“Follow Your Lead? What’s In It For Me??”

We all know the expression (where did it come from, anyway? Anybody know??) – “Let’s not go there!”

If a topic for potential discussion touches a painfully raw nerve, we’d just as soon bypass that destination. Don’t go there! Why? Because we see only pain, no gain.

To “go there,” we need a compelling WWIFM (What’s In It For Me). And it’s the same with leadership of others. People will follow a leader – if the destination looks like gain that will outweigh any anticipated pain.

I hate to go all non-idealistic on you, but my buy-in to any vision and direction is correlated to my sense, my agreement, that the goal, and the leader, are aligned with my best interests.

However skillfully we paint the picture and seek to rally support, if those that are to follow us don’t want to “go there,” we’re not going to lead them there.

Now, if know me, you know I’m an idealist. And I firmly believe that people operate best when they are involved in a cause, a mission, much bigger than themselves. But I also know that, whatever the cause – however grand and sweeping and even sacrificial it may be – the engine that will drive a group of people to follow is alignment of interests that includes a clear WIIFM.

So – how do we get others to follow our lead? Bluntly put, it’s sales – not slimy, sleazy, lying sales, but selling nonetheless. It’s selling the vision – AND selling the benefits to the customer. If you’re a leader, you’re in sales – simple as that.

What was Steve Jobs of Apple, if not a consummate salesperson? He had to sell his entire organization on his vision of supremely great user experience – and, when it was time to step down, he also had to achieve buy-in that the next leader would carry on the vision. No small task!

Take everything my LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli wrote in her prep post for our discussion this week (Leadership Advice – Getting Others to Follow Your Lead). Package together Vision, Trust, Communication, and Energy, and what do you have? Effective selling (the kind that exists with integrity).

What do you think? How do you enable others to follow you? Join us for the discussion on LeadershipChat (#LeadershipChat on Twitter) at 8 pm ET Tuesday night, November 8th as we tackle this topic. You’ll find a group of warm, smart, and motivated friends who will welcome you to our weekly chat at the leadership table!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Selling You

>> Choose Your Lane

Selling You

If you’re an entrepreneur, a consultant, or a professional salesperson/marketer, you’re continually selling. Whether you like it or not, promotion is a major part of your professional life.

Here’s the secret – the most important sale is you.

Often, you’ll see someone get in front of a client, and they will rush to pull out the sales collateral or the computer demos and start selling. This can be a big mistake. While there is a place for the pitch, your prospective client, perhaps in a completely unspoken and unconscious way, is looking to buy a person.

They want someone with expertise, with a service mindset, with trustworthiness, with humanity, upon whom they can lean. Not just for the next 45 minutes, but for years. Isn’t that the kind of customer relationship you want?

When you have those precious minutes in front of a prospect or customer, go in thinking about one thing – how can I help? Not, how can I get the most dollars out of their pocket in the shortest amount of time?

Believe me, they can smell the difference. You may have the best product or service around. But if the customer isn’t sold on you, they’re not buying.

Earn the opening. Then worry about closing.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Dynamite Presentations: Start Here

>> Breaking Free of Powerpoint

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Retail or Referral Thinking?

If you’re involved in social media as a professional – hoping to gain some business benefit from social networks – then you have a decision to make. Often, that means you have to question a certain default marketing setting and decide what is the right approach for you.

Are you going to approach social networks with primarily a retail, or a referral, mindset?

A retail mindset, which dominates much of traditional marketing, is typically a numbers game. It’s about reach. More eyeballs, more customers, more volume, more dollars. Translated to social networks, that means more subscribers/readers/connections leading to more potential sales of something.

It’s not wrong. It’s how one part of the business game is played. If everyone is clear on the rules, it’s fine. And on our networks, we’ve refined a pretty effective freemium model (give some level of knowledge/consulting/e-product away as a taste, then charge for the deeper level).

If you want to sell ads, sell books, sell keynote speaking, or sell memberships, it’s quite legitimate. But bear in mind that it isn’t the only way to do business via social networks. It may be our default setting, leading us to crave more, more, MORE numbers – but there’s a different mindset that may be appropriate for the vast majority of us who are not going to generate revenue-by-retail.

