I have always been a student of the game. Whether the game was football in college or tactics in the Army, I have always wanted to gain any advantage that I could by being better armed, better trained, and better informed than my competition.
The same is true in business. I like to pay attention to trends both in and outside of my industry. One trend has held my attention now for over 10 years, and to me it first really began in the stock brokerage industry, and the trend is the change in the sales process that has morphed due to the capabilities of the tools on the internet.
In the past, the sales people in any given industry were the gatekeepers of the knowledge that a buyer needed to properly make a purchase decision. Ultimately, if you wanted to buy something, you did your research through a salesperson. If you were fortunate enough to find the best salesperson, you received great information, great guidance, and you made a successful purchase decision. But if you received less than the best, you were rewarded with less than the best in your purchase decision.
The internet has provided a mechanism today for shoppers to perform “information gathering” without having to interact with a salesperson. Unsurprisingly, they have flocked to the idea of doing their own homework.
How many stockbrokers lost their jobs when Charles Schwab et al brought forward e-brokerage and the ability to buy and sell stocks without interacting with a live stock broker?
This is what I refer to as The Internet Squeeze. Traditional sales and marketing techniques are being replaced with service oriented customer interaction.
Companies that try to continue using traditional techniques while also working to engage customers through the internet are being “squeezed” to spend more resources in order to compete.
Margins are falling and the sales force is becoming less productive, making it tougher and tougher to compete with the companies that have learned how to enable their sales teams with a solution centered on internet marketing.
So here are four questions that I began to ponder in 2007:
- What if all orders had to be placed online?
- What if you could never meet the customer in person?
- What if you could not use a discount model as a transition to this new way of customer interaction?
- What if all your customers gathered together for a conference, what would you do?
The process of asking these types of questions should be a regular drill for all traditionally based businesses. If your answer to any of the four questions above parallels mine from 2007, then I believe that you are in trouble. You see, I was thinking “you really can’t do that in my industry (real estate).” My basis for feeling this way was a popular belief that most people aren’t going to buy a home online, without first getting on the ground and walking through the home. I mean, would you just select a home online and click the “buy it now” button?
Too often we let our existing situation dictate the environment for our future solutions.
We have to continuously remind ourselves that we always have blinders on, and future solutions might not be found in a linear pattern from our current processes, rather a geometric growth might take us to the future in our industry.
Remove your blinders and truly contemplate these four questions. What if they were really true, would your answer simply be “then I am finished.” No, you would not be a leader in your company or a leader in your industry if throwing in the towel was your natural answer.