Letting the Customer By

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

I wonder sometimes whether we should think a little less about selling to people, and a little more about allowing them to buy from us.

It’s not such a subtle distinction.

I got a story this week from a fellow Dim Bulber who’d tried to book a large block of hotel rooms for next Spring, but was rejected by the reservation agent because "prices might change by then." No amount of wrangling or logic could change the answer. So, after being told to call back in December, he asked if he could then guarantee smoke-free rooms. 

"Nope," said the agent. "We don’t do that."

You can imagine how my friend might have translated the conversation in his head:

Dim Bulber: I’d like to give you a lot of money right now.

Agent: You can’t. 

Dim Bulber: I’m willing to do almost anything to confirm the rooms I want.

Agent: We don’t want your money.

(long pause)

Agent: Sorry.

You’ve probably had a similar experience of one sort of another. I know I have. A mobile carrier that insists on charging for replacing a phone model that keeps failing The cable TV company upping its fee with a list of stations you don’t want when you ask for one that you do. Upgrades to make tech gizmos work together, when you didn’t ask for any upgrades at all.

Often, all this creative, sometimes dastardly selling going on overlooks the ways customers want to buy. Also the whens. And sometimes, the whys.

It isn’t enough to anticipate and prepare for the exceptions to a sales activity; from a customer perspective, every transaction is exceptional, just as every customer is unique. So it’s not acceptable ever to hint at an answer that originates in a far-away place called Company Policy. 

Company policy is to enable people to buy stuff. Full stop.

Further, no matter how expertly your company can suggest, encourage, or cajole a sale, it’s ultimately a customer-directed decision. Sales is just your descriptive term for the underlying reality of buying

  • The customer is the subject, not your company
  • Buying is the active verb, not selling, and
  • Whatever it is that you’re hawking to them is the object of the customer’s action

So why can’t I customize — let alone get — everything I could conceivably want to buy?

Some companies are just too busy selling. Or, in the case of my friend in search of hotel rooms, just letting the customer by.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/05/letting-the-cus.html