Our local grocery store is very progressive. Beyond the legislated places for Handicapped Parking, they also have designated – Parent Parking – spots.
When I have the time I like to confront people who park in these spots to see if they are following the rules. I like to ask people:
“Excuse me sir, I see that you parked in a ‘Parent Parking Only’ space –Can I see a picture of your kids, or perhaps your grandkids?”
And then usually the guy gets all offended and tells me that it’s none of my business… and then I tell him that parking there and having no kids means he really makes it difficult for parents, like me, who do.
Then he asks me, “Where are your kids?”.
Then I ask him, “Where are yours?”.
And then I tell him that one is at dance, the second at baseball, and the third at soccer. And he counters that one of his is a Thoracic Surgeon and at the hospital, the second is CEO of a large software company, and the third is running a first legal medical marijuana dispensary in the big city. Then it’s sort of a stand off … and we just go in and shop, in different aisles, and use different checkouts. But I do give him a mean look when I have to walk another 20 yards to my car.
Picking the type of customers you serve can be a very difficult thing for any business. When I got back home, I started thinking that maybe our grocery outlet didn’t want middle-age guys arguing with older guys about their children or grandchildren. I thought that maybe, just maybe, they were thinking about say – a busy mom with three little kids trying to shop and needing to be closer to the door of the store.
But then I thought it would be very powerful if the grocery store extended the concept and went after specific market segments in our community – ones that went beyond the required spots for Handicapped parking and Harried Parent parking. How about,
‘Overwrought, over mortgaged, pre-diabetic middle-aged male with periodic digestive issues’ – parking spot.
‘Single, lonely – hasn’t had a date in over 2 years’ – parking spot (this one apparently caused some stalking issues in the store)
They could even put one right in the middle of the road immediately in front of the store
‘Stupid jerk who thinks the world should revolve around him and his late model car’ – parking spot
‘Guy who thinks his cellphone got stolen from under the front seat of his vehicle because his wife came and exchanged the van for the car when he was in the store and he didn’t even notice the vehicles had been switched in the same spot but reported a theft to the store personnel anyways’ – parking spot (I am not saying that this happened…).
But after a while you realize that it gets quite confusing because the store could have over 200 unique parking spots and no one ends up in it because they are all caught in a gigantic traffic jam with everyone looking for their one and only particular spot – some spot that just speaks to them, their particular situation and circumstance.
You see, a business has to choose a customer – or a customer group. In order to be successful – it must choose and define, and then, cultivate the customers they are ‘best suited’ to serve. And sometimes it may not be the customers that THEY WANT to serve!
Jim Collins makes this case in his book ‘Good to Great’ when he relates that the most successful businesses approach strategy from the viewpoint of
‘What CAN they be great at’.
We operate a trucking software and freight brokerage software business. We serve small to medium sized emerging trucking companies and small freight brokerages in North America. We don’t support customers with large integrated, multi-faceted, trucking operations, primarily because we just aren’t constituted or capable of doing so. In the same way we aren’t good in supporting very large freight brokerage operations.
As president I am conscious of the fact that sometimes a business is fighting itself. And I can imagine that many of our customers find the very same thing. It’s difficult because its takes money to operate a business. Many times a new customer will present a lucrative revenue opportunity but isn’t particularly suited to the way your company operates or is built. As such you can’t serve them well. Stretching yourself in ways you can’t, or shouldn’t, can cause a lot of frustration – for your staff, for you, and most distressingly, for your customers.
So when you decide what customers you should serve, keep an eye on two things
- What are your true capabilities? Conduct an honest assessment of what resources, knowledge and abilities you have – and who they work for.
- And be aware of the relevant choices customers have. It’s big world out there, and the Internet gives customers great access to it. Ask yourself, what makes you different? What customers can you serve uniquely?
In these days of a globalized, internet-centric economy, you can most likely find some sliver, or some segment, of the market that can be served uniquely, perhaps only, by your company. Leverage that unique ability – lengthen your value proposition – so you CAN BE GREAT with a particular customer segment. Do it to the extent that when someday some guy steals your parking spot at the grocery store you can retort:
“Oh yeah, well I run a trucking business that uniquely serves agricultural companies doing between $30 and $300m in annual revenues, and who deliver goods to 40 states and 8 provinces in North American using my 50 refrigerated units”
And then he might respond:
“Well, I am the owner of the chain of grocery stores, one of which is this one. I like to park where my customers park so I can relate to the experience that they have when visiting as guests to our stores. I buy a lot, and I mean a lot, of agricultural goods from companies in our local area. In fact, we get deliveries here all the time. What did you say the name of your trucking company was again?”
And then you might say:
“You must be very proud of your kids. They sound so accomplished. Tell me more”
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