I've been reading the new book by Gary Vaynerchuck, called The Thank You Economy. And then only just yesterday put together its thesis with something I've been talking about for a couple of years - "Ooooh, the Thank You Economy".
The basic thesis of his book is that companies who out-care their competition will win, and that the new Social Media tools available for communicating with customers will amplify this process.
The thing I've been talking about for years is how building a two-way relationship with customers over time can create equity that will make customers pay a premium price without hesitation, and never even consider buying from anyone else. I truly believe this is true, and I know it's how I shop, but it can be hard to convince business people and brand managers, especially brand managers of products that are traditionally considered "low-involvement". But I know even for the lowest, most comoditized product, there is a loyal core out there who love it, and that love can be fostered to encourage loyalty and reduce the need for discounting and promotions.
All of that is in CPG-Marketing-Speak, but here is my point in simpler terms:
The very same transaction can be valued very differently by the buyer, depending on how the seller sells.
I did a brilliant training course at work about a year ago called "Influence Without Authority" (the instructor was wonderful, a great presenter and demonstrator of principles who also had great insight into the structural features of Corporate America that create barriers - I will find his company name and update the link here) in which during several role playing exercises we got a really vivid feel for the difference.
In one example, the instructor played the Busy Senior Executive and had three class members come up and pitch an idea to him while the rest of us observed. His rendition was perfect - he was reading a paper the whole time, barely acknowledged their presence, cut them off brusquely and generally was unwilling to give them any time or attention. The poor classmates started in on the pitch for their product idea, talked about what it would mean to their own department, talked faster and faster as the Senior Exec turned off, and ended by offering bribes of plane fares and expense-paid trips to their facility, but none of it worked. In the debrief, he pointed out that they had missed an opportunity to go in and start with questions, so that they could establish what the main priorities of the Exec were, what problems were keeping him up and night, so that they could position their idea as a solution.
Later in the course when we were doing exercises in pairs, I was assigned to play the role of Employee B in a series of three negotiations. I knew, from reading my briefing document, that in Exercise 3 I was going to ask Employee C if he'd be willing to meet monthly with three members of a combined research team. We were on Exercise 2, in which Employee A was trying to sell me an idea. Suddenly I heard him say, "What if I were to give you three members of my team, say once a month, to meet with senior leaders on this project?" I knew from the script that that was exactly what I would need for the next exercise. Oh my! Here was this thing that was exactly what I needed, being offered to me on a platter! I tried to keep a poker face and not act too excited about it, so that I still had some leverage in the negotiation, but the main thing I remember was the feeling. I was not going to have to push and cajole and hard-sell and finagle and maneuver or bully Employee A, the offer and what I needed were perfectly matched!
When we did the debrief with the whole class, it turns out our little group playing the roles of Employees A, B and C were the only ones who'd actually come to an agreement. Credit to my classmate for taking the time to find out my interests and issues, and pitching the solution to me as he did. Others in the class had gone in hard with demands, and met resistance. Same exact transaction, since all of us had received the same briefing documents.
So, the conclusion I draw from this, which I only really just figured out yesterday, is that the very same transaction can create feelings of relief and happiness in a buyer, or it can create feelings of resentment and resistance. The background situation is the same. The parties are the same. The product is the same. The only difference is the words the seller uses, and the order in which the seller says them. "I have this thing that can help you with your problem" is different from "I need you to buy this thing right now." Same thing. Same speaker. But the first approach actually makes the buyer value the thing differently. For example, makes the buyer willing to pay a premium, and sets of a feeling of gratitude and trust that will make the buyer turn to this seller in the future for more solutions.
The buyer values the same thing differently. The customer-centered approach creates value.
Ooooh. Thank You ECONOMY.