Q: Since this is a book tour, how would you tell a bookstore to create customer evangelists? How does a distributor create evangelists for other people’s products?
For bookstores, one model is City Lights, the legendary San Francisco hub in the Haight Ashbury district. It has a colorful history, a distinct political viewpoint and a rich selection of works from beat poets. In other words, it has a well-defined cause — the expression of a liberal political and artistic viewpoint via its inventory. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a Mecca for many people, both locals and tourists. Because it’s a Mecca, it is rich with evangelists.
Conversely, big-box stores try to be all things to all people. Just as the television networks are being marginalized by specialized content on cable, so goes the possible future of mass-audience bookstores. If they compete merely on price, they’ll lose to Amazon, which has thousands of evangelists for its selection, low prices, and ease of use. That’s where a bookstore experience really matters.
During our U.S. book tour last year, we did many talks and signings at Barnes & Noble and Border’s stores, and we loved meeting their hard-working and friendly employees. Those two companies have led the way in adapting the Starbucks model of a comfortable place of community, but with no disrespect intended to our many friends there who carry our book, they’re akin to McDonald’s in their sameness. How does the typical customer define the difference these days between Border’s and Barnes & Noble? It’s nearly impossible.
A distributor, like any B2B company, differentiates itself by its service. To generate healthy evangelism, the employees at a distributorship must believe in the products they’re selling. If they don’t, find something else to sell because your lack of authentic belief is easily telegraphed.
Second, a distributor must focus on creating emotional connections with customers. A distributor may not own the products, but it owns the customer. The connection must be so strong, and the service so valuable, that a customer would be heartbroken for switch. Some B2B companies may say their customers purchase on price, and only price, but try telling that to Southwest Airlines, which competes in the commoditized airline industry yet leads all of its competitors in word of mouth, top-line growth and profitability!