“Sometimes you think that to change the world, you need to do the impossible,” said George Blankenship. “I look at it differently. It’s not impossible — it just hasn’t been done yet.”
In April 2017, Tesla bypassed General Motors to become the most valuable carmaker in the U.S. Although it only held the top spot briefly, this tech-savvy, boundary-pushing company is not only turning the automotive industry on its head; its innovation is also causing far-reaching disruptions in fields like energy storage, which is critical to the future of renewable energy.
How did a seemingly fringe enterprise blow by some of the most iconic carmakers?
According to Blankenship, former executive at Apple Computer, Tesla Motors and GAP Inc., who spoke at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE17), it is absolutely critical to assume that someone is going to redefine your industry.
“Whoever does is going to hold the world in the palm of their hand,” he said.
The disruptive tactic that Blankenship employed at Apple and Tesla focused heavily on giving customers something they couldn’t live without, before they even knew they wanted it. The clearest example is our modern dependence on smartphones, not for the phone itself, but for the wealth of apps that allow us to lead more efficient lives.
The key, Blankenship said, is to create a long-term customer relationship.
“What can you do that will keep customers wanting to come back again and again?” he asked.
Apple now has one of the most loyal communities of customers in the world. Blankenship said the three most important things a company can do to ensure long-term customer relationships include:
- Letting people know they are important.
- Letting people know they will be taken care of.
- Letting people know that you will be available to help them.
Blankenship first executed this strategy at Apple by transforming the company’s brick and mortar stores from simple retail sites to engaging venues where customers could connect directly with a product. They also became the home of the Genius Bar, where customers could stop by to ask for advice about the Apple products they already owned (and purchase even more once they were on-site).
Now that greater connectivity and the internet are making it more convenient to learn about products and order them online, the physical stores themselves should be the place where experts make a difference by giving customers time, attention and an experience.
Today, this is exactly the stratagem that Tesla is employing. It is redefining the car buying experience by becoming the first car manufacture to put the brand into shopping malls, where families are visiting, taking selfies with their children inside the cars and, of course, asking how soon they can buy the latest model.
“You will know if your store is successful and you’re doing a great job if everybody leaves smiling,” explained Blankenship.
To excel, Blankenship said it is vital to cultivate a disruptive mindset by doing the following five things:
- Simplify: Focus only on what’s important.
- Courage: Don’t listen to outsiders.
- Alignment: Demonstrate conviction.
- Celebrate: Successes and failures.
- First step: Take it!
“So, who in this room is ready to close their eyes, envision the possible opportunities of the next 10 years, and then make a difference that will change your industry forever?” asked Blankenship. “Somebody is going to do it. The only question is: Will it be you?”