How to Get Customers to Conform

The reason your sales and business development outreach isn’t working…is attributable to a increasing lack of customer compliance. They are supposed to take your call, listen to your pitch, and by golly – just give you a shot at the order. Everyone gets the same consideration. Everyone gets a chance. These are the rules. Of course if customers followed the rules, you would always win because you have better people, products, and a nifty catchphrase.

At InfoComm AVEC 2015, author B. Joseph (Joe) Pine spoke about the realities of a frictionless marketplace. In his book The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, he talks about how companies must form unique connections with customers in order to thrive and thereby he makes a direct connection between the customer experience and the economic vitality of the supplier. As market friction reduces, the importance of the customer experience increases. Personalized attention and customization has intangible value.

The Sears Catalog appeared in 1894. It was written in plain language, accessible to everyone, and made consumer and commercial goods more accessible to the average consumer. It was the Amazon.com of the time.

The promise (or threat) of the frictionless market is that buyer and seller, producer and consumer will be able to do business directly with each other. The consumer will seek the least resistant path to goods and services. Resistance can be measured in price, fit, and sensation. A fairly priced product that meets the consumer’s needs can be overcome by a positive experience. A cup of coffee at the local 7-11 is inexpensive and arguably drinkable. Why would anyone pay twice as much for a Starbucks? If you are going to stop anyway, why not enjoy the experience of Starbucks? Isn’t that the value proposition?

If you want customers to do business your way, then your way had better include something of value to the customer. Amazon Prime does this by offering the perception of savings on shipping costs for a modest increase in purchase price. The user interface is improved when Amazon identifies which products are eligible for the savings. The experience is enhanced even more when the most popular items are listed first, saving the shopper even more time. As a consumer, you can crowdsource your shopping, find the best price, verify availability, lock in shipping costs, get an estimated delivery date, and pay – all at the same time. Compare that to ‘everything you have ever bought before.’

Conforming to how the chain does business is part of that experience. “Iced Half-caf Double Tall Non-fat Peppermint Mocha Without Whip” Anyone?

Great companies can convince consumers to conform, but how can the rest of us do this? Translating the kludgy transactional user interface of the AV Industry to an experience-savvy consumer is challenging, but increasingly necessary as margins for undifferentiated business continue to fall.

As Joe Pine said in his presentation at InfoComm AVEC, “Protecting the old-school rules of business accelerate stagnation.” In other words, customer compliance comes from exceeding current expectations with fresh experiences, not from pulling the buyer backwards to your model.

Uber commoditizes transportation at a high service level – certainly higher than trying to wave down a taxi in Manhattan at five o’clock. And how has the market reacted to this service? Uber is now one of the largest companies in the world and traditional transportation is reeling. In the meantime, taxi services are battling to keep Uber out of airports, at least to keep Uber drivers from picking up fares. It’s not working. Dedicated Uber business travelers will tell you that they get around municipal restrictions to protect taxis by taking a free shuttle to a nearby hotel or rental car lot and direct their Uber driver there. How bad does your taxi service need to be for customers to go to such lengths?

If your response to market change is to blame the customer, you’ve gone off the rails.

My point is, customers don’t conform. They are remarkable in their ability to expect suppliers to change. However, not all customers want change. Many have learned how to leverage the status quo to their advantage. Some subset of sellers will always pander to the price shopper because the supplier believes that price represents the greatest friction in the marketplace. What warrants consideration is whether the price shopper would response positively to a better experience? And, what portion of buyers are truly unbendable in their quest for the best price? Ask Amazon and Uber what they think.

What does this mean for the AV Industry? Given that audiovisual products and services are experiential in the first place, isn’t it time we let the creative people that apply them help us better understand how to sell them?

Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Learn More at TRSTIMSON.COM