What corporate mindset does personalization require?

Personalization requires an utterly different mindset than most businesses and executives possess. It is harder to change this mindset than to install sophisticated software, build new plants, or develop new products.

The only way to succeed in the emerging Personal Economy is to change your mindset. Here’s what needs to happen.

Win/Win, Not Zero-Sum

Too often, business is “played” as though it is a zero-sum game. In such a game, one side wins and the other loses. Most of us grew up playing zero-sum games such as basketball and baseball. Ties are not allowed.

This attitude carries over into business. We read about strikes to see who won, management or labor? Suppliers negotiate with their biggest customers, and their executives often come back to report that “we got beat up” in the negotiations. Investors argue with management that unless they lay off 10 percent of their employees, the company can’t succeed. In theory, companies should only compete with their competitors, but that’s rarely the case. Most companies struggle against the very individuals that enable them to function.

Business becomes a zero-sum game when companies are constrained by limited resources or when they are trading in relatively undifferentiated products. If all you do is sell a product that people can buy elsewhere, you are playing a zero-sum game. The same is true if all you offer employees is a basic job they can find elsewhere. If you are a distributor and you don’t add much value, you’re also playing a zero-sum game. You’re trying to take money out of the pockets of all the other parties in a transaction, and they’re all looking at you and wondering what they are getting in return.

Personalization Depends on Nonzero Business Relationships

In mass marketing, one side wins and the other loses (zero-sum game). In personalization, both sides win (non-zero).

By adopting a “nonzero” relationship strategy, a firm adds another dimension of value to an existing relationship:

- Customers don’t merely get a product or a service. They get convenience that other firms can’t match, because the merchant has learned to accommodate the customer’s unique needs.

- Employees don’t just get a salary and benefits. They get a situation tailored to their skills and a relationship that fits well with the rest of their life.

- Partners don’t just get to distribute a firm’s products. They get tools and treatment that maximizes their income and cultivates their loyalty.

- Suppliers don’t just get a customer. They get a partner who helps them lower costs and risks and also helps them improve their offerings.

Most companies that view business as a zero-sum game will have difficulty aligning the firm’s needs with those of their valuable stakeholders. The pot seems limited, because it is. In this situation, talk about “customers come first” or “employees make it all possible” is