Is it possible that Apple might be able to teach you a thing or two about how to find more customers for your product? I can almost hear you saying “Hey Dr. Jim, I’m a product manager who manages a line of ball bearings – they are nothing like the kinds of products that Apple sells.” Hold on for a minute there, sure Apple has a handful of very hot products, but how they go about getting them into their customer’s hands has lessons for all product managers. Let’s see if we can find out how they do it so that you will have something new to add to your product manager resume…
Say Hello To The Store
Apple is a computer company right? Well, no – they make a lot of money from software (their operating system and other applications) as well as that App Store thing. You’d think that they would be a perfect candidate for one of those companies that “lives on the Internet”. If you did, then you’d be wrong.
Apple has built an impressive set of retail stores that are very profitable. This kind of thing is measured by revenue per square foot and according to Wall Street Journal reporters Yukari Kane and Ian Sherr Apple’s stores are able to generate $4,406 / sq. ft In comparison, high-end jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. only generates $3,070 / sq. ft. How does Apple do it?
First off, the look & feel of an Apple retail store is not a fixed thing. As part of their strategic management of the Apple brand they continue to change and evolve it to meet customer’s changing expectations. When you have a profit margin of 26.9% you can do things like this!
One of the key advantages of Apple’s stores is how they are laid out. If you walk into a Best Buy store, you’ll see that their products are organized by category (laptops, cameras, TVs, etc.). If you walk into an Apple store, you’ll find things arranged by how you actually use them: kids, music, home, theatre, photo, movies, etc.
You wouldn’t think that what you build a store out of would matter – I mean come on, we all shop at WalMart even though we know just how ugly those stores are. Apple took a gamble that what the store looked like would motivate us to buy more. They created retail stores that are very open and which sport a clutter-free look to them (no pallets of product sitting around). The store itself is part of the show when you visit: it’s made out of natural materials such as stone, glass, wood, and just enough stainless steel. Take that WalMart!
It’s All About The People Doing The Selling
As nice as the Apple stores are to both visit and to look at, when people visit the store they have questions and while looking at the complex products that Apple sells they may come up with more questions.
Apple realized from the start that the people working in the store were the ones who would control a customer’s long term impression of the Apple retail store. That’s why Apple takes the time to invest in their store employees.
New employees work with experienced employees right off the bat in order to learn how to interact with customers. This can take up to a couple of weeks. In order to make sure that their employees don’t appear to be pressuring customers to buy products, Apple retail store employees have no sales quotas and receive no sales commissions if a customer buys a product.
Apple has gone the extra step and has equipped its employees with scripts that tell them what to say in different situations. Employees are instructed to not talk about product rumors and technicians are instructed to listen to customers explain their problems and respond with an “I understand” while listening.
What All Of This Means For You
Seemingly overnight Apple has apparently reinvented the retail channel for selling products directly to customers. Product managers everywhere can learn some important lessons from how Apple has done this no matter what kind of product you manage.
Apple has gone to great pains to ensure that their stores allow their products to be presented to potential customers in the best way possible. This means that they’ve considered all of the details that go into what a customer’s experience is so that it all turns into a positive event. They also take the time to both train their staff to be helpful while at the same time carefully scripting what they say so that no selling opportunities are missed.
All too often we product managers tend to follow the other firms in our industry. We are content to interact with our customers in the same way that they do because doing anything different was never in our product manager job description. We can’t continue to do this. Perhaps it’s time to take an account manager or business development manager at yoru company aside and have a talk with them. Tell them that your company needs to take a cue from Apple and apply the retail store techniques that they’ve invented to your product in order to make it even more successful!
Question For You: Do you think that product managers should script out how company staff present your product to customers?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Being a product manager is a hard job. It seems like there is always too much to do every single day. Keeping yourself focused on what needs to be done today or maybe even tomorrow is enough to keep you fully booked. Oh wait, there is one other thing that you need to be doing – visioning.