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:
- With value now presumed, customers expect to find what they want, at a price they want to pay, from many sellers.
- Before a seller’s competitive position has even been established, they are being ruled in or out by customers.
- 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.