Mirror Your Customer's Desires

Log in to Netflix. Notice some of the options it gives you.

Would you like to . . .

Continue watching The Blacklist? (A bar shows that you’ve watched about half the last episode).

Or browse other titles because "You like TV dramas featuring action heroes" or "You like British mysteries."

At a time when online privacy is constantly in the news, the paradox is that most e-commerce customers like being greeted like old friends whose habits and preferences are well understood. E-commerce platforms have evolved to emphasize that a company is ready and anxious to satisfy individual customer needs, wants, and interests. It’s not an accident when an online retailer’s front page mentions an accessory for a camera you previously purchased; when Netflix or HBO suggests a movie it thinks you’ll like; or when TripAdvisor flags a restaurant near the hotel you just booked in Orlando.

As a business and product manufacturer, you may be thinking: My business doesn’t involve personal preferences and impulse buys. I make stainless steel laboratory cabinets. Or industrial pumps. Or carpet pads. Or high-density semiconductor chips. These products mostly are sold on the basis of function, price, and quality. Sure, relationships matter, but that’s why I have a distributor or other reseller dealing directly with customers. They keep track of all the customer specifics so I can focus on making products.

With Inxeption, you will better anticipate what your customers want. Automatically. And that will lead to better products.

It’s true that Netflix is what we call a "digital native." Its product is digital and Netflix has always interacted directly with its customers on a digital platform. But only 10 of the S&P 500 companies are digital natives. The vast majority have had to adapt their traditional businesses, such as manufacturing hard goods sold through distribution chains and partner relationships, to the digital age.

Many manufacturers haven’t transacted directly with end customers. Arriving at their home pages can be like pulling up outside a fenced and guarded plant. There may be splashy billboards and branding messages, but if you want to buy something the guard will suggest you make a u-turn and he’ll give you the directions to a field sales force, distributors, or resellers.

The challenge is that customers used to the responsiveness and shared history they have with Amazon, eBay, Netflix, Uber and other digitally native companies, now expect that same connection, immediate service, mobile access, and middleman-free prices in solving their business problems, too.

If you think about it, of course your business customers have individual purchasing preferences that your resellers have always understood and used to their selling advantage. They may be based on market niche, competitors, facility specs, their location, their size, their financing needs, their shipping issues, their business calendars and cycles, and their other supply chain partners. Of course they’d appreciate intelligent and data-generated suggestions on how to be efficient in ordering and shipping, or review related products in addition to the ones they’ve searched for.

If you’re not a digital native, you understandably might be worried about losing the reseller’s handshake relationship with customers, or taking on a customer service function. But first, realize that the savings from cutting out the middlemen means you will be able to afford to improve your customer service and product improvement process and still sell products at a competitive price. We’ve even seen those savings alone enable some U.S. companies to manufacture domestically, giving them even more flexibility to serve customers.

But also focus on the quality of the new Inxeption-enabled customer relationship. The Inxeption platform is not some cold robot order-taker. It actually enables the kind of personal interaction we associate with traditional craftsmen—visiting a dressmaker or landscape designer to discuss a product uniquely suited to the customer’s desires. In the digital age, this relationship is about giving customers options to email, online chat, or pick up the phone. It’s about knowing all the details of past interactions immediately, so you’re never wasting time getting up to speed on orders or past experiences. Instead of hoping your reseller is promoting your products above other companies’ offerings, now you can advocate for your own products and capabilities yourself.

As you’ll soon learn, the system helps you implement what individual customers want, even while operating at scale. This is what Keith Weed, the chief marketing and communication officer at Unilever calls "massive customization," and building brands "in segments of one." To unpack that notion, again, think Netflix. It has over 100 million streaming customers worldwide, and yet it knows whether you’ve finished watching the third season of House of Cards.

Anticipating what a customer wants today and is going to want in the future, all powered by a data platform that gets smarter with every interaction, is a powerful competitive advantage.

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