New Market Dance

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It’s the age of the customer—are you ready?

By Jim Blasingame

Markets were born when humans chose to acquire what they needed by trading with each other, rather than producing it themselves or taking from someone else by force. The moment of proto-market conception was when the first seller offered to trade with the first customer and that offer was accepted.

For millennia, this marketplace dance was as beautifully simple as it was exquisitely effective, having at its nucleus three primary elements:

  1. The product, controlled by the seller.
  2. Product information, also controlled by the seller.
  3. The buying decision, controlled by the customer.

From that first transaction, when shells were the reserve currency, to about 1993, the marketplace dance was performed zillions of times with little variation. I’ve termed this period “The Age of the Seller,” because the seller controlled two of the three elements of the marketplace.

Then something happened that had not occurred for 10,000 years: a new age—I call it “The Age of the Customer.” This new age was born as microcomputers and associated innovations converged with high-speed Internet and associated applications. As this convergence shifts marketplace paradigms, it conveys the balance of power from the seller to the customer.

The millennia-old marketplace dance is still beautifully simple. But when the dancers come together in the Age of the Customer, a new leader emerges, because control of the major relationship elements has changed:

  1. Products and services are still controlled by the seller.
  2. The buying decision is still controlled by the customer.
  3. The information—including customer experiences—is now easily and abundantly available to the customer without being controlled, filtered or distributed by the seller.

The Age of the Seller is succumbing to the Age of the Customer, as customers resist restrictions of the former age and embrace the empowerment of the new. During the transition, sellers are operating in parallel universes, but not for long.

Your community bank and its small-business customers are now operating in an age where customers rule. Consumers like this newfound empowerment, and increasingly expect sellers to connect with them on Age of the Customer terms. Hidebound sellers, nostalgic for when they had control, will become irrelevant and perish. Visionary sellers that transition to the new age with their customers will be successful by recognizing that being competitive is no longer enough—you also have to be relevant.

Write this on a rock: It’s the Age of the Customer. Your world, as has the world of all small businesses, has changed.


Jim Blasingame (jim@jbsba.com) is an expert on small business and entrepreneurship, the award-winning radio host of “The Small Business Advocate Show” and the author of “The Age of the Customer—Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.” He’s the president of Small Business Network Inc., and “The Age of the Customer®” is one of his company’s registered trademarks. For more, visit smallbusinessadvocate.com or ageofthecustomer.com.

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