Want to know your customers better? Well, you’re clearly brilliant to recognize how important this is. But beware: it’s not a one-and-done project. It’s an ongoing action—a habit of successful business leaders.

Lucky for us, it’s a habit that

  • Will do more for the success of your business than most anything else you’ll ever do, and
  • Is comparatively easy-peasy for a small business owner (in many cases, it’s baked into your daily work life)

You don’t need some time-wasting know-your-customer checklist or a course in market research to do this well. Unlike an executive at a large corporation (who, by the way, is downright jealous of how quickly and easily you can gather customer insights), you’re pretty darn close to your customers.

So your secret sauce is threefold:

  1. Know that you know your customers (or can get to know them easily)
  2. Recognize that this is a huge advantage
  3. Hang onto that advantage with all your might

Instead of mapping out some unnecessarily detailed process for getting to know your customers, let’s just learn from 1 great, real-world example.

The 5 Things Trader Joe’s Doesn’t Do (& the 1 Thing They Won’t Stop Doing)

When I moved from Chicago to Austin, I missed Trader Joe’s. At the time, this famously unique purveyor of groceries and impulse buys (I’m looking at you, chocolate-covered checkout lanes) had not yet hit the Texas capital. And while I had little reason to complain from the land of Whole Foods and Central Market, I still missed me some T.J.’s.

I missed the Hawaiian shirts, the trusty sample stand, the vast selection of cheap wine, and all the weird snacks that ended up in my pantry after a visit. But I also missed supporting a company with standout customer service and such an innovative marketing philosophy—a philosophy built on knowing the customer.

At South by Southwest one year, I heard Doc Searls speak about a lunch he had with Trader Jo’s since retired president, Doug Rouch, in which Rouch explained the company’s philosophy.

Trader Joe’s is known as an incredibly secretive company, but according to Searls, they’re not actually guarded. They simply choose not to participate in the retail social space. Here’s how they roll instead:

  • No gimmicks
  • No advertising
  • No loyalty
  • No discounts
  • No retail trade shows

Their “marketing” consists of talking to customers. The good, old-fashioned way.

Rouch would go into stores and strike up conversations with shoppers, asking them what they liked, didn’t like, and wanted. And then he used that information as the primary driver of company decisions.

In other words, everything that went on in their stores was influenced by actual humans browsing actual aisles.

Who are your actual humans?

Forget Marketing Until You Know Your Customer

Touch points and channels and influencers and listening posts and watering holes and…ugh. These days, it seems we have endless ways to “connect” with customers, and yet many of us rarely really do it.

For small business owners, there’s no excuse for this.

Instead of letting all the engagement opportunities and mechanisms distract you into inefficacy or inaction, shut your computer and get back to basics.

Small-business owners have a huge advantage when it comes to knowing customers: it’s easy for us to get old school. To walk up and down the aisles, look into the faces of our humans, and ask questions.

And most of all, listen.

So go do that. You’ll learn more than you ever could from a blog post.

How do you get to know your customers?

Do you have a great tip or story about getting to know your customers? Or about how knowing your customers has helped you improve your small business and marketing?  Please share it with me directly or in the comments.

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