The referral mindset focuses on depth and quality. It recognizes that much long-term business comes from a core group of committed fans and activists. This approach is not simply thinking of short-term revenue transactions (which, again, aren’t wrong), but is more concerned with building deep and enduring relationships with people who will influence the marketplace as continual sources of referrals.

In one case, the goal is a simple transaction – dollars for perceived value right now. It requires scale to succeed. In the other, the foundation is character, reputation, loyalty…dare I say love? It is providing the deep value of walking alongside a limited number of like-minded others and being personally invested in their business success. It’s radical, it’s daring, it’s long-term – and it is decidedly NOT the default setting of our short-term marketing culture.

It’s personal.

Of course, large numbers of connections and building a referral network is not mutually exclusive. From the numbers come the individuals who become the advocates and collaborators. But in the referral approach, while having a large network could lead to some level of retail transactions, the primary goal is to exchange value at a deeper and longer-term level.

I have built reasonably large networks in the pharma/healthcare field, and in the general social media/marketing realm. Yet, my paying business really comes from a small handful of clients, and most new opportunities are driven by advocates who are committed to me as a person and a professional. Personally, I don’t feel a need for a bestseller on the NY Times book list. I just want to get to know the best people. They are my best sellers (and I am theirs).

Let’s face it – some people are really great at drawing crowds, and figuring out ways to retail things to them. And some of those folks also know how to work on the referral level at the same time. But for many of us, it’s worth questioning the default setting of more, more, MORE. Will your business grow primarily as a result of quantity, or quality, of connections? Answer that question, and your networking strategy will become clear.

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Recently on Connection Agent:

5 Reasons Why Twitter Might Soon Be Dispensable

Why Google+ Could Succeed

Build Your Own Opportunity Network (free e-book)

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Each and Recently

The old marketing model emphasized “reach and frequency.”

Try to expose your message to as many as possible, as often as possible. A certain percentage will respond.

It’s a numbers game. And, it de-personalizes your audience. They’re a target. A demographic. Occupiers of a business funnel.

Been there. Done that.

Instead, let’s think in terms of “each and recently.” There is a growing pool of people who rely on you for information, connections, and services. They become customers, friends, collaborators, and, in a wonderful way, the most effective sales force you could possibly have.

Touch each of them. Make sure, as their names come to mind, that you’ve somehow touched them recently. And don’t worry a whole lot about the reach and frequency numbers game.

They’ll do that for you.

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“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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Five in the Morning 121008

Lists, lists, lists. It’s that time of year – lots of Top 10s. Louis Gray has a nice summary of Top 2008 web services (and their prognosis for 2009). Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy at ReadWriteWeb sums up the Top 10 Consumer web apps of 2008 (quite diff list from Louis’). And then, of course, there’s Time.com‘s Top 10 Everything of 2008. Plan on spending some time here…

Should bloggers/social media types self-promote? Mack Collier started up this discussion. I also chimed in, as did Lisa Hoffmann. Read the posts and the comments – what do you think?

Matt Dickman with some thoughts on HR in the age of Social Media.

Not Everyone likes Coffee. Consider your audience and their tastes as you serve “your stuff” up. Good thoughts from Jon Swanson over at Levite Chronicles. (Jon – strong! Cream and a little sugar…).

The Only Important Thing is….what??? You’ll have to let Doug Meacham tell you!

PLUS – Sarah sold me on Opera – sorta. How one voice can bring you into a new genre. AND – this Spouse 2.0 concept is just bizarre. Really. Don’t do it!

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Five in the Morning 120908

Negative PR in advertising travels fast! Just ask Dr. Pepper (from USA Today – hat tip to @prsarahevans)

Will MLM kill Twitter? What do you think so? I doubt it, but some interesting points made nonetheless. From Karl Long.

Fun - Superlist of what NOT to do in Social Media. Courtesy of Robin Broitman at IIG. On the flip side, Lee Odden shares 26 tips on being Social Media Smart.

Thank you very much for the link, Mike Sansone. Now THIS is how to search for that perfect image in Flickr!!!

How do you compare with other Twitter users? Jeremiah Owyang brings out some very interesting stats from HP Lab’s research on Twitter use.

