Stop Selling – Think enabling! (Part 2)

Yuppie handbookWhile I didn’t say it explicitly in my last post, buying is so 1980’s.  You know that era. Work hard, consume stuff you didn’t need to show everyone how successful you were.  The term ‘Yuppie’ was in vogue.  We didn’t realise it, probably still don’t, but our “success” as a species was superficially measured by our ability to buy things.  From an evolutionary perspective, this was pure ‘fitness signalling’, we were simply a more attractive prospect to mate with. In reality, we’ve probably just adopted that consumption mind-set as par-for-the-course of life in the early noughties too.

As consumers I think we’re maturing, I hope we’re maturing. We’re wondering what it’s all about, what’s the point of excess consumption. The greed that drove the Global Financial Crisis has shone a mirror on our consumption drive.

At the end of the day, the point of the majority of our consumption is not about our basic needs, we’re über consumers and it’s driven by clever marketing.  Now, I’m not talking about impoverished people in war-torn and disadvantaged countries, or those on the poverty line, there’s genuine basic needs out there not being met, I’m talking about those of us buying fashion clothes, carbon fibre bikes, gadgets, perfume etc.

Do we really need perfume, a new handbag, a new man-bag, the latest tablet (both medical and electronic)?  Do we really need a $5,000 bicycle?  As a cyclist I’ve seen a few fancy rides being pushed up some fairly insignificant hills.  We don’t actually ‘need’ most of this stuff for our survival, clever marketeers have just tapped into our evolutionary drivers and we’re being played folks. At a deeper, underlying level we think this stuff will improve our chances of reproduction as a species and sadly, because it’s so pervasive, we’re probably right.

Whoa, that’s some heavy stuff I know.  So we buy all this crap not because we need it but because it is meeting some deeper driver, it helps us at a deep emotional level.  (I’ll write more about deeper emotional drivers in a later post as there’s some gold there for those with a heart beat.)  We’re talking about stuff that’s hard to measure. In my previous post I talked about my own personal experience with cycling.  When it comes to selling me a bike, it’s not the bike that I’m interested in, it’s cycling and how it makes me feel.

Subtle difference, but talking about cycling as opposed to talking about a bike or any bike component is the essence of what bike shops sell. When I buy a bike I’m buying into the hope that I’m going to enjoy my cycling experience more because of the bike. Most recently I’ve purchased two bikes, the first one I paid $2,500 for and sold if after 8 months due to problems (all covered under warranty).  Even though the bike was repaired each time I had lost my mojo for cycling on that bike.  I rode the bike without confidence.  It was no longer freedom, it wasn’t as exciting, it was concern and then frustration.  The bike shop focused on the bike, they didn’t focus on the cycling.

The second bike $5,500 (yes, my partner wasn’t exactly delighted) held greater promise of delivering my love of cycling back.  The perfect bike, different bike shop that focused on higher-end quality bikes, really nice and personable guys. Most expensive bike I’ve ever owned.  Hopefully you’re picking up what was going on in my head.  This is going to bring back the freedom, the love, the sense of power and achievement.

Fail!  Flat tyres for the first four rides then a component failure that left the bike off the road for three weeks, repaired, then failure, back off the road for another repair, then a third failure and off the road for three months, fixed again and then same problem, another three months.  Bad luck? Probably. By the final time, the bike shop didn’t need to be moonlighting as psychologists to pick up my disappointment.  They kindly provided a personal spare part, sending the original back again to the manufacturer.  At least I could ride, well sort of.

So what was it like to ride my bike after that?  Yep, you guessed it, pretty ordinary.  The bike is now working well, the component is still not replaced with the original but I’m riding the bike.  I’m riding it tentatively, I’m worried and listening for noises to indicate another failure.  The bike is the enabler, it enables the emotions that come with cycling and the emotions are more valuable to me than the bike.  So if my feeling of freedom is replaced with feelings of concern or disappointment when I ride then it doesn’t matter if the bike is fixed, it will take a lot longer to get the positive emotions back.

When we buy new things the feelings associated with the purchase are more precarious, the hope of meeting our needs is high and the risk is high.  It’s a bit like a relationship, if a new partner ‘let’s one rip’ under the covers on the first night, that’s going to smell a lot worse than the same ‘incident’ after 20 years together, with likely greater consequences.  So here’s the important thing for retailers to consider…

…become focused on the experience your product provides for the user especially after the initial purchase.  Focus on the emotions.  Don’t focus on the bike, focus on cycling.  If someone spends descent money on something follow up with them and do what you can to make sure it’s a good experience.  If someone spends up big, a phone call a few days later will make a big difference.  Show that you genuinely care about their experience with their purchase and it will go a long way to developing customer loyalty.

Now please forgive all my cycling talk, I’ve discovered that writing about it is a poor surrogate for doing it.  Switching subject matter, what if someone purchased some clothes from your store to go out to a wedding or job interview?  How could you add greater value to them than if they purchased it online?  How about a phone call after the event to ask how it looked, more importantly how it felt wearing it?  Might be a bit invasive but I would bet you’d sell more clothing and get more loyal customers.  Ever had a phone call from a car dealer after you’ve purchased a $20,000 motor vehicle to ask how it felt driving it home, then a week later? What about a hairdresser after your last haircut? To make things even more interesting, what does an accountant actually deliver for you?

Want to get disruptive? Focus on the experience after the purchase. Remember that your product or service is merely an enabler for a human emotion.  Understand the emotion and you will add greater value to the customer, garner greater loyalty and your customers will gladly pay a premium for the feeling. If you’re in the bike retail industry and your business is getting smacked around by online retailers undercutting you on price then this is your only saviour.

Want to take it to the next level?  Let’s talk next time about what we call account management for consumer emotions.  Now that’s what I call disruption, that’s beyond thinking!  Hang on for the ride…

If you want to get ahead of the curve then get on the experimenteur juice –  contact Troy directly on or phone +61 447 66 66 91.

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