Shift in the Marketplace - How to Engage Customers Today

Feb 11, 2014

Vya Staff

DocuStar is honored to welcome Jim Blasingame to our Marketing Organizational Leadership series. Jim is the president and founder of Small Business Network, Inc., a media company dedicated to helping small businesses and entrepreneurs be successful.

blasingame portrait 2Jim has more than 16 years of experience as the host of the world’s only weekday radio talk show dedicated to small business — The Small Business Advocate® Show. Ranked by Google as the No.1 small business expert in the world, Jim conducts over 1,000 live interviews each year with his Brain Trust, the world’s largest community of small business experts.

Here he discusses his third book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance, and how the shift from the “Age of the Seller” to the “Age of the Customer” impacts how you engage customers and your brand message.

Q: Jim, what inspired you to write The Age of the Customer?

A. With almost a half-century in the marketplace, and after over 16 years of conducting more than 1,000 live interviews a year with the smartest business experts in the world, I started seeing two things: 1) A marketplace shift was happening; 2) Most businesses weren’t seeing it.

So over a period of about four years, I began writing about what I was seeing and talking to others about what I believe business owners needed to know. In time, all of that crystalized into my third book.

Q: In the book, you claim that the “Age of the Seller” is dead. What do you mean by this bold statement?

A. Well, the Age of the Seller—a term I coined—had a long, good life. For 10,000 years it was the dominant marketplace paradigm where sellers controlled two of the three major elements of their relationships with customers, including the most important part, the information. When the Internet became available to the public for commercial use in 1993, information that had previously been the domain of sellers now became available to customers. This shift in control of information was the beginning of the end of the Age of the Seller, and the birth of The Age of the Customer®.

Q: The subtitle of your book is Prepare for the Moment of Relevance. What does this mean for entrepreneurs and small business owners?

A. One of the most important shifts that was created by the new Age is how being competitive is no longer the differentiating coin of the realm. Being competitive in The Age of the Customer is little more than a commodity. The new differentiating coin of the realm is relevance. When customers find two finalists for their purchase decision and both have the same product, price, etc., how do they decide? They look for things like commitment to excellence, corporate values, technological capability (like a mobile site), trust factors, availability of information, and whether their brand message matches up with their performance, as commented on by their customers. And all of the foregoing is aimed at meeting the new Age of the Customer expectations.

The Moment of Relevance is when all of this happens with the click of a mouse or the twitch of a finger on a smartphone by a prospect who rules your company in or out of their final decision before you even know they exist. That reality should scare the heck out of a small business owner.

Q: You talk a lot about “baggage” in the book with respect to what business owners bring with them from the “Age of the Seller.” Why is it important to discard that baggage?

A. Anyone who was taught about how to engage customers prior to today essentially, has Age of the Seller baggage, which presumes customers need you to make a purchase decision. If you’re doing business, advertising, making sales calls, etc., using Age of the Seller practices, like a brand message that does not align with your performance, that’s baggage that is pulling you first toward irrelevance and ultimately failure.

Q: In The Age of the Customer, do entrepreneurs and small business owners have a competitive advantage?

A. Even in the new Age, you still have to deliver the classic competitive, value proposition of price, product, service, etc., but as I said before, it’s just table stakes today. The next level of business sustainability in The Age of the Customer is what I call “Relevance Advantage™,” and small businesses have this in spades.

Understanding the new expectations of customers is best done in close proximity to customers, and that, by definition, is the franchise of small businesses out here on Main Street.

Q: How important is social media to this new age?

A. First let me say that I consider face-to-face to be the original social media, while the new, online kind was born in The Age of the Customer. Social media is not the same for business as for individuals. In reality, social media is just new tools, not so much new rules. Essentially everything you learned about marketing and brand-building in the Age of the Seller is valid when applied to social media. But here’s where it’s different: Social media participation is not the same as advertising; not a call-to-action opportunity.

My social media advice to small business owners is although finding immediate ROI is tough, you still need to pursue and maintain a social media strategy, because in the not-too-distant future, most of your prospects will come from these communities. One of the important relevance practices of The Age of the Customer and part of Blasingame’s Law of Small Business Social Media is: “Contribute first—contract second.” And a great way to make that contribution is participating in social media communities.

Q: What are the key things a business needs to be doing now in order to compete in this new age?

A. Beyond all they know about how to be competitive, they have to be relevant to customers. They have to lose the Age of the Seller practices and assume the relevance practices of The Age of the Customer.

Q: Has this, or will this new age disrupt everything? What about business fundamentals – are they still important?

A. There’s already a lot of disruption. Look at what’s happening to old media, like newspapers and magazines. But business fundamentals, like “Blasingame’s Razor: Buy low, sell high, keep good records,” will never become outdated.

You still need to say “Thank you,” to customers. You still need to treat employees with respect and help them find success in their assignments. You still have to manage expenses and run your business efficiently.

Q: I think this is your most important book yet, Jim. Why should small business owners read this book?

A. Thank you.

There is an ironic war going on in the marketplace today. It’s a war because businesses are fighting for their lives against a formidable foe. It’s ironic because that foe is your customers, they don’t even know a war is going on, and yet they’re going to win.

Customers have the ability to make purchasing decisions today without any assistance by a business, which means they’re ruling your business and are out before you even know they exist. If you don’t know how to make sure you have the maximum opportunity to get the business at the Moment of Relevance, you need to read The Age of the Customer.

If your advertising strategies are no longer pulling in the sales as they once did, you need to read my new book.

If you sell to other businesses and your salespeople are not getting the level of sales you need, you’ll find the answer to your problem in chapter 16 of The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

What is your experience in the “Age of the Customer”? Submit a comment below or join the discussion in the LinkedIn group, “Marketing Organizational Leadership.”

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Tags: social media, Marketing Organizational Leadership, brain trust, small business advocate, age of the seller, small business network, small business expert, jim blasingame, age of the customer

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