BONUS – As a rule I don’t watch long videos on the web, in particular not 15-minute ones. Yet, very late one night, when unable to fall back asleep, I stumbled across this one on Cheryl Smith‘s site, and it captured my attention. The message continues to resonate in my mind and heart. It may seem hokey the first few minutes, but stick with it. You may need, as I did, a reminder about the importance of Validation.

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Right on, Target

target-logo1I’m a guy, so understand that I can be dumb at times. Like, going into Target today to buy a couple of things. How ridiculous is that concept? Everyone knows that if you go to Target, you automatically have to count on buying at least 2, if not 3 times what you intended.

Anyway, intending to just pick up my couple of pre-planned items, I did not grab one of those hand-held shopping baskets (let alone a cart – guys don’t do carts for little runs like this!). Needless to day, before I ever got to the items I needed, I already had an arm full of two bulky things I didn’t know I needed, and my cash-and-carry bandwidth was about to be exceeded.

Here is where Target is very smart.

There, far away from the front or the registers, was one of those containers holding the shopping baskets! In fact, sprinkled throughout the store, just for dunces like me, were these handy outposts. A small touch. But very smart!

Why? Because now I could spend even more – and I did (yes, you can picture my wife rolling her eyes when I came in the door). More carry, more cash for Target – and I was happy too. Yet how many stores make you walk all the way back to get a basket or cart, putting up a barrier to extracting maximum dollars from you? Because I don’t believe I would have spent as much had that basket not been right where I needed it. Right on, Target. You know your shoppers.

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I am not a “Salesman”

For two decades, my primary professional role was Sales. Yes, I did marketing as well, and some biz dev strategic stuff, and some management, but my primary role was getting business.

I succeeded. And never felt comfortable doing it.

used-car-salesmanI’d see “real” salespeople – folks who could establish rapport at the drop of the hat, or relentlessly drive a deal to its conclusion, or blast past yearly quotas by July, and I’d feel thoroughly inferior. Yet there I was, in Sales (ummm…high-end healthcare stuff, not like the guy you see over to the right!)

Over time, I came to realize that my discomfort stemmed from a mis-match – pushing a product, or hitting numbers, or winning a deal, simply didn’t drive me. I want to help people. I want to think things through, and solve problems. I care more about telling the truth than making the sale. I am an analyzer, not a promoter; a native introvert, not a schmoozer.

But, people bought from me because they trusted me. So I succeeded anyway. Until hitting the wall and finally admitting to myself, “I’m not a Salesman.”

This was a liberating realization. Now I could be free to tap into what I truly was – a problem solver. A resource-finder. A connector. A consultant. And I decided to go off on my own and create my own job/role/company built around precisely those things.

Can I sell? Actually, yes. I can be very persuasive. People listen to me and follow my advice – not because I’m a promoter, but because I’m a listener and a problem-solver. And is there a place in this shark-infested business world for someone who wants to help other people, for someone who cares about doing what’s right, for someone who wants to build a network in order to do good?

Yes, there is. And that’s why I’m sharing this. Are you mis-matched in your role, driven by something other than what that job requires? Get honest – don’t be afraid to look in the mirror and say, “I’m not a….” Then work on identifying who/what you really are, what your value-add truly is.

Perhaps you can make a new professional life for yourself. It’s worth the effort, time, and risk. And if you do it, let me know if I’ve “sold” you!

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The Little Spoilers that Kill a Sale

Last week, I went looking for a new vehicle for our family. We’d narrowed it down to a good-sized “crossover” SUV from one manufacturer, or a minivan from another.

As always, things look great on paper, but you have to test drive these things to see if they feel right.

I got into the crossover for the test drive, and before we went anywhere, I knew it wasn’t going to be the choice. Game over. Eliminated.

Had a similar experience some years back, when I bought a Mazda 626. One of the models I was considering was a Honda Accord – great name, excellent cars, well worth considering. But before turning the key, it was crossed off the list.

Why?

Seat belts. Specifically, the anchor points for the front seat belts could not be adjusted high enough, and therefore the seat belt tugged down on my shoulder. Game over.

