Robert Bloom, retired U.S. CEO of Publicis Worldwide and author of The Inside Advantage, believes there has been a profound shift in the buyer-seller equation. His premise is that “buyers no longer care who they buy from.” His simple explanation is that technology has allowed buyers to take control. They have become their own experts in the decision process.
The internet now represents the confluence of technology and choice. Buying is easier, faster, simpler, and cheaper. In addition, Facebook and Twitter connects millions of customers with millions of sellers, and millions of sellers with millions of customers – in real time. These networks allow customers to collaborate and share reactions further enabling them to be more demanding and forthcoming with their changing requirements. And powerful software applications for mobile devices like the iPhone are making it easy for bargain- hunting consumers to see if another retailer is offering a better deal.
Bloom’s main argument is that sellers must think like buyers if they are to succeed in the virtual e-trading world of the future. He explains that buyers now benefit and enjoy going online to compare every aspect of the purchase they intend to make, online or off. With a few clicks you know more about the products and services you are considering than many of those whose job it is to facilitate the purchase.
Bloom refers to the Amazon model and quotes Jeff Bezos basic assumption: “we start with customers, figure out what they want, and then figure out how to get it to them.” He concludes that the surest way to become or remain 1st choice is to think like your customers, stay connected to your customers so they want to stay connected to you, and deliver on what you promise.
Robert Bloom challenges CEOs to consider the following questions:
1. Does your company understand today’s technology-empowered buyer?
2. Do you still think like your customer does (that is, like a buyer), or do you still think like a seller?
3. Can you persuade prospects to choose your brand over your competitors?
He also discusses another emerging concept – codesign technology, that allows customers to customize products to their own preferences much like BMW has offered on their Mini Cooper for quite some time now. Bloom believes that very soon almost every site in the world will encourage and enable customers to codesign. BMW also offers this option on all models being manufactured at their new U.S. manufacturing facility and satisfied buyers have already taken advantage of this neat new online feature. The obvious advantage for the seller is reduced costs from direct manufacturing of a buyers customized and more profitable additional requirements, and very satisfied buyers who get a product faster and in a unique configuration that they designed.
The author suggests that there is an urgent need for a new global business model that is consistent with the following realities:
1. Today’s buyer is in control of the purchase progression.
2. Today’s buyer is intensely self-serving.
3. Today’s buyer no longer cares from whom she buys.
He believes that any company’s new business model must be customer-centric. Bloom states that “your biggest opportunity and vulnerability is your website.” He concludes that your website is likely to be the most meaningful source of first encounters for new buyers. Using Amazon as the model Bloom explains that their site design is exceptionally efficient. He observes that most home pages do not clearly define the single most important customer benefit the seller offers, so the buyer’s finger instantly clicks the seller into “oblivion.”
Bloom cites 1-800-Flowers as another example of a vendor that offers easy to understand features that anticipate buyer’s needs. He emphasizes that there is no better business investment than a well designed, well functioning, customer centric website.
The best advice in the book is in Chapter 4 where Bloom explains in great detail the four most important things to consider when adopting a customer centric model for success:
1. Consistently refresh your site keeping your value proposition clear and motivating to compel an online purchase or off-line consideration.
2. Invest in software to provide prospect-to-customer conversion data.
3. Analyze the volume of contacts from all sources to determine future actions to optimize online traffic to your site.
4. Train all employees who come in contact with prospects in the most effective conversion techniques.
The seller’s new role is customer engagement. Bloom refers to Stanley Marcus as the master of engagement. Rather than sit in his office, Marcus would roam the store, welcoming and engaging prospects and big spenders alike. Bloom continues the Marcus example with his Rules of Customer Engagement:
- Engagement is not the buyer’s job. It is the seller’s job.
- Engagement doesn’t just happen – it must be made to happen.
- Engagement must not be interrupted by other business issues – the buyer wants to feel that he or his firm is the only star in the galaxy.
- Engagement that is backed up by a written confirmation is more valuable than a handshake or promise.
- Engagement without fulfillment is both dangerous and counterproductive.
This book captures the essence of the upheaval in the fundamental buyer-seller equation, and offers up solid recommendations on how to change any sellers mindset to think more like buyers. Wal-Mart has become the first choice for millions of customers. Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart captured this best when he said: “think about the way that you yourself would act, or do act, as a customer.”
In another example Bloom explains that Apple creates customer preference by inspiring its customers to be part of the elite passionate community of Apple lovers who feel personally defined by the brand.
While a lot of what Bloom discusses and repeats in great detail throughout the book may be obvious in our rapidly changing technology driven world, his challenges to CEOs to think more like buyers is a wake-up call for many. Amazon, Wal-Mart, BMW and others are at the forefront in adopting a buyers mindset, but there are many other firms who still have the sellers mentality. This book is a must read for the CEOs of those firms.
His book, The New Experts, explains how to give customers what they want when it matters most to them