can do for your business (and your sales) is to spend a lot more time listening to the people who really are your customers, or could be. By using their words and their input to shape how you present your offerings, you'll have a much better chance of igniting them to work with you.

Because when it comes to business, if there are no customers, there is no business.

With that in mind, here are five specific benefits that listening carefully and closely to your audience can help you realize, transforming your marketing efforts and help you growing your business:

Benefit #1: New offerings

Listening helps us understand our clients better and find out what their pain points, concerns and struggles are. Or what they wish they could do more of. Their perspective on their sales and marketing may be radically different from ours. There's no way to know this unless we listen to them.

We may also find that we're offering something pretty extraordinary ... that's just totally different from what we think we're offering. Matching your message to your real value can "unlock" a whole lot of missed sales.

Benefit #2: Effective language

It took me awhile in business to notice that my clients are the happiest when I use pieces of their exact language in my documents. I know that sounds bizarre. Aren't they paying me to write something for them? But at the end of the day, seeing our thoughts in print is both gratifying and empowering. When it's on the page, we can go out and own it and live it in new ways.

By listening, I noticed this trend. And I'm now able to serve my clients better as a result. My clients give me rave reviews and a lot of thanks for "capturing" their voice in my work. All I did really was listen.

Benefit #3: Better content

Most of us know we should be sharing regularly on social media to maintain visibility. And writing blog posts that provide our clients with valuable information, demonstrating your expertise. And speaking at events. And writing an e-book. But all that creative activity won't mean a thing if it doesn't resonate with the people who need it.

Perhaps the reason no one reads your blog posts, or clicks on your Facebook offers, is that the way you're presenting your ideas doesn't match how they think about their biggest challenges. Listening can help you learn how to recraft your very same message in terms that resonate.

Benefit #4: More sales

When you listen closely to customers, you'll begin to see areas you could be selling things and aren't yet. Or ways your message could hit its target and doesn't.

Most missed sales opportunities aren't for lack of need to buy, but lack of a compelling reason to buy now.

This doesn't mean you have to start using "pushy" copy. But understanding what is really making your client tick psychologically could result in slight tweaks to your content or words that have big, big sales impact.

Benefit #5: Better clients.

If you're consistently frustrated with the type of client your business attracts, it could be that your message is not calibrated for the type of client you want, and that it's not being seen or found in the right places.

The perfect marketing channel isn't always apparent. Sometimes the right place to present your message is off the beaten path and not apparent. A mismatch between audience and you isn't a failure of the audience; it simply means your message is succeeding with a different person than you were hoping for. Time for a shift.

Little shifts, big change . . .

Listening is a powerful tool for serving your clients better and growing your business. But real listening can be scary. I have to confess that I haven't always wanted to listen to my market as much as I should, because I have answers. I want to share them. I want to solve the world, if only people will listen!

Except that they won't.

At least, not in the way I'm presenting my message.

When we listen, we may find out we've been wrong all along, and we have to start back at ground zero. But at least we'll be starting from a better place and a stronger foundation.

So I've decided to become radically dedicated to listening. So much so, that I've even set up an event where everyone else gets to talk (and help each other solve challenges), while I get to listen quietly and take notes. (If you're in the Milwaukee area, I hope you'll join us!)

Listening is one of the most powerful marketing tools. But sometimes you need help interpreting what you've heard. How do you make sense of the data and use it to actually effect change?

I can help you see where your message and your audience may be sailing right past each other, unawares.

Until next time, speak freely.

What methods do you currently use to listen to your clients and prospects, so you can serve them better? Share your tips below.

Ready to expand your brand and your audience by crafting a more powerful message? Schedule your FREE 1:1 consultation here.