I’m of average height – a little under 6 feet tall. A lot of people are my size and bigger. And do you mean to tell me that car manufacturers cannot put people my height into a driver’s seat during the design phase and check on a little thing like this??

That little spoiler has killed two car sales for me so far, and who knows how many others for drivers who have felt the same.

You can have the greatest reputation for reliability, cool design, top-notch features, but if you don’t make me feel comfortable, I walk.

User design matters. Not only in cars, but in software and everywhere else.

What are some of the spoilers you’ve experienced?

Zoom Zoom

Recently, one of our 3 cars (the one for the driving teens) blew an engine. Around the same time, I was ready to sell off the used car I’d been driving for business, and lease a new one. So, I had to sell one used car, buy another used car (hooray for Craig’s List!), and lease a new one.

Yes, it’s been a stressful few weeks (the car situation, along with work demands and some family/extracurricular pile-ons, did wonders for draining my creative impulses!).

mazda6.jpgSince the team over at BrandingWire recently did posts on the automobile dealership experience, I thought I’d describe my experience securing a lease on a 2007 Mazda6.

Basically, it was quite positive. The initial showroom experience was good – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a dealer and a random salesperson approaches you, but Fernando over at Wayne (NJ) Mazda was straightforward and professional. This is a high-volume Mazda dealer and they seem to have embraced some sound customer service principles (note to webmaster, however: your website ain’t that hot).

I had pretty much pre-selected the Mazda6 as my car of choice, but we went over the various options and packages, and I settled on a configuration I wanted. I then just wrote down what I was willing to offer on a piece of paper, handed it to Fernando, and with very little back-and-forth, the deal was done. It probably helped that this was on the last Saturday in September; the end-of-quarter is an ideal time to buy a car.

The pick-up experience was relatively painless, the follow-up has been good, and the car has been an absolute pleasure. Would I recommend this dealer? Based on my experience thus far, sure. And when it’s time to consider a new family-hauler, will I look at a Mazda over at Wayne? Sure. So far, so good…

(btw, the car is a 6-speed V6, and yes, it does Zoom Zoom when you need it!)

BrandingWire – Marketing IT Services

it-service.jpgOur BrandingWire challenge this month is helping a small IT services company in Canada promote and distinguish themselves. The full marketing brief for this challenge is here; in short, this growing company needs to find ways to communicate the value it provides to new clients, who often simply view them as an “IT repair” shop. They provide a full suite of services, and would like to get more regularly-paying customers on monthly service contracts.

From a marketing/promotional perspective, my immediate impression is two-fold:

1. Front-and-center, the company should promote itself as a service provider that removes a problem. Specifically, “we deal with all your (IT) headaches.” Clients need a reason to NOT view this type of company as a “call them when we need something fixed” shop. Executives in client companies have plenty of headaches. Outsourcing one of them can be quite desirable. By positioning their company as a business partner who simplifies the client’s life by bringing unique expertise, they can rise above any inaccurate preconceived notion that they are just a bunch of technicians.

2. As far as pricing goes, a comparative approach is probably the most effective. What is the average daily dollar amount for having this headache removed, compared to (say) business lunches, Starbucks, lawyer fees, etc.? And, to work the highly effective fear angle – what is the cost of one hour/day/week of downtime?

Because these two approaches are not necessarily unique to the company, they need to look at other ways to truly distinguish themselves. One way that they are already pursuing is a “Green” initiative, which has a nice P.R. overlay, but doesn’t easily take root as providing immediate and tangible customer benefit. Since IT support companies usually work on a fixed monthly retainer basis, I’d look at adding a way to give credits – for instance, if support needs are below a certain threshold on a given month, the client is credited with $___ applied to next month, or the extra is “banked” for heavier months. This is tangible, customer-focused, and addresses the fear that the client will be ripped off by paying too much for a monthly service contract.

