How Best Buy Finally Beat Amazon.

A perspective on a business story about people, leadership, and the value of seeing things through the lens of the audience.

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Nearly a cautionary tale the likes of Blockbuster and former competitor Circuit City, Best Buy nearly died in 2012. The killer? Amazon. But it wasn’t all Amazon. Amazon simply filled a void the market demanded while Best Buy rested on their laurels, and paid dearly for doing so.

But…Best Buy didn’t die that year. Fast forward to March of 2019 and they reported performance that beat Wall Street expectations for Q4 and FY18. They not only avoided becoming a cautionary tale, they became a tremendous story of business revival. Sure it’s happening in one of the best economies ever seen. But the hardest part of their resurgence occurred from 2013-2016, an economic season considered by many as one of negligible growth. 

So how is this story relevant to business leaders achieving value by thinking and communicating through the AudienceLens? 

As a refresher, people leading organizations who want their brand to be unique, achieve growth, and inspire loyalty embrace AudienceLens, a principled mindset and language for earning and nurturing trust by focusing on the WHYs of their audience.  

Let’s answer the question first by tapping into the inspiration for this post. Justin Bariso, author of the book @EQApplied and writer for @Inc and @TIME, recently penned an excellent story about Best Buy for @Inc. In his story, Justin chronicles three things he describes as “corporate strategy and emotional intelligence” that Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly did to “save itself from ruin”:

  1. Focus on people. Hubert’s first month on the job was all about collecting feedback. But it wasn’t enough to sit in his office and parade people in for meetings. His time included working in a store for a week. He learned from the people in the trenches, absorbed feedback, and then did something with it. 

  2. Turn weakness into strength. Amazon was beating, no, hammering Best Buy on price. People would go into the store to get a more physical feel for a product and then buy it cheaper on Amazon. Hubert flipped that with a price match. As a consumer, I personally experienced both sides of that situation. And true to form, I did prefer the instant gratification of in-store purchase…as long as I didn’t have to pay more.

  3. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Best Buy still had one unique advantage over Amazon. They had a relationship channel in Geek Squad. In his story, Justin highlights how Hubert and team built upon that model with their In-Home Advisor program. The program is purpose-designed around earning and nurturing trust, in the home, through consultation and advisory about products and their use in the home. According to Justin’s sources, Advisors aren’t commissioned and are not required to closed sales. They are there with the primary objective of becoming trusted advisors.

Now let’s take a look at how each of these emotionally intelligent strategies are inherently AudienceLens.

Focus on people. 

As any capable leader knows, there are 2 critical people audiences that matter most to a brand: customers and employees. This particular area of “focus on people” centers on feedback from the employee audience, which is a direct connection to one of the seven principles of AudienceLens: feedback sharpens effectiveness. While not all feedback is created equal, most feedback has some value. It’s up to capable leaders to create a culture that encourages and cultivates that feedback into usable fuel for their business to be unique, achieve growth, and inspire loyalty. 

Best Buy’s Joly did that by rolling up his sleeves and getting to work, if just for a week, he immersed himself. And he didn’t stop there. He put that feedback to work. Now the proof is in the Glassdoor numbers. If you’re not familiar with Glassdoor, they are a job and recruiting site built on a mission of increasing workplace transparency. Keep in mind that if Glassdoor where a college professor, she would be considered a “tough grader”. Nonetheless, as Justin points out in his story, Best Buy has a recommend-for-work rating of 78%, and Joly an employee approval rating of 92%. Compare those numbers to Amazon which scored 74% and 85% respectively. Best Buy finally beat Amazon.

Here’s the rub: how much time have you genuinely spent in the trenches with your people? 

Already have experience doing that type of work? How long ago was that? Work is a lot like exercise. Working out for a month doesn’t equal fitness for life. While you cannot be in the trenches often and be effective in your leadership trench, you can make time to jump back in for a finite time and learn. 

Surveys? Necessary but definitely not enough. Town Halls and All Hands meetings? Ok, but think about those for a moment. While they may deliver glimpses of value, aren’t they usually orchestrated by executive leadership to stir up the troops? They certainly don’t do for you or your business what even a day or two working the phone at your call center would do. 

How about doing sales calls with your team? Or even personally taking on the whales in your pipeline? Ok. Getting warmer. There’s a lot of opportunity to work with multiple people working on the same project. 

But it’s still not the same as making a deliberate effort to create a multi-discipline immersion experience inside your organization. There’s no substitute for grounding yourself in the grit and grind of daily life in the multiple parts of your organization. The experience and feedback you take away will likely create more long-term value for you and your brand than a strong financial quarter.

Feedback sharpens effectiveness. Go invest your time in the sharpest kind. You can make time for a week of vacation. So you can make time for your Hubert Joly immersion experience. Just think about all the golden nuggets of unfiltered, real stuff you can pick up from customers and employees through immersion. With your lens applied to it, how can you not get better at being unique, achieving growth, and inspiring loyalty?!

Have you done a Hubert Joly in the past? Do you have questions about doing a leadership immersion experience? Share your comments and feedback below or email me @ psnell@lumotiv.com

And stay tuned for the next post on this story as we take an AudienceLens dive into the second part of Jason’s story about Hubert Joly and Best Buy: Turn weakness into strength. 

From your host and Audience Ambassador, Peter Snell, thanks for reading! Now go create some value for yourself!