Old Framework Revisited

Last week I combined 3 offices into 1. This unearthed a whole slew of research, books and ideas that had not seen the light of day for any number of years. In attempting to organize this avalanche of my business history, I took some time to look at some of it with the eyes of 2010. To see what, if anything, this old wisdom told us about today.

In the early 1990’s The Forum Corporation (my former employer) along with the Center for Strategy Research conducted over 300 interviews across the globe to identify what customers need and value from their salespeople. With today’s new media landscape, where everyone in an organization (as well as your best customer) is a virtual salesperson I thought it useful to revisit some of the key findings, almost 20 years later. Forum used the results as the anchor for their leadership is the area of “customer driven organizations” a concept that has only grown more relevant in today’s environment. I see the results as time-tested support for new media’s current focus on “engagement” and “trust”.
The report broke consumers down across 2 dimensions, relationship and information, creating a 4 box model with consumers placing high value on one or both dimensions. Along the relationship dimension one of the key findings of the report was the identification of trust and respect as “bedrocks of a successful…relationship”. In today’s information overloaded environment trust may be the only thing that gets your message through. The report highlights that people trust people not just companies therefore it is essential to strike the right balance.
Across the information dimension they found a number of elements which were valued by consumers. These included, education and innovative thinking. When was the last time your message was about something other than your product or service? How often are you providing information to your consumers on things that they may be interested in but are not related to your company? Simply put, how often are you communications making your consumers think not buy?
While not all consumers desire high relationship/high information connection for all things (think about how men typically buy clothes) we all certainly do for some. And for those things it is essential that the companies we connect with deliver on both dimensions. We are, what Forum called, “Partnership” consumers. As partners we need to create “mutually beneficial, interdependent relationship”. Partnership consumers are loyal and are willing to work with companies over the long-term not just for immediate gain. Partners are engaged.
So 20 years later the same core principles for connecting with the market hold true. The tools have changed, the time compressed and the information has multiplied, but so too has the opportunity. Thank you Forum for giving me one less thing I have to re-learn in today’s marketplace.
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