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3 x 5 Customers April 7, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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dirksphoto.jpgWhen I was a teenager, I recall a local shopkeeper who had a healthy and stable business. He had a little general store which, that many years ago, might as well have been the center of the universe for our little hamlet.

This was a time when shopping centers were entering their zenith in customer pulling power. These were, in the mid-to-late seventies, the forerunners of what we call ‘big box’ stores today. And yet, despite all their marketing and S&H Green stamps (remember those?), this man and his business stood firm.

It wasn’t until I had graduated high school that I mustered the courage to ask him how he managed against this large, looming competition. He reached behind the counter and pulled out a box. In that box were 3×5 note cards, with handwritten scribble on both sides. He took one out and held it up and said, “This is what keeps me ahead of those people.”

I had no clue what he was talking about. I just stared at his aged hand and the card that it held. “It’s not what I do that helps me to stay in business, it’s what I know about your mom that does.” Now he had my attention. My mother? Something he knows? What did she do?

He handed me the card. As I tried to read his scribble, it slowly became clear what he really meant. On this 3×5 card were notes on things my mother would buy on a regular basis. Like Kent cigarettes or Pepsi. He new the brand of bread she preferred. He knew that she had four scrapping, candy-loving boys (in the day when a nickel really bought you some candy). He had our phone number. He had our address.

I looked up and was still somewhat bewildered by this 3×5 card. So, I thought, you know what cigarettes she likes…so what?

Then he showed me a few other cards. He also knew the kinds of things that our neighbors would buy from his story and their preferences. He knew what to stock and when to stock it.

His secret for thriving and profiting during a time when shopping centers were eating up mom & pop stores was simple. He knew his customers. He knew what they wanted, when they wanted it, and didn’t waste profits on items they didn’t want.

The big dogz have plenty of money and technology. Some of them do a masterful job of understanding what, why, when, where, and how their customers buy from them. There are many big dogz who have huge amounts of technological power and have no clue how to harness it.

Want to kick the pants out of ANY competitor, large or small? Think 3×5.

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