Top 5 Products Customers Simply Must Have a Relationship With


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The other day, I got a few people stirred up when I said that customers don’t want relationships with companies, and that CRM is dead (as a result). I will stand my ground on this one. First, relationships are a salesperson thing (that’s what they think they want); not something a company has with a consumer (or company). They are really a subset of the experience, just as a sales organization plays an increasingly smaller role (or at least, less controlling role) in the overall customer game. There are plenty of people acknowledging this so I won’t get into that here.

One thing we really need to remember is that customers are not seeking a relationship; they are trying to get jobs done. Companies, on other hand, don’t do the hard work to understand this. Instead, they use words like engagement which typically translates into them hiring social media managers with little practical world experience; resulting in things like this. Brand awareness is definitely important; but it must be developed based on the experience and not a bombardment of ideas that came out of a cloistered brainstorming session of marketing people.

So, in honor of the fact that the majority of the world believes that customers DO want relationships, here is my list of top 5 products customers want to have a relationship with (in no particular order, I put the same effort into the research as most marketers):

1. Toothbrush

We possibly have more touchpoints with our toothbrush than we do with our best friends. Are we having a relationship with it, or are we simply having an experience (good or bad)? Do I want to receive emails from Oral B telling me about new toothbrushes? Or watch commercials about them? Maybe. But that’s not a relationship. The purchase and use experiences, in combination with brand awareness (and maybe some packaging and in-store gimmickry), drives me to make this purchase. I am neither having a relationship with the toothbrush, or the brand.

2. Automobiles

Do you have a relationship with your car? OK, I do know some car nuts that spend time polishing, or rebuilding their autos. However, can’t this be more closely tied to personal jobs (how they feel and how they are perceived) than it does having a relationship with an inanimate object? OK, now on to the brand.There is certainly some brand loyalty out there, but does that equate to a relationship? I think we just satisfactorily called it loyalty – or perhaps it’s simply better brand awareness (net of any negative experience).

Is your dealer salesperson someone you are having a relationship with? How about your mechanic? Is the relationship there about your car, or is it some other social object like a love for automobiles, in general, that allows you to enjoy the few minutes a year you may spend with them? Is that relationship easily replaced? Yes. Frankly, the last thing I want is a relationship with the team that tried to screw me with a financing package that benefits them (the experience).

3. Municipal Water Valve

Does a municipality long for a relationship with a dealer (or manufacturer of) high capacity, commercial water valves? Does it have a relationship with a valve, or does it simple gain value from its use. Do the workers installing these valves have relationships with the dealer? Or is it in fact an experience, of installing the valve and servicing the valve in cooperation with a dealer or manufacturer? Isn’t relationship simply the wrong word to use?

4. CRM Vendor

Do you have a relationship with your CRM vendor, or your CRM business partner (proxy for the vendor)? If it’s a relationship, isn’t it kind of a one-sided, dishonest relationship? I mean, they have a hammer, so you look like a nail. Perhaps, if they focused on the outcomes you are seeking, and experiences that would help you achieve them, we would have seen some real innovation beyond selling it as a relationship building tool (aka Sales Force Automation).

5. Facebook

Do you have a relationship with Facebook, or your Facebook friends? I could argue that voyeuring (made up word) isn’t being in a relationship. However, that would completely miss the point…with Facebook, YOU are the product. So I should be asking the advertisers if they are having a relationship with Facebook! It’s complicated…

Companies value their product and use the word relationship as a way to describe how much they care about you. It’s all lip service, save a select few truly customer-centric organizations. If they cared about what you want (as a relationship partner would) they would not be pushing the same thing at you with bolted on features that you probably don’t value. These companies are at war for your relationship based on features, not the experience. Maybe it’s time to disrupt a commoditized word by going to war with it.

CRM is not a strategy; it is a generic term that has been commoditized by software companies and objectized by customers (my CRM, your CRM, the CRM). Organizations have goals, supported by strategies, which are hopefully aligned with functional objectives (and strategies). Unfortunately, in a world where functional groups seem to act independently, you can hardly call a product (CRM) that is targeted at functional units to be strategic.

If the organization is to serve their customer groups (with proper needs-based segmentation) then they must realize that customers do not seek relationships with products or companies, they simply want to get a job done (with a great experience). They select you because you understand it better than your competitor, or perhaps you have just used behavioral economics to gain a short term advantage in the war stage. So, in closing, I will leave you with this…the guy trying to have a relationship with you.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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