Category Archives: Age Of The Customer

It’s The Age of the Customer—the rules have changed

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 many sellers.
  2. Before a seller’s competitive position has even been established, they are being ruled in or out by customers.
  3. Differentiating by customers based on relevance is happening before prospective sellers even know the customer 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.
  • Contribute first, contract second. Now confident of acquiring value, customers are increasingly seeking and collecting 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 connect with prospects and customers.

In his book Megatrends, John Naisbitt prophesied, “The more high-tech we have, the more high-touch we will want.” Here are three high-touch Age of the Seller practices still relevant in the new Age.

  • Remember the customer’s name and use it—often.
  • Make eye-contact and smile—early and often.
  • Be 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.

Your greatest danger is not being uncompetitive, but being irrelevant.

The Age of the Customer: the new normal

The shift in who has control – seller or customer – is causing the 10,000 year-old Age of the Seller to succumb to the Age of the Customer®. Understanding this is key to the survival and success of your small business.

For millennia, there have been four basic elements of the relationship between a customer and a business: The product, the buying decision, control of information and word-of-mouth. For the first time in history, two of these elements are shifting in favor of the customer.

1. In the new Age, control of the product or service still remains with the Seller, but has diminished as a control factor for at least two reasons: a) virtually everything you sell has become a commodity; b) customers have multiple shopping and purchasing options including traditional and online markets.

2. As it has always been, the Customer continues to retain control of the buying decision. Shifts in the next two elements represent the primary difference between the Age of the Seller and the Age of the Customer

3. Not since Guttenberg’s printing press first made books available to the increasingly literate masses has there been such a shift in access to information. Indeed, innovations in the past 30 years made the entire universe of human knowledge generally available with a very low barrier-to-entry – including information formerly controlled by Sellers.

4. Once upon a time, knowledge about Customer experience was a function of the word-of-mouth maxim: “If a customer likes you they will tell one person, if they don’t like you they will tell ten people.” In the new Age, the influence of Customer experience has morphed and expanded from classic word-of-mouth to the disrupting phenomenon called “user generated content,” or UGC. This is the electronic posting of customer experiences, questions, praise or condemnation of a Seller’s products and services. If that old word-of-mouth maxim were being coined today it would sound more like this: “Whether customers like you or not, they have the potential to tell millions.”

Here are two Age of the Customer realities to which your business must be able to adjust: 1) customers have virtually all the information they need to make a purchase decision without ever contacting you; and 2) there is no place for bad performance to hide.

Your future survival and success depends on whether you embrace or disregard the Age of the Customer.