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How Successful Small Businesses are Part-Time Psychics

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    This man runs a startup out of his garage selling specialty cheeses.

    Did you read the story from earlier this year about how Target can fairly accurately guess if you're pregnant based on your purchase history? Not because you're buying diapers, but because you are buying a lot more vitamins, then a lot more lotion, then a lot more household goods. It can actually suggest a rough due date.

    Creepy? A little. But it illustrates a very important point to small businesses: A successful business knows its customers' needs and wants really well, sometimes before the customers do.

    How is that possible without a mountain of buying/credit/demographic/psychographic data and a team of crack data analysts to make sense of it all? Well, as a small business owner, you have something larger businesses don't have: a relationship to your customer.

    At my local coffee shop, I know the owner. I know two of the baristas and one of the guys who makes sandwiches. I know one of the baristas is a photographer and the other actually used to own the place. Not surprisingly, they know me pretty well. They know what I do for a living, they know I live in the area, they know I wake up early and that when I'm writing, I prefer the table next to the wall because it has a plug.

    They also know that I drink coffee. When I come in and it's quiet, by the time I pulled my laptop out, they have a cup poured and waiting for me. They know what I want and by showing me they know me, I show my appreciation through tips and return visits.

    Do you think MegaCoffee, despite it's massive infrastructure, can say the same? I have a MegaCoffee gold card and I am treated like everyone else, even when I've been showing up every day for months.

    Not surprisingly, given the opportunity, I choose to spend my money at the my local rather than at the MegaCoffee.

    This isn't a lesson in customer service at the individual level, but that you have access to your customers. Beyond that, as an expert in whatever you do business in, you have knowledge your customers need. If my local hardware store sees I'm buying a lot of water stripping in the fall, they might suggest window film (or offer me a deal on it). My dry cleaner might suggest that I bring in my coat in the spring to get it cleaned so it's ready for the next winter. Did you build a website for a customer? Suggest a writer to help them fill it with content.

    This isn't about the up-sell, it's about you using your exclusive knowledge to help your customer in a way that others can't. That kind of relationship fosters more sales (and fantastic word of mouth) in the long run.

    Playing part-time psychic to read your customers' minds is a long-term strategy that pays off.

    James Ellis is a Google Analytics-certified digital strategist who has helped non-profits, state governments, small businesses and multi-national firms get smarter about doing business online. He used to be the first @BuckyBadger, which means he can type with big fuzzy paws. You can get in touch with James at saltlab.com to tell him how many ways he's wrong.