In your B2B world, do worry about Amazon? Unless you are in the retail business, most business owners and leaders would answer no. But I believe that's a mistake. The reason is that business customers (who are also consumers) are having their expectations raised by Amazon.
This applies in several ways. First, of course, is execution: how fast can a product get delivered (Prime has completely reset expectations). Second is the buying process with the famous one-click purchase. Third is information: most notably customer reviews.
How small and medium size companies can respond might be summed up as “ease of doing business” or, if you want something aspirational, “delight in doing business”. While this is hardly a new thought, Amazon has taken expectations to an entirely new level. And Amazon hasn't stopped and is unlikely to stop. Therefore, if part of your business plan isn't focused on improving your customers’ experience by a quantum leap, then you're missing a critical bet.
Is this easy? Of course not. But your business survival may depend on it.
So how does your company go about meeting these raised customer expectations? One way to start is to adopt some form of Amazon's (Jeff Bezos’) manta of “customer-centric.” But these aren’t buzzwords. From the beginning, Jeff Bezos has obsessed (his word) about making Amazon “the earth’s most customer centric company.” Here is what he said in his 2017 letter to shareholders:
“Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here's the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don't yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”
Notice the last part: “invent on their behalf.” This means spending time with customers, doing the right market research, and really making invention and innovation a business priority…throughout the company. Sometimes this gets taken as a marketing or customer service initiative. But that is a big mistake. This type of innovation must impact the entire business: every operation. After all, Amazon doesn't just provide a slick website or fast delivery. It's all of the above.
As you think about invention for your customers, don’t get overly focused on high-tech innovation. Staying with retail for another minute, there is lots of innovation right now in retail that is competing successfully with Amazon. While many stores have had their business dramatically impacted by Amazon, some shopping malls, stores and other retail establishments are finding ways to be successful and thrive even while Amazon does the same. They are doing this by establishing a specific niche and/or a “destination”. In other words, something that Amazon and online can't provide.
The path to your company’s future success requires meeting your “Amazon’d” customer expectations. If you don’t, you can be sure that your customers will find someone who does.