Zappos New Business Model: Have Insight, Will Respond

A story this morning in Adweek about Zappos reminded me of a recent experience with a client. I’ll get to the Zappos story in a moment, but first our client’s story.

This customer wanted to set up a client summit at Google’s main office in Mountain View. Attending the summit were not only their search team but also some highly placed executives. The reason for the summit was ostensibly to talk about the client’s search campaign, but it soon became apparent that the executives were looking for something more. They had specifically asked for someone to spend some time talking about Google’s culture.

Throughout the day, Google paraded a number of new advertising offerings in front of the team. While the front line teams were intrigued, one particular senior executive seemed to be almost snoozing through the sales pitches for Google’s new advertising gadgets and gizmos. It was only when the conversation turned to Google’s business practices that the executive perked up, suddenly taking¬†volumes of notes. It made me realize that sometimes, it’s not only what we sell that has value for our customers, it’s what we are. I chatted about this recently with someone from Google, saying that their corporate philosophy and way of doing business is of interest to people. I urged him to find a way to package it as a value add for customers. While he agreed the idea was intriguing, I think it got relegated to the “polite jotting down without any intention of acting on it” category.

Now, back to the Zappo’s story. That’s exactly what they’re doing, taking their customer service religion and packaging it so that thousands of businesses can learn by going directly to the source. Zappos Insights is a subscription service ($39.95 per month) that let’s aspiring businesses ask questions about the “Zappos way” and get answers from actual Zappos employees.

The service, said CEO Tony Hsieh, is targeted at the “Fortune 1 million” looking to build their businesses. “There are management consulting firms that charge really high rates,” he said. “We wanted to come up with something that’s accessible to almost any business.”

It’s a pretty smart move. There’s no denying we’re going through a sea change in how business is done. And I’ve always felt that there’s a impractical divide between consultants and businesses that are consistently implementing every day. It seems like you can either do, or teach, but not both. Amazing stories such as Apple, Google, Southwest and Zappos have shown that innovation with culture is as important as innovation in what ends up in the customer’s hands. Zappos is trying to blend the two in an intriguing revenue model.

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