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Innovation, Disruption, and the Customer Buying Journey

I spent 3 1/2 hours in a car dealership recently and it led me to explore the topic of innovation. I was commenting to my wife on how puzzling it is to me that the standard customer experience model at most car dealerships continues to be meeting with a sales person in their office, with a big elevated manager’s desk out in the middle of the floor.

We’ve all likely experienced the routine. You work with your sales person and possibly negotiate. They leave you in the office several times as they go talk to the manager at the big desk.

Even if your purchase is as cut and dry as ours was, simply buying out our lease for a previously set price by Ford, it still involves elements of this seemingly antiquated process. Even if your salespeople and the manager seem nice and trustworthy, as was the case for us this week, it left us with a feeling of “are we getting taken advantage of in some way?”

Clearly those feelings we experienced aren’t unique, and that’s what spurred the likes of CarMax and Carvana. They provide you with a car buying experience that is much more streamlined and removes that old car sales approach. You buy the car based on a set price.

So, how are CarMax and Carvana doing? CarMax recently did 8.01 Billion dollars in sales in a quarterly report, up 128% year over year. Carvana did 3.34 Billion dollars in sales and is up 198% year over year.

What did CarMax and Carvana do? What did Uber do that allowed it to disrupt the taxi cab industry? They all started with the customer experience and how they want to purchase.

The customer buying journey is a big topic these days in sales and marketing circles, and for great reason. It customizes the process around what the customer actually wants when they want it. It’s also nothing new to the last decade as we’ve witnessed the rise of Uber, Air BNB, and CarMax.

Your smartphone is a result of this method of innovation and disruption. The iPhone came out in 2007.

Blackberry phones had a 20% market share in 2009. By 2013 it was less than 2%.

One of the most influential video clips I’ve seen as I started my business 18 months ago, is this clip from Steve Jobs shortly after he rejoined Apple in 1997. In a question/answer session at the Worldwide Developer Conference, someone in the audience told Jobs it was clear he had no idea what he was talking about in relation to Java script and Open Doc.

While I personally don’t know much if anything about those software programs, Jobs’ answer blew me away. He said, “One of the hardest things when you’re trying to effect change is that people like this gentlemen are right, in certain areas.”

He went on to say something that I’ll never forget “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and figure out where you’re going to sell it.”

Jobs went on to say, “I’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody in this room. And I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it. As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with what incredible benefits can we give to the customer, where can we take the customer? Not sitting down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and how are we going to market that?”

Wow! What an answer right after being insulted!

I assure you I needed to hear that. As a storyteller I love to tell stories that are interesting to me! That’s great, but why would someone want to pay me for that? What I’ve learned through this Steve Jobs clip, from business mentors of mine, and some great business books is that I’ve got to start with the customer first.

I wish I could sit here and tell you I’ve mastered it, but I haven’t. I’m growing my business and finding where I can add value to my clients. The beauty is my clients have great stories that will help them achieve their goals. And that’s what I’m doing, helping them to uncover the right authentic story they have to reach their ideal target audience.

It’s easy for all of us to start with our skills, competencies, and what we can offer. None of those are bad or even wrong. We just have to start with our customer or audience first, and then figure out how our skills help them.

I hope you leave with inspiration on how to look for ways to innovate and disrupt whatever field you’re in.



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