Reputations are Sticky

“We have a great reputation in our industry.” In thousands of hours of coaching and facilitating I’ve never heard a business owner say “We have a lousy reputation.”

Customer FeedbackThe myopia of working hard to deliver a product or service leads us all to the belief that customers and vendors understand the effort we put in and appreciate it. How do you validate your reputation objectively?

ABC television has released its NBA schedule for the coming year. The Cleveland Cavaliers, although almost a completely new team (albeit with LeBron James) have five national dates. The Oklahoma Thunder also has five, obviously due to MVP Kevin Durant, and despite the fact that they’ve been ousted from the playoffs by San Antonio in two of the last three years. The reigning champion Spurs will be on the air twice, and one of those dates is Christmas Day as part of a five game marathon.

Why? Because the Spurs are boring. They are at or near the top of the league in most offensive categories, with dazzling assists and three-pointers galore. NBA Commissioner David Silver has proclaimed their performance in the 2014 finals as the best basketball he’s ever seen. They won the championship by the widest scoring margin in history.

But to the casual basketball fan, the core of the television audience, they are boring, defensive stoppers in low-scoring games. That is a reputation built a decade ago, when they won their first three championships to miserable viewership ratings. Reputations stick, and television networks aren’t in the business of reeducating their viewers.

Many years ago I sold auto parts to independent repair shops. My employer was often in a cash bind, and we needed to sell what we had in stock. A mechanic would call for shock absorbers. “We don’t have those,” I’d say, “but we have some great deals on air filters today. Why don’t you stock up?” It always seemed that what we had, everyone else had as well, so we’d haggle price to make a sale.

Years after I had moved on I ran across a friendly competitor. I mentioned to him how hard it was to meet our margin targets, because everyone else seemed to sell for a lower price. “Are you kidding?” he responded. “Every shop in the country knew that you guys would do anything for a sale. Whatever you had in stock drove the price down for everyone.”

I was shocked. I thought we were the class of the industry, but we were perceived by our competitors and customers as the bottom feeders.

Customer surveys are valuable, but you have to assume some bias because the respondents are already doing business with you. Validate your reputation in the marketplace by asking people who are objective. Query your vendors’ salespeople as to what the competition says about you. Ask customers who don’t do business with you, or who don’t do business with you any more, why they choose the competitor and not you.

Reputation is important. Make sure you know what yours really is.

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One Response to Reputations are Sticky

  1. Great topic. This is a continuing problem with most businesses. They have blinders for their own reputations or they don’t really want to know the answer to the question from former customers or people who’ve never bought. Asking the really hard questions is never comfortable.

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