Professor Eben Johnson sees lessons for his Marketing & High Tech Venture students everywhere. Even from a parked car. Noticing a Tesla outside a local coffee shop, he gave himself one mission—to find the owner. “I found and met the owner,” he says. “He turned out to be a great and personable fellow, so I asked him if he would talk to my class about being an early adopter.”
Johnson is a professor with the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. He continually strives to bring real-world learning to his classroom experience. This time he brought a state-of-the-art car to campus!
Herb Morreale, owner of the Tesla S, alumnus of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at CU Boulder, and a successful IT entrepreneur proceeded to share with students his experience with the car from not only a technical perspective but also from initial interest through purchase. “I wanted Herb to help students understand how the early adopter is a different kind of customer,” Johnson says. “These early adopters are taking risks, spending a lot of money, and have certain expectations that are different from mainstream customers who often buy more stable, mature products.”
One interesting aspect of Morreale’s experience was his first real experience with the Tesla team. “Herb went to a ride-and-drive event and wasn’t that impressed. There wasn’t much of an event, the sales people were not sufficiently informed, and the drive portion of the event didn’t excite him that much. Herb was ready to walk, but he happened to introduce himself to an employee with whom he hit it off well. The employee turned out to be a Tesla engineer who was able and willing to talk technical,” Johnson says. “Tesla was lucky.”
Morreale explained how he was surprised how little the company did to support him with his purchase and to generate a positive and exciting experience. For example, Morreale remembers that when it came time to choose his colors, he traveled to a mini showroom where samples were available without much else in the way of support. Morreale remembers laughing, saying, “I’m an engineer. I don’t know how to choose colors!” Later, when his car was ready for pickup, he received a brief, simple email telling him he could take delivery of his car at such a place and time. An email from one’s dry-cleaner can be more exciting! “Especially at this stage of Tesla’s life, and for the electric-car industry in general, we need to understand we’re not just selling someone a car,” Johnson says. “We’re selling an experience, an opportunity to contribute and be part of something new and exciting.”
In fact, a main concept of Johnson’s course is to show students that it’s more than just the product that’s created—it’s the whole package, it’s the whole experience. “I put up a bulls-eye target in class,” he explains. “The inner ring is the core of what the customer is buying, the deep need that’s being satisfied and the experience that’s being sought. The next ring out addresses the many features common with most products and services, and the final ring includes all the supporting attributes such as the sales support, financing, delivery, and after-sales service. I want students to see that the customer will first be attracted by the core technology, but that alone is not enough; the customer’s overall experience is critical. Great testimonials and word-of-mouth are critical in the early days of a new technology, a new company, a new industry.”
In the end, the Tesla engineer helped secure the sale. “We need to accept and remember that early adopters are a special category of customer, with different needs and expectations. Somewhat like investors, they too are investing in a future, in a possibility” he says, “and we need to meet and exceed their needs and expectations in this regards.”
End of story, Morreale loves his car and is delighted with the performance. “Anything wrong”, Johnson asked. “Sure, a couple things weren’t quite right,” Morreale responded, “But most have been taken care of, and that’s OK. As customer number 8400 or so, and being an early adopter, I’m making a bit of a contribution, I’m helping, and I expect a few things to still be ‘under development’.” Happy driving!
The students in Johnson’s course were thrilled to have a real-world learning experience like this. Many of the professors in the Lockheed Martin Engineering Management Program at the University of Colorado Boulder feel that guest lecturers offering real-world lessons are invaluable.
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