Are Your Customers Really Different Than People in Other Cities? Or is it Just an Excuse to Resist C

As you probably know I put on workshops across the country helping businesses improve their profitability, professionalism and performance. Of course, not everyone agrees with my recommendations or ideas, and that is fine with me. Everyone has different opinions and perceptions. So, please feel free to prove me wrong.

Recently, I have made it a point to communicate that consumers buying patterns and methods are much different than they were just a few years ago. I typically demonstrate several obvious examples that cannot be refuted by anyone. For example, how consumers have more information at their fingertips, how valuable an online reputation is, availability of online purchasing making almost everything easier to buy and, how improved technology and speed are important in the purchasing decision. All of these being a major factor as to who they do business with.

Even though I may show specific data indicating what I am saying is factual, I still get at least one person in each meeting that tries to say that in the city they do business, consumers there are totally different from everywhere else. Whenever I hear this, I have a tendency to be sarcastic and like to respond with a comment like, “So everyone where you are from is from some other planet, there is no internet there, no shopping centers, no national branded stores, no restaurant chains and no television programming that even resembles anything on a national level. Your entire community is totally isolated from everyone and everything else. Is that what you are saying?” I am hoping at this point to encourage debate and open discussion in the room as to whether there are truly differences in consumer buying patterns based on geography or anything else.

Keep in mind, I am not discussing the purchasing patterns of whether a customer in one city prefers one HVAC manufacturer over another or whether there are certain geographical differences in whether a consumer selects various HVAC products because of energy efficiency, brand awareness or anything regarding replacement systems at all.

I am just making a general statement that with a very few exceptions, most consumers in the United States choose to spend money in a much different way than they did just five to ten years ago. Consumers are also more aware of the local market than businesses believe they are. For example, if there is an HVAC service business that continues to offer specials on new HVAC systems and mostly advertises replacement products, the consumers with a service problem will probably not contact that company because their primary objective is to get their heating or air conditioning fixed, not spend a bunch of money on a new system.

Getting back to the contractors’ who say their market is so different. I always ask this question that ends the argument. “How many different markets, besides the one you are in now, have you operated a business?” Of course, the answer is none, because one hundred percent of the time, when I have someone arguing with me about how their city, town, county, etc. is different from every where else. The only difference really is that they have not actually taken the time to step outside of their comfort zone to see what everyone else in the world is doing. In most cases I find that the business owners who want to argue this point are still using paper invoices, not using any field service software, not able to take credit card payments in the field and still allow customers to “Pay them later”. When I ask why they haven’t upgraded to new technology, again I get the same answer, “The people in this community don’t trust technology and like that we do business the old fashioned way.”

Unfortunately, because of this mindset, I’ve watched the slow disintegration of dozens of small businesses. Blaming everything but their own lack of willingness to change, continuing to disregard technology, ignoring any ideas or new methods. Still refusing the idea of even considering any type of software, and treating the idea of incorporating tablets, smart phones and social media in their business as if it were some passing fad that will disappear like the old 8-tracks of the 70’s.

I was in a business recently where the most advanced piece of technology in the building was a fax machine, which didn’t work anyway because no one knew where to get a new ink cartridge or how to even change it. They only used it to fax orders to their local distributor. By the way, all manual accounting and bookkeeping was done by the business owner’s wife, after hours, since she had a full time job somewhere else.

Yes, I have seen way too many of these examples. They have been around for many, many, years. Unfortunately, they begin to disintegrate, just like the old wood and concrete that was still holding up the remnants of the little bit of structure still standing in an old neglected building. I get very sad when I encounter this yet when I make a recommendation it is taken as a personal attack. I do get it, it is your baby, your creation, but it is important to pay attention to it, help nourish it, let it grow and feed it regularly.

Yet, ironically enough, on occasion I even get requests if I could help find a buyer for them when they start considering retirement. Sadly, I am forced to tell them; “Sorry, there is really not much value there. It is probably worth whatever you can get at an auction for your equipment and property, you may get a couple of thousand dollars for your phone number if you’re lucky, maybe, it depends.”

Don’t be this person and stop saying your customers are so different from the rest of the world. That excuse stopped working years ago.

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