Every year, we do it on the same day at the same time. The instant the calendar changes from the old year to the new one, we convince ourselves that this year will be different. We’re going to do everything we didn’t do in the past. It’s such a predictable ritual that it’s become part of our DNA.
Although we want the New Year to be different, what happens next is also predictable: our resolve disappears faster than a pizza on Friday night.
Good faith efforts rarely work, since “stuff” gets in our way and throws us off course. How to end the year with the same drive and resolve that we started with is the big question. Here are seven actions that can help:
- Pull the defensive plug. For example, many insurance agents are convinced that consumers want the personal attention and the choices a local, independent agent gives them.
While such thinking is understandable, it’s also a defense that inhibits coming up with innovative responses to the loss of their bread-and-butter auto insurance business to online sales. From all indications, that trend is increasing and expanding into homeowners and small business insurance. It’s true everywhere. If we want to be open to new ideas, then pulling the defensive plug is one place to start
- Can the knee-jerk negativism. No Apple product has been as consistently panned as has the Apple Watch. But Noor Naseer, director of digital innovations, mobile at Centro, doesn’t agree. “While consumers may not know exactly what they uniquely want or need from these tiny screens, they similarly didn’t know a decade ago that they would be waking up and going to bed (and going to the bathroom) with smartphones continuously by their side,” she writes in Mobile Marketing Daily. Sure, some things fail and others do work out well, but it’s not because of knee-jerk negativism; it’s because people put themselves to the test. They tried.
- Eliminate excuses. When the company president pointed out the steady decline in consumer equipment sales over the last several years, the sales manager explained it was due to market saturation. Yet, when the issue was analyzed more carefully, the facts were quite different. Excuses may make us feel better, but they also blind us to new opportunities. Once they’re out of the way, things can improve.
- Question your customer assumptions. “We know our customers and what they want” are arguably the most dangerous words in business. Yet, many companies continue to base marketing and sales decisions on anecdotal evidence that’s unreliable at best. Why would a company drag its feet on gathering and analyzing customer data so it can learn everything about their preferences and buying behavior? In some cases it’s just plain old lethargy. But, more often than not companies can behave like individuals: knowledge upsets the status quo and puts new demands on the organization to embrace change. It’s much easier to say, “We know what our customers want.”
- Dive into digital. Many people think that buying life insurance is only slightly less exciting than having a root canal, so it’s not surprising that it’s worth the effort to avoid both. To attract today’s younger consumers, life insurance companies now offer “simplified issue” policies that are delivered in two hours. Applicants answer a few health-related questions and there’s no physical exam. Policies with face amounts up to $1 million are available. Even though premiums may be higher, the convenience may be worth it. What makes it possible? Using their extensive databases, insurance companies use predictive modeling for the underwriting, cutting out stacks of slow moving paperwork. It’s not just faster; it’s also more accurate. Even though premiums are somewhat higher, the ease and speed are appealing to many consumers.
- Activate innovation. Customers not only want innovation, but they’re willing to pay for it. According to Lab42’s Innovation Study, 75 percent of those surveyed were willing to “pay a premium for innovation,” including electronics, automotive, restaurants, clothing, and grocery store items. The opportunities are everywhere. For example, wearing a shirt with a too tight collar is a huge pain, and me loosen the tie and unbutton the collar the moment they can. Finally, there’s a solution. Based on fabric technology, Van Heusen has come up with an answer to the “hot under the collar” problem. Its new “flex collar” expands one-half inch in trying moments. And then there’s the inconvenience and the time it takes to get your car’s oil changed. Soon it will be over in only 90 seconds with Castrol’s Nextel, which will be integrated into the car’s design. Both point out that there is plenty of room for innovation in solving those small, but irritating problems.
- Tie it all together. If there is a lesson to learn from Amazon, it’s the enormous benefit of tying everything together for customers. Whatever it is, the chances are that it’s available on Amazon or will be soon enough. And everything comes with a guarantee, no-hassle returns, reliable recommendations, and free delivery with its Prime program. It’s the epitome of one-stop shopping for many consumers. Tying things together is what customers want. Companies that can help them do that succeed. Too many salespeople believe their own baloney. It’s called, “Don’t worry. It’ll get better. I’ll make it up.” Although they believe it, tomorrow never comes.
A new year is no reason to assume that it will somehow or other be better than the one just ending. Whether it’s a company or an individual, it takes the right strategy to make sure the end is even better than the beginning.
— John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.