Big questions require big answers. What would a country girl in a small town who works with entrepreneurs and start-ups have to say to enterprise brands?

I just finished Small Town Rules: How Big Brands and Small Businesses Can Prosper in a Connected Economy because I knew there are things big brands can learn from small business entrepreneurs to help them get real with their customers in the 21st Century.

In Small Town Rules, the co-authors write: “The customers of every company now behave like they live in a small town. As a result, companies now need to play by a new set of ‘small-town rules.’”


Can enterprise brands have a small-town-business feel that delights customers and extends the brand? How do you get small but stay big? (And how do you stay small but get big?) Here are a few lessons from Small Town Rules and from growing up in my own small town.

Leadership Needs to Change Focus

Successful small business entrepreneurs never lose sight of their customer. They are in front of them everyday and know they are being placed in a position of trust. And because they are in front of them everyday in their community, they are accountable to them.

For large brands, their focus is on their shareholders and investors. By focusing on customer engagement first, retention and acquisition will follow. Ask a small business owner who their customer is, and they will tell you about Mary from the next town over who loves the vintage Malbec from Argentina. Ask an executive and you are likely to get a demographic outline and list of pain points for their target audience.

Be in Tune with the Buyer

Your buyer is the context for everything. Successful small business entrepreneurs wear many hats, many times simultaneously. Focusing on one thing is difficult, even if it is the customer. Instead of being customer focused, be in tune with your customer. To do this, you have to eliminate the silos that create gaps in communication both internally and externally. Build interdepartmental team structures around each of your customer segments. Use buyer personas to represent your customers to the team. Encourage teams to tell individual customer’s stories.

With different hats, together you enable faster response to changes with your customer and identify their needs as the context for market trends. The best small town businesses are known for knowing every customer personally and catering to them. Treat each of your teams as a small business within your brand, and your customers will be more likely to get the same treatment.

Be Who You Are

Remember your roots and tell your story. Every small town has a story. Even Microsoft started in someone’s small town garage. Don’t just tell it on a website page. Tell your employees, prospects and customers. This is our passion; this is how it started; this is why we get up every morning. As the John Mellencamp song goes, “I grew up in a small town… I cannot forget where it is that I come from. I cannot forget the people who love me… I can be myself here in this small town… people let me be just what I want to be.”

Treat Employees Like Customers

The happier the employee, the happier the customer. Sales and marketing alignment is as much about mutual expectations and accountability to revenue as it is about setting the expectation of the customer. Make sure promises made are ones your employees can keep. Give them the necessary training and professional development to be better at their job. Give them every tool, resource and support you can to delight customers. Treat them how you want them to treat your customers.

Do More than Expected

Who doesn’t want to surprise and delight their customers? Yet 42 percent of consumers say companies are basically helpful, but don’t do anything extra to keep them. In fact, 22 percent feel they are taken for granted. Customer service success stories happen when someone goes beyond what is expected. Like the restaurant greeting a tweeter with food at the airport when he stepped off the plane. Small business owners are delighted when employees find new ways to delight customers and act proactively on their behalf. Give your employees the authority to do the same.

Be Part of the Community

You have to engage on your customers’ terms. Communities are for them, not for you to promote yourself. You can help build it, but if you try to control it, you will squash engagement. You will lose the opportunity to understand the mindset of your customer. You will bypass what value you can bring. To know what will delight your customer, stay close to their communities and see where they are headed. Get your product and design ideas from there.

Embrace Transparency

Being honest is easy in a small town because everyone already knows. You can’t fool the people you grew up with. Your customers are not fooled either. In a connected economy, our ability to detect the truth is only a few clicks away. Share your insider information on your industry and help people solve problems and answer questions.

What do you think about these small town business tips? Share your own below!

Photo Credit: North Berwick