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Things And Outcomes: What Do (Will) You Sell?

“WASHINGTON: The inexorable push for mobility in gadgets has reshaped the electronics industry, a shift that reflects a changing of the guard at the world’s biggest consumer technology show.

Gone from the 2013 International CES, to be held January 8-11 in Las Vegas, are giants such as Microsoft, and longtime tech stalwarts such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard are taking a back seat to firms focused on more portable, or even wearable, devices.”

January 4th issue of

This is a shift from “things” to “outcomes” (what the “things” do); however, this is no OMG moment, and it certainly is not limited to Microsoft, Intel and HP. Consumers have been asking the same question for years: “What can you do for me?” not “What have you got for me?”

Back in the late ’70s I was sales manager, special markets, for Pioneer. One of my clients was a guy who bought our smallest under-dash cassette player, which he then converted into a battery-operated, wearable headphone cassette player for skiers.

The obvious safety hazard of strapping a 3- or 4-pound metal object to your chest while skiing notwithstanding, he sold a bunch of them. Great for me too until Sony came along a year or so later with the Walkman, and, in the process, figuratively overnight inventing and dominating what became the “personal headphone stereo” category.

Right place, right time with the right “thing,” so much so that few could imagine anyone usurping what was then Sony’s unassailable position in a product category they created — one whose product name became all but generic in the minds of consumers.

You know where this is headed don’t you? Apple’s iPod usurped the hell out of Walkman and in the process the music, video, and ultimately mobile phone markets with iPhones and now iPads — all “things” that were made to do better what other “things” had previously done well. And now we see new things that do an even better version of what portable music storage devices had done previously — stream libraries of music and video “anytime anywhere,” not just through headphones but to a number of playback points as well.

What called the “inexorable push for mobility” is not confined to mobility, not even close. Consumers want better “outcomes,” and they will buy whatever thing gives them that.

For a brief moment in time, the modified under-dash cassette player I sold my client was that product. And then it was decidedly overtaken by a much better thing, which, in turn, was bested by a still better one. While we didn’t recognize it at the time, Pioneer was happily recording “thing” sales when we should have been focused on our consumer’s buying “outcomes.” Had we done so, we might have been a bit more successful in the category evolution than turned out to be true.

Instead of seeing your store as a place to sell things, think about it as a place people go to buy outcomes — your current inventory simply a positive means to different ends for both you and your customer.

William Matthies is the CEO of Coyote Insight, a planning consultancy specializing in the consumer electronic industry, and the author of “The 7 Keys To Change.” He can be reached at [email protected] or at (714) 726-2901.