Finally, I’d make heavy use of testimonials on all marketing materials. Especially, I’d ask existing clients to focus on the themes of “headache removal,” exemplary customer service, understanding of their business, etc. Most IT companies make the mistake of using far too much geek-speak to sell their services. In the small-to-medium sized business markets, the ones writing the checks are more immersed in business issues, and cannot as easily relate to the technical issues. They want headaches removed, downtime eliminated, minimal disruptions to workflow, reliability, and integrity. That should be the focus of communications (as an aside, when I ask clients for testimonials, I usually write up “suggested wording” instead of leaving it to them to come up with something – most really appreciate that, and then, of course, the testimonial emphasizes exactly what you are after!).

Catch some other high-voltage ideas from the members of the BrandingWire posse (including several guest bloggers this month!): Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll, Olivier Blanchard, Matt Dickman, Chris Brown, Cam Beck

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Marketing a Flop

20070821123022.jpgMy wife recently got something that’s a brilliant marketing move. What does Jelly Belly do with all their “defective” jelly beans? Well, they sell them – just packaged into 2-lb. bags called Belly Flops!

They taste just like regular Jelly Belly beans, but the shapes are somewhat…creative. I have a jar of them 3 feet behind me on a shelf right now, tasty little diet-busters that they are.

Turns out you can also order them on-line – here’s the site.

Some companies seem absolutely embarrassed by anything less than perfect – and, of course, this approach wouldn’t work for many products (“Come on down to our Ford Flops outlet!”). But I like the posture these folks have taken, having some fun with the inevitable imperfections of product manufacturing. This shows a company that is secure enough in their brand identity to poke a little fun at their own expense.

Driving Away Customers

The title of this post pretty well sums up how I view the typical auto dealer experience. I think that entire sales/service model is on a downhill slide.

cars.jpgNot that every single experience I have had has been negative. I can think of a couple semi-positive ones, actually. And they were good strictly because the individual I was dealing with was low-pressure, informative, and pretty straightforward.

So, I tried to envision the elements of a radically different car dealership that would make me change my mind. What would it be like?

First, there would be an entirely different view of the role of the dealership, and the dealer-customer relationship. The standard method now in use is The Pressured Immediate Transaction Success model (The PITS), whereby all focus is getting the “victim” to make some kind of transaction decision now. That’s not a customer relationship – it’s manipulation. So that has to go – but with what to replace it?

Here would be my dream car-buying experience. I’d walk in the dealership, and be immediately greeted by someone (very warm, very professional) at a reception desk whose role it is to find out what exactly I need there today. Am I browsing? Am I looking to make a purchase? What kind of car? Do I have serious technical questions? This person sets a friendly, upbeat tone – instead of the typical wandering into a showroom, either ignored by overly busy salespeople hunched over cheesy-looking desks, or descended on by some shark that has marked me out as his personal victim by virtue of having claimed me first when I came in (I’ve experienced both of these first-hand).

I am directed to where the coffee is, and invited to make myself comfortable. There is a corner with literature on all the models, plus touch screen video displays where I can learn more about each car. The receptionist introduces me to the right person who, as a first step, sits down with me on some comfortable furniture and asks basic questions about what my needs and desires are. A real sales consultant, who listens, and even asks me questions that I didn’t think of myself. Someone who assumes that I am a person, not a means to the end of meeting his quota of victims that day.

That person then introduces me to the potential model(s) that might fit my needs. There is always a technical specialist available in the area, so that if my questions go into realms of engine and transmission design, detailed comparisons with other models, and other specifications, instead having to tolerate a babbling salesperson who only wants to avoid such distractions in order to make a sale, I’m treated with respect by interacting with someone knowledgeable.

car-salesman.jpgThen, with a nod of the head to the Saturn approach that went so well in its earlier years, we go over the price. Since dealer cost is now readily available with very little on-line effort, there’s no sense playing the game anymore. The price sheet has a list of all the desired options, and two totals at the bottom – the dealer’s cost, and the selling price. One price, same for all, no haggling. I will pay a reasonable mark-up, if I know it’s fair and I’m not being lied to. And no stupid game of going to the backroom and pretending to convince the mysterious sales manager that we really got to make a deal here today. Whoever came up with that customer-hostile model anyway? The whole “deal” mentality should be thrown overboard.

And how about seeing that customer – that adopter – as a long-term client, whose friends and children and professional colleagues all will become adopters as well? What about providing an entire life-cycle of services in a customer-focused way that will build incredible loyalty?

