In The Age Of The Customer, Relevance Trumps Competitiveness

Jim Blasingame

For 10,000 years, customers refined their search for products and services down to a couple of semi-finalist sellers based almost entirely on the classic competitive value proposition: price, product, availability, service, etc. I’ve termed this period the Age of the Seller.

That was a nice trip down memory lane, wasn’t it?

The new prime differentiator today is no longer the competitive model, but rather a customer’s appraisal of how relevant a seller is to them, often before they even know if a seller is competitive. So, does this mean that sellers no longer have to be competitive?  

Not at all – no one will pay you more for less. But consider three new marketplace truths:

  1. With value now presumed, customers expect to find what they want, at a price they want to pay, from more than one seller.
  2. Before a seller’s competitive position has even been established, they are being ruled in or out by customers based on how they present themselves online.
  3. Prospects are narrowing their vendor options down to two or three – maybe just one – based on how relevant they seem before you even know the prospect exists.

That last point is perhaps the most breathtakingly disruptive development in the shift from the Age of the Seller to what I’ve named The Age of the Customer®.

So, what do you have to do to prove your relevance in order to be among the last to be considered and hopefully anointed as the Chosen One? Here are three important Age of the Customer relevance practices:

  • Technology matters. Your online capability must match the expectations of your profile customers, such as having a mobile-optimized website, content that helps before it sells (especially video), an e-commerce component, etc. 
  • Contribute first, contract second. Now confident of acquiring value, customers increasingly seek and collect trusted advisors and experts in their quest for relevance before they make a purchase decision.
  • Connect with credentials. Use new media to establish relevance credentials and thought leadership to connect with prospects and customers.

If you’re intimidated that you can’t keep up with the big guys technologically, let me cut you some slack. Customers don’t expect your small business to win the technology race, but they do expect you to compete. That means you provide as much technical support as you can afford and do it well. 

In his book Megatrends, John Naisbitt prophesied, “The more high-tech we have, the more high-touch we will want.” I’ve named that “Naisbitt’s Razor.” In addition to having up-to-date High Tech, here are three High Touch practices still relevant in the New Age.

  • Remember the prospect/customer’s name and use it – often.
  • Make eye contact and smile – early and often.
  • Be grateful, act grateful, and say “thank you” – a lot

Find success in The Age of the Customer by doing the following absolutely in this order: Be relevant, be useful, and then be competitive.

Write this on a rock ... Your greatest danger is not being uncompetitive but being irrelevant.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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