One of our local television stations has been running a series of news stories on shady selling practices at local car dealerships. I won't bore you with the specifics--it's the same stuff people have been accusing some auto dealers of for decades--and I don't want to beat up on people who sell cars. They've
got a tough enough business.
The point is, most of the practices the TV reporters "uncovered" are based on controlling the flow of information to the customer. How much is my trade-in really worth? Is that the best interest rate I can get? Is this charge really required, or just a way for the dealer to pad his bottom line?
We all know the drill. It happens in plenty of industries besides automotive--insurance and home repairs come to mind--and we know how powerless the customer can feel.
All of that was rattling around in the back of my head when I met with one of the eCRM vendors today to chat about a new product. So one phrase jumped out at me: "We want to build a system that makes the customer feel competent."
That kind of sums up the customer-eye view of the difference between the old world of sales force automation and the new world of customer relationship management. The old paradigm was based on putting information in the hands of salespeople so they (and their managers) could better control the selling process; the new paradigm involves putting information in the hands of customers (the right information, at the right time) so that they can control the buying process.
The balance of power between buyer and seller is changing. The companies that succeed are those that figure out how to make that shift gracefully and turn it to their advantage.
The ones that don't--well, maybe we'll be seeing you on TV.