Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Age of the Customer ... outpouring of Spirit

by Dale Shumaker

The Age of the Customer by Jim Blasingame is about moving into relevance. We are moving out of the age of the seller and into the age of the customer.

In the age of the seller, the seller controlled the product and product information and the buyer the buying decision. Word of mouth was very small. Whereas in the age of the buyer, the seller controls the product, but now the buyer is privileged to product information and user generated content, word of mouth makes a decisive difference, and the buyer controls the buying decision. 

It's an age of relevance. The buyer has access to product information and customer opinion before talking to the seller The buyer moves at his urgency to get the product he desires. The seller no longer controls this part of the sale. We are in a transition state to being in the age of the customer who has the greatest control over purchases. This is a long transition cycle starting in 1993 and moving into 2025. 

The customer is empowered and the seller is disrupted. Relevance is the key factor. Does it fit a need or desire now, and how soon can I get it. Urgency is on the side of the buyer. So its relevance to the need of the moment trumps competitiveness. For example, when in a city, and looking to make reservations at a restaurant close to you, the internet is searched. The one closest, and at the time the buyer wants, wins out. Anything a customer can do himself is where service stops and relevance begins. 

The new influencers are the users, and the communities. User generated information is seen by others who are making buying decisions. And then by the communities they are part of. Demographics are not the strong market identifier but the community the person is part of is. Find the communities interested in what you have, and follow the buyer to his community.

The key factors are values you share, the moment of relevance, and trust. Marketing is what you say, whereas values are what you do, not what you say, who you are when no ones watching. People seek values, ethics, integrity and authenticity. Trust weighs heavily into this. Do what you think others expect of you, even when you don't have to. Tell the truth even when it's bad news. 

In taking your product/service to market, it's okay to fall in love with what you do, but it's not okay to fall in love in how you do it. Be ready for the moment of relevance which is enhanced by how you are close by for the customer. You need to be where the customer is looking, is, and ready to take action at that time. Customers are responding less to mass marketing and more to values-based communities. 

Go mobile. The smart phone is contributing to the biggest change and how it affects relevance to the customer. Anywhere, anytime the customer can find what they need now, where it is, what is the fastest way to get it, find out what others think, and respond immediately.  Mobile apps are where people go, but every business should have as a minimum a mobile website. Nothing about your past was mobile. Everything about your future is.

The goal is to have the customer "follow me home." How is that done?  Get permission to send your customer email updates, e-newsletter, texts, tapped into Facebook, your bog to share current postings. and other social media. The key part is getting their permission to follow you. Then ask them the best method for contacting them they prefer: email, text, social media, etc. It's about being relevant by keeping customers informed through the use of new communication technologies and platforms based on customer expectations.

Today's sales process has new rules, new tools, new attitudes, new commitment. Initial qualifying is longer, prospects self-qualify themselves, sellers demonstrate relevance and values before doing business, the self-qualified customer has his own sense of urgency. The new tools are online research, networking in person and online with social medial, with patience, discipline, subtle sense of urgency by the sales person.
Contribute first, contract second. The call back is critical but with information, links, articles, books for the customer... contribute first.

Your goal is to build an online community. Contribute first, contract second. Your future customer will increasingly come from community-building activity, and less from the seller marketing practices and prospect development activity. Use the large platforms, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., as a training ground, to gain access to diverse communities, but then migrate them over to your own platform where you have more control (because the large platforms may change outside your desired interests). 

Use stories of interest to the customer. Connect on an emotional level, convey your expertise, create a memory, and covert the customer.  Be your own publisher so the customer can be informed through you. Make your website your platform of relevant, new information, use blogs. Publish your own e-books.

Be relevant, real, short, regular, and remember form follows function. A website's function is toward distribution, not a destination. It is part of "follow me home" process to have a place they go to get relevancy. 

Small business can take great advantage of services in the cloud... i.e., software services online and not on your harddrive. In the cloud, there is processing power, information power, sales power, talent power and asset protection power. The small business has access to major software that was once available only to those with bigger budgets. Small business should become aware how to use the cloud for their growth and profitability strategies.

The small business needs to really be good at three things:
1. Adopting technological innovations
2. Building strategic alliances
3. Networking.
Today social media provides many networking opportunities, but the "face to face" is still the part that cements a working relationship. It remains important to keep in mind that your influencers are in your communities that rally around what you do, the values you demonstrate are critical, and the new rules for selling as relevance is the leading factor. All these are made more powerful with the "face to face."  Blasingame's law of networking: Networking = Community = Customers. 

Quality process surpasses quality service. Having a quality process in place will produce the quality outcome. Outsourcing provides a small business the same power as larger ones. Plus there is more flexibility to move with needed change quickly and still be response as the customer desires. With technology advances, the cloud, communities all around the world, global e-commerce is available to the smallest business venture. In the new age of the customer, you don't have the luxury to wait for change. You must lead the change.

More on The Age of the Customer

"I will pour out my Spirit upon all people." (Joel 2:28) and then the Terrible(or awe) day of the Lord. It seems in Joel there will be a great outpouring before the end. (I was reminded of the parable of the sower. That may happen after the outpouring.Then will come, the Terrible, shock and awe, day of the Lord.) It seems there will be an outpouring yet in store before love waxes cold. (People insensitive to people.)

The parable of the sower is in Matthew 13. Some seed falls on rocky ground and never takes root, some took root but with only shallow roots, others grew deep with deep roots and with very large produce.  Jesus also says many will not see, or hear. They are blind and deaf to His Spirit. They hear but don't get it, or respond. ...insensitive to it. Our world(media, constant criticism, negativity) is making us all insensitive. People become cold-hearted to each other. This mood is growing. 

Sacrificial love is the Spirit of those in Christ. Concern for others more than ourselves. ... the character of a Christ-centered, Spirit-centered, in-love-with-Jesus centered community. The "what's in it for me" will give way to "how can I help you."Secular sales psychology cozies up to the "what's in it for me" mindset. We prey on someone's self-centeredness. Jesus said the humble will inherit the whole earth (Matt. 5:5). Those who give up more will inherit, be given back, more. (Mark 10:29-31)

John was the only one of the original disciples not killed by someone. When you think about it the Gospel is a tough idea to sell... "join up, and you'll probably die for it." We can see why Jesus said to count the cost, on earth, although, we have much greater reward for those who sacrifice for who He is. To be with the Lord was their Higher aim and we aspire that too.

When you stick your neck out you may get it cut off, some say. The disciples went against the grain in a bold way. But Jesus said He is the resurrection and Life. They literally believed they would be raised to a better life. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to re-enforce their faith. They knew Jesus would and could raise them from the dead. They saw Jesus come back from the dead. It made them eager to be bold, and stick their necks out. They knew what was waiting for them.

Representing the message of Jesus has its risks(from an earthly standpoint). History tells the most committed often died prematurely. Jesus' disciples gave up most of their lives for a cause, because they saw a greater reward ... faith in a resurrection. And through John, Jesus showed them what the new Heaven and earth would be like. What a picture of our final destination!

John was not martyred. He was exiled to a place where He was left alone. It was there he received a direct revelation of Jesus Christ. When we are alone, we can receive similar revelations. God made us so He can communicate in Spirit what is to come. In the exiled place, we receive such revelations. In Spirit we know what we may face, although, His Spirit gives us the strength beyond our natural abilities to face it courageously

Thus, we are more than conquerors, victors in all the battles of life.