Man I couldn’t sleep last night. It’s becoming, this sleeplessness, more and more common. I’d adjusted my Sleep Number bed at the Hilton Garden in to 46. Still no rest. And I’d been shopping for patio furniture a few hours prior. Amazon, turns out, has some great deals.
At 3:43 a.m. the familiar email “ping.” I was lying in bed thinking about a million things. I lolled over to see who in the world was spamming my phone before the sunrise. It was Amazon.
“Based on your interest in Outdoor Furniture we thought you might be interested in…” Holy crap. Air conditioning. A list. A full list and description of Goodman and Rheem air conditioners. The realization. They know what I do. They know how I shop. They know what I like. They…know…everything. I sat up and read the entire list of product recommendations.
The future is here. Right now. Not some obtuse future. An immediate and targeted effort. Right now. The powers that be, the Masters’ of the Universe, have learned to do the job that so many of my friends do. They’ve learned how to sell an applied product on-line. They’re cutting us out. They’re eliminating the middle man. They’re moving products in to the market without any friction. They’re leveraging their brand strength and trusted reputation. They’ve figured out how to do our job. It’s a reality.
Jeezus. What if I’m an ordinary homeowner? What if I don’t know what I know or who to trust? And what IF it’s really this easy to buy a new heating and cooling system for my house? Couple of mouse clicks and a payment screen. A drone show up? Can it be this simple? Hell, I buy tons of stuff from Amazon. Why not this? I know Amazon. I trust Amazon. I just bought a vacation on-line…
I’ve been harping on this for over a year. Direct-to-consumer sales is not a “what if” anymore. It’s a “when.” The only question that makes sense–from any manufacturing point-of-view–is “How do I streamline the distribution process?” Dealers are pesky. They’re troublesome. They’re difficult. They’re egotistical. Their thinking is antiquated. Their sense of worth and value is completely at odds with the consumer. Worst of all, they have ZERO idea how to retail their products (“it ramps” blah blah blah). They don’t know how to evolve past transactional business. They’re a pain in the ass. Somewhere in the ivory towers, filled with MBAs and bean counters, they’re asking a simple question: “How do we get them the hell out of the way?”
The future hit me right between the eyes last night and I can’t stop thinking about it. Every box store and every manufacturing company and every on-line resource want one thing: Information and results. Customer information. The best network and the best consumer data. Priceless. While HVAC dealers get cobbled up in small questions (“Who’s going to service it?”) the companies that shape the world say “Let’s worry about the details later…let’s just OWN the customers.” They’re right. They’re absolutely right.
The only way to out-Amazon Amazon is to build a high-touch sales model that capitalizes on the ONE thing that can’t be digitized: Human interaction.
For small businesses this means that EVERY person who “touches” a customer has to elevate the user experience. It means that EVERY company is going to need a clear user-path and journey map that is filled with gratifying touch-points. It means that putting a smile on a customer’s face (many times over) will be the currency for success. Most importantly, and please take this to heart, it means that the goal of EVERY lead will not only be the sale but will also be the insertion and ownership of a new network of potential buyers. We are in a race for relationships.
This all might sound like an alarm. It should. Today I was in a room filled with friends and clients. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Bigger forces than you want to eliminate you. Good as you think you are this is happening.” I can think of many, many things (my own job included) that can be duplicated on-line. That day may come. It will come. Until then I offer the following:
1. How well do you really know your customers? And for how long do you stay in touch with them beyond a transactional level?
2. If I showed up with a sledgehammer and knocked the sign off of your building would your customers inherently know your brand of service?
3. How many of your last 10 sales have you contacted one month after the sale to say “I haven’t forgotten about you?”
4. Do you know who your ideal client is?
5. What do you sell/offer/promote that cannot be found anywhere else in your market?
Tough questions but the right questions. The future of the sales is only in our hands so long as we remain relevant and so long as we recognize that the most important “thing” to any business is a healthy, thriving, reciprocal network of true fans. Build the brightest fire.
The future is here.