People staring down at a mobile device is now much more the norm than people looking around the room for someone to talk to at an event. As addicting as mobile phones can be, you won't grow your network or your business unless you pay attention to what's happening right now, right where you are.

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Failing to pay attention has real, bottom line consequences according to attention and productivity expert Neen James. "In the U.S.," says Neen, "we lose $588 billion dollars every year because we're not paying attention."

To sustain and grow a business, you must pay attention to customers, clients, and even employees, Neen observes. "If we don't have the right campaign for our client, if we don't have the right level of service for our client, if we don't have the right team member serving that client, if the client doesn't feel that level of attention is worth their attention, if they don't feel like we see them and we hear them and we're treating them like an individual, they'll go somewhere else."

"When you think about it," Neen continues, "with some customers we won't even know about that: we'll just see our sales start to decline, and we'll see our top talent go and work for someone else because we're not paying attention to those clients. We're not paying attention to that talent."

I invited Neen to Marketing Smarts to talk about her "Attention Pays Framework": the three ways we pay attention, and to explain how businesses can get (and keep) the attention of their clients, customers, members, or patients. Neen also shares insights from her new book, Attention Pays: How to Drive Profitability, Productivity, and Accountability.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

To really pay attention, listen with your eyes (06:11): "I learned how to listen from a five-year-old. I was having coffee with my neighbor, Eileen, and her five-year-old son Donovan kept inserting himself into the conversation. She and I literally were just trying to have a cup of coffee and he kept asking me all these questions and he was getting more and more frustrated as I was half-listening to him and half-listening to Eileen, his mum. And he jumped up into my lap and grabbed my face, turned it towards him, and said 'Neen, listen with your eyes.' 

"We don't listen to people with our eyes. We don't look at people and give them our undivided attention. That is the easiest way to pay attention: start listening with our eyes. When someone walks up to us in our store, when we're on the telephone instead of checking email, think about how we can listen with our eyes more. One of our big downfalls is we're multitasking and kind of half-listening to everything. Start listening with your eyes. That is the key to paying attention."

Set the stage for better listening by eliminating distractions beforehand (07:23): "Identify what are the distractions that are taking your attention. It could be devices, it could be having all the apps open on your laptop while you're involved in a meeting. It could be that you have an incredibly crazy messy desk and you can't seem to focus on anything. The first step in listening more intently and with intention is to eliminate distractions.

"What that also might mean is you have to create an environment where you can listen better. It might be about putting away devices. It might be, if you're trying to focus on writing a client proposal or trying to finalize a campaign or a startegy, it might be that you have to go and find a quiet space where you can work more focused and away from all the noise, away from the clutter, away from the distraction. If you want to start somewhere, eliminate distractions first, so you can pay attention to what really matters."

Know and nurture your VIPs—"Very Inspiring People" (11:13): "There's two kinds of people in the world: there are 'VIPs'—very inspiring people—and then there's 'VDPs'—Very Draining People." Sometimes these people are our families, sometimes they are our clients. So, when you focus on VIPs, think about the people that, when you're with them, you feel so much more energized. You feel like you can really conquer the world. You have clients who are VIPs, the people who might be great advocates for you. They might promote you to others. They might really love the products and services you offer.

"So I believe in what we call 'systemized thoughtfulness,' meaning you should create systems for reaching out to those VIPs on a regular basis. In my case, I do it every month. I have a system that's not super fancy, it's literally a spreadsheet, but I have a list of the advocates who are my VIPs and I reach out to them every single month. It could be I send them a TED talk I'm watching or a book I'm reading or an article I read. Or there might be be something as I'm out and about that I see and it makes me think of them, because they're top of mind for me, and I send it to them.

"What we want to consider is, in our industry, in our business, in our personal lives, as well, there are people who are our VIPs. Set up an appointment in your calendar every month to reach out to your VIPs so that you say to them 'hey, I see you, you're important to me.' It might be a handwritten note, it might be a phone cal, it might be a text message. This 'systemized thoughtfulness puts you back on their radar.'

To learn more, visit or follow Neen on Twitter: @NeenJames, and be sure to pick up your copy of Attention Pays: How to Drive Profitability, Productivity, and Accountability.

Neen and I talked about much more, including the importance of mentoring (and how to establish a mentoring relationship), as well as how to create a culture where team members are more "intentionally present," so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by GoToWebinar:

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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