– Earth, Stardate 8511 (The Age of the Seller)
Once upon a time, in a galaxy that today must seem far, far away, sellers controlled all information about their products, services, and innovations. Consequently, customers learned what they needed to know from salespeople, who traveled far and wide dispensing information to, and collecting sales from, grateful and beholden customers.
If one had observed such a meeting, the customer would have nodded his head in wonderment as the salesperson revealed the virtual magic that was his product.
And in this land, the Force – control and availability of information – was with the seller.
– Earth, Stardate 10920 (The Age of the Customer)
On present-day planet Earth, if you’re paying attention, you’re sensing a disruption in the Force. Customers still buy from sellers that still provide product information. But observing a customer and salesperson today you will see the former explaining how much she knows about the business’s products, while the salesperson nods his head in wonderment. In this universe, the salesperson is grateful and beholden if the customer just contacts him before deciding from whom she will buy.
In The Age of the Customer, the Force – access to lots of information – is with the customer. It began with the remote control, video recorders, the Internet, on-demand everything, social media, mobile computing, and more recently, IoT – “Internet of Things” things. Today, all of this high-tech stuff has become the Lightsaber of consumers and business customers.
Customers are armed with an abundance of online content, commenting platforms, social media communities, and sexy mobile apps. They not only have access to the information they need to make a better decision but also co-own brand messages in the sub-space chatter about any given seller or product as it’s being evaluated in the online dimension.
Alas, too many small businesses are still operating a Stardate 8511 strategy in Stardate 10920. The predominant response by every one of these sellers is frustration that they have diminishing control over customer relationships, and therefore their future.
Scotty won’t be able to beam you up if you don’t learn how to end this frustration and assume at least co-ownership of the Force. The easiest and most productive way is to conduct frequent and robust conversations with customers about their expectations, which are evolving at light-speed, across all levels of your relationship with them, and will likely include some level of high tech.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to win the online technology race with Amazon, Google, or Wal-Mart. But you must run in the race. And remember, those guys don’t have what you have in abundance that can be as powerful and compelling as any high tech: small business special sauce. What John Naisbitt called, “High touch.”
What does that look like? Amazon can sell you 143 different kinds of backscratchers (I counted), but they can’t scratch one back. That requires “High Touch.” Ask customers how important that is to them.
Write this on a rock … It’s Stardate 10920 – the Force is now with the customer.