About ten years ago, I went to a seminar on marketing one to one, offered by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers of Peppers & Rodgers Group. The main concept (which was new and somewhat radical at the time) was that customers should share their deepest thoughts and needs with companies. The companies, in return, would then be enabled to provide solutions customized to the individual’s specific needs. Only one small challenge stood in the way – would customers trust companies with their personal information?
The results since then have been mixed. Companies have created powerful customer relationship management (CRM) systems to track customer information. On the other hand, there have been many concerns voiced about the privacy of information that lead to a reluctance by customers to share their personal needs. Unless a company has demonstrated that it is trustworthy, clients and consumers are unlikely to divulge the detailed information that is most valuable.
In order to gain the trust of its customers, a company needs to be transparent about its business practices. Or course, it’s easier to be open and honest when you feel comfortable about how you run your business. Sustainable business practices (which value people and planet as well as profits) are a key way of building trust with your client base and stronger and more open relationships. Companies that engage in sustainable business practices and are willing to be transparent will be rewarded with the trust of their customers and a greater intimacy with them.
Small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) have an edge over large companies in their ability to quickly take advantage of the benefits of transparency and sustainability. SMEs probably have less to hide due to their typically shorter life spans and narrower scope of operations. SMEs have fewer stakeholders who prefer the status quo. SMEs frequently have visionary leaders who personally care about the company that they lead, and how it reflects their personal values. SMEs are able to act more decisively and react to both positive and negative reactions more quickly and personally.
Small and mid-sized companies are well-positioned to take advantage of the emerging trends towards openness and sustainability – two trends that complement each other.