One of my favorite business professors, Prof. Duncan Simester of MIT Sloan, gave a very surprising insight about customer searches for product information when making purchase decisions.
As customers, we all search for Information in order to make a buying decision. There is a trade-off between the cost and benefit of searching – the amount of search that customers do is a function of the cost and benefit of the search. For example, a company may rightly create a dedicated team to undertake a long, costly search for a large capital purchase, e.g. new enterprise system, because the benefit and consequences make the cost and time worthwhile. They would not do the same for the office coffee maker.
When discussing the role of prior experience, one would have thought that the novice or neophyte with the least expertise would devote the most amount of research. As one gains expertise, you would expect a number of possible paths: 1) some decrease in the amount of search, then a 2) a leveling off or increase of some order (due to expertise leading one to knowing more of what to ask).
One could arguably expect a representation of "Amount of Search" compared "Prior Expertise" to resemble something like this:
However, this is not true. The actual representation for the amount of search versus a customer's prior expertise looks like an inverted "U":
Those with the least expertise actually do not know where, who, or what to search for. (They would not even know how to interpret the information if they got it.) Information may be provided but not being received.
The ones with the most prior expertise, the “experts” also do the least amount of research because they “think that they already know”. Since they felt that they already knew the solution, they saw no need to discover new options. In their minds, the benefit of search is low. Once people have formed strong beliefs, it becomes very difficult to change them due to their bias. Duncan gave a great example of a new, promising drug failing because the doctors felt that they were already experts and knew what to prescribe based on past experience.
Note that it is not the actual benefit of the customer search, it is the perception of the benefit of searching. If customers can’t see the point in searching, they won’t. This phenomena also varies among segments and will change over time. From my own personal experience, those with engineering backgrounds can do search to the point of being anal. ( I researched beyond the "four C's" when I was buying a diamond engagement ring: angles, leakage, plugging numbers into calculators, etc. - the jeweler finally asked me if I was doing a research paper.)
So what does this all mean for a product manager or marketer? For starters, understand that your customers are not all the same based on their prior expertise and adjust your message accordingly. Avoid jargon with neophytes and focus on a more consultative selling approach. Case studies are a useful way for prospects to visualize themselves in a similar situation and help them better understand the problems that your product or service will solve. For the "experts", you may need to focus on technical, industry media / conferences and target high profile, respected leaders in that industry to help spread the message,
This topic was discussed in a very informative web broadcast by Prof. Duncan Simester, “Why Good Products Fail”:
Blackberry recently placed a paid post on LinkedIn with the comment that “We’re not the only ones questioning Knox’s security” and a link to a research article criticizing Samsung’s Knox security platform for Android.
The reader reaction was decidedly mixed and swift. Almost half the comments were negative:
Notice that the readers weren't even questioning the validity of the post or linked article (Blackberry could have been 100% correct) - they strongly objected to the delivery. Although Blackberry's target, Samsung, is not a little underdog, the audience sensed a lack of fair play.
The lesson is that outright negative selling and trash talk leads to a double edge sword. People generally don’t like it and are put off. It makes the seller look petty and small. Always strive to highlight and discuss what makes your value proposition better and present your differentiation in a positive manner without disparaging the competition.
The same applies to your personal life. Don't talk negatively or take cheap shots about others behind their backs. Stephen Covey advised that you always speak about others as if they were present. Otherwise, your listener(s) will think that you will do the same to them when they are not around and view you as one not to be trusted.
So I also left my humble comment with Blackberry:
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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