For instance, the general reputation of auto dealer service departments is that they’re the place to go if you want to overpay. Again, the maximize-revenue-from-each-transaction model. And, although I am certain there are many exceptions, my experience has, unfortunately, reinforced that impression. I go to a dealer as a LAST resort, not as a first choice – and that is exactly backwards. Can’t an innovative dealership seek to provide such good, honest, reliable, and affordable service, that I wouldn’t want to entrust my car to anyone else? And since cars are so reliable now, with maintenance more to the fore than repairs, can dealers become more like the Jiffy Lubes of the world, with rapid, predictable and affordable maintenance services? Why give all that steady business and good-will away?

If I had the luxury of re-inventing the entire automobile distribution business from scratch, here is how I would do it, taking into account the disintermediation of the web that really removes a lot of the necessity of the legacy dealership model:

1. Auto manufacturers have a small number of vast regional inventory centers, where cars are available for distribution. This inventory is owned by the manufacturer, thereby removing that overhang of financial pressure from dealers, and ensuring that manufacturers will make the models and configurations that actually sell.

2. Micro-dealers have a limited number of demo models, along with multimedia kiosks that have the ability to fully display configurations, and place orders. These local outposts are where prospective buyers can actually try out models by test-driving and talking with sales consultants. But rarely do they buy “off-the-lot” – the normal procedure is a delivery from the regional center a day or two later, where a far richer inventory of models, colors, and configurations are available. This removes the pressure to move sheet metal off the dealer’s “lot,” since that is no longer the goal. The goal is to get the customer the model they want.

3. Micro-dealers may also encompass, or be affiliated with, used-car sales, quick-maintenance facilities, and/or full repair services.

For many people, access to the Internet means that information is no longer needed from a traditional dealer. Frankly, I simply don’t need a car salesman. Information on models, pricing, availability, etc. is openly accessible, as are customer reviews. If people really know what they want, they can simply order it on-line, have it delivered from the regional facility to the nearest micro-dealer outpost, and be done with it. Unrealistic? Maybe. But as a customer, I’d move to that model in a heartbeat!

Get more high-voltage ideas from the entire posse at BrandingWire.com.

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

“Customer-Focused Selling”

Last week, I was sitting in a conference workshop where the theme was a customer-focused selling program.

Now I’m all for customer focus in every aspect of business – from product design to branding to marketing to customer support and service. But something was sticking in my craw as I sat through this session (which had to do with a customer-focused selling methodology in the pharmaceutical industry).

Here’s what it boils down to: is this “customer-focused” approach an end in itself? Or is it just a means to an end?

Let me explain. A pharmaceutical sales representative succeeds by promoting the usage (hopefully, by promoting the properly defined usage) of his/her company’s products. Fair enough. But how is success actually MEASURED? Is it customer satisfaction?

Actually, a few of the key tangible measures of success by which a sales rep is held accountable are the following:

    1. Increased prescription business
    2. Number of calls made per day
    3. Promotional actions correctly taken (samples delivered, dinner meetings set up, etc., etc.)

These are company-centric, quota-centric, performance-centric measures. And, in fact, these more tangible, objective activities and outcomes are more easily measured than something such as customer satisfaction.

I’m not saying that any of these are unimportant, or shouldn’t be tracked. What makes me uncomfortable is that the real goal ends up being what is measured. Teachers “teach to the test.” And reps perform to the yardstick to which they are accountable.customer-focus.jpg

All of which makes a “customer-focused” selling program seem like a means to an end, not an end in itself. There is the whiff of hypocrisy that seems to hover over the whole thing; an undercurrent of manipulation. Are companies rolling out these programs because of a core belief in being customer-centered? Or because they “work” better toward the real end, which is better numbers?

Is it a core commitment? Or just another technique?

I should conclude this post by saying that I have been in sales – in one form or another – for 20+ years. The times when I have been most uncomfortable as a salesman are when I’ve seriously questioned, in my own heart and conscience, whether what I was offering was really the best choice for the customer. Does slathering a “customer-focused” technique over that cognitive dissonance make one a better salesperson? Or just another peddlar, trying to make a buck any way possible?

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