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Is Your Customer Better Informed Than You?

January 7th 2011

The advent of the Internet has revolutionized the way we view and promote the goods we sell. Today, you are undoubtedly more visible than you’ve ever been before and make a point of constantly investing in optimizing your online position. Sales are what counts, and your Internet portal is a strategic tool.

The obvious problem, however, is that you are not the only one with a good idea. And sorry to burst your bubble for anyone who thought they could boost sales tomorrow morning by posting a new website. This is something Internet companies have known for years. I know, I know… But you’re the best in the business!

The Internet, unfortunately, cannot protect us from the competition. In fact, competition can become surreal in the virtual world when you factor in the disinformation element, a potential by-product of the democratization of information.

Social Media

The New Curve

What businesses with a solid online presence may not have contemplated is the fact that due to easy access to information, potential or current customers now probably know more about their products and business reputation than they do themselves.

Thanks to the Internet, a customer has access, which is entirely out of your control, to volumes of information that are unfathomable even by today’s standards. Imagine what it will be like in five years! Think about it… Emails, blogs, discussion forums, social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and others), etc.

In some cases, a customer using a social network and who has just been politely informed by your advisor that he will have to wait six weeks before a parcel can be delivered may decide to let the community know just what he thinks of your service, even if in your opinion the reasons for the delivery time are entirely justified.

One has to understand that human frustration can ignite a firestorm in an instant. In the marketing world of tomorrow, ignoring immediate interconnectivity will be the equivalent of juggling with dynamite, smiling all the while and feigning ignorance; “not to worry, everything is fine, no trouble here”.

What’s that? Are you suddenly feeling uneasy? I can relate to it since I experience a slight twinge every morning when I start my day. Take comfort in knowing that this uneasiness is healthy from a management perspective. In fact, you should develop this natural reflex over time if you hope to make headway in the online marketing world successfully.

You Know Who You Are… or so You Think?

You may have an unequalled online presence, and you may represent the ultimate expression of e-commerce positioning. However, you should immediately focus on the marketing fundamentals: What does my customer think about me and my products? Because if you have maximized your visibility, it can impact your success positively as much as it can be an information fiasco.

On this matter, based on the advances of a marketing theory that attempts to adapt to a fast-growing business environment, in my opinion, it is evident that in today’s world, Market Share is no longer a reliable indicator of the strength of your strategic positioning, but of the Mind Share, which I would interpret as a share of the intention (to purchase), which determines the soundness and effectiveness of your market position.

More specifically, this model of thought leads to the following conclusions: Even if you are a market leader with the most significant number of customers, if most customers would have purchased a competitor’s product if they could repurchase the product, you are then clearly in a tunnel of negative medium to long-term growth, or you will undoubtedly find yourself in a weakened business position.

Unless you hold a monopoly, you can think what you want about yourself but, if your customer has another opinion, he or she has the final word since the customer speaks the commercial truth where you are concerned. Remember that in marketing, “Perception is reality”.

Review

Relating to a New Generation Customer

Now then, let’s put everything into perspective. Customers can find information online at any time about the type of product you are selling. Customers can take the time they want to gather information or disinformation and ask questions on forums and social networks. They can even create information about your company and products. When they contact you, trust me, this version of “educated” customers has specific expectations, and they are unwavering.

In the online era, the knowledge asymmetry, historically in favour of the seller, is gradually tipping in the other direction to a more balanced position or, in my opinion when it comes to the future, to the point where knowledge is skewed in favour of the buyer. This is a new important business challenge where the Internet is a powerful information tool for consumers.

There will consequently be more situations where your sales representative may not be as well informed as a customer in the field. He will find himself in a situation where he is unable to answer a customer’s questions adequately. In other words, from the information angle that your customer would like to hear. Namely, a summary of the information he has put together following online research.

As a result, your representative may often find himself in a strained customer relations position: loss of control of a conversation, waning credibility during a discussion and deterioration of a relationship of confidence with a customer. Where a secure connection does not exist, there is little chance of a sale. Customers who are in doubt will no longer buy blindly unless they get a solid third-party endorsement, which, by the way, is an old marketing principle that could gain strength with social networks.

The important subtlety in this new business situation with your customers is that a customer who searches for information on your business and products will be doing it increasingly to validate his knowledge and hence the knowledge of your representative. A customer will be contacting you less to get information about your products and the terminology used in your specialty field. This, therefore, places us in an entirely new and unusual relational approach to sales.

Adapting to New Game Rules

Several strategies can be implemented to minimize a loss of control and maximize your ability to deal with this new generation of customers. I have listed a few, and you will note that some suggestions are solutions that have been tried and have been true business practices for some time now. All you need to do is understand that you have to use them more often:

  • A systematic analysis of the most common issues discussed by target customers on credible discussion forums in your field of activity. This means using the Internet to your advantage. You have to become a psychologist and understand your target customer's thinking model or modus operandi, also known as profiling a typical customer. This approach can be analogous to a market watch. 

    The minimum aim of this approach is to appear credible by supplying answers to at least 90% of the most frequently asked questions. The main goal is to better understand types of behaviour to, among other things, instantly determine if a customer is engaged in a validation or information gathering process with you.
  • Training, training, training. The ongoing training of your sales team will never be as important and strategic. Think mainly about incorporating the relational aspect, based on profiling of a typical customer, into training meetings since the technique has very likely already been properly covered.
  • Highlight and maximize your CRM tool to structure and reconcile key information about customers and products as a means of support. If possible, automate some aspects of the sales relationship. For example, setting up an information base can become an effective support tool to compensate for a junior representative's lack of technical information. It will also generate a sense of organization and structure with a potential customer if a representative cannot provide an immediate answer.

In short, as always, an exciting business future awaits us in the era of e-commerce. Emotional and experience marketings are at the heart of marketing development now more than ever as they grow more comprehensive and subtle. Listening to a customer with humility is a must. Gone are the days of the traditional jiggery-pokery and ready-to-serve sales.

Here’s to continued management success!

Bonne gestion.

 

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