What’s the problem with a used car salesman?

In his podcast, Akimbo [https://www.akimbo.me/], Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discussed how marketing and distribution had defined the business culture we have today.

In the early days of the automobile industry, car companies were not sufficiently capitalized to make cars and sell cars.  The car manufacturers were facing problems that are familiar to entrepreneurs today. First, the creators did not have enough cash. For new cars, they cost a lot of money to research, design, and ramp up the production before selling them. Second, the new product, automobile, was relatively unknown to the public. Third, the product, like a car, was complex and would probably require post-sale service.

The combination of being unknown and requiring service means the consumers have a trust issue with the car companies. The concept of the auto dealership has been an integral component of the car industry because car companies need dealerships to distribute and service their products. If the consumers trust the dealership, they will likely trust the car manufacturer.

Just like the bookstores to the publishers, the car companies see the dealers as their “real” customers. The car companies also have built many things into the car that require a visit to the dealership because the car companies want to keep the dealers happy selling their cars.

With Tesla, the company is showing that the traditional dealership structure is not so critical to the company anymore. The low maintenance requirement of the Tesla car also means the company does not require a dealer network to service the cars regularly.

A similar set of problems faced the computer companies during their early days of introducing their products to the public. The computer companies had computers which were largely unknown to the consumers, and those computers require maintenance regularly. As a result, we had many computer dealer organizations which existed to distribute and to service the computers.

Unlike cars, the consumers were not prepared to invest a large sum of money on maintaining computers vs. maintaining cars. The mass adoption of the computer became possible when Apple produced their computers that require very little maintenance on the consumers’ part. People could trust Apple’s computers more because they are not so much an unknown and do not require much service. Apple and the software companies worked together to make software that users could fix on their own.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that, in this day of one-click shopping, many of us still would like to touch something before we buy it. For those products and services, we need to develop the empathy of seeing other people’s fear when they make a purchase. We need to see that not all people know what we know and want what we want.

To market our products or to make the change we seek, we need to alleviate the fears of our prospective customers. We need to do the hard work of figuring out how to create a sustainable retail space where customers can engage with us. In that space, the customers can find the trust that they need, the confidence to move forward, and a place to get the product serviced when it breaks.