can small business beat big business

A flurry of recent stories in the media about BIG business has stirred my creative juices.  An article I read a while back in HBR titled “Are Americans Enamored with the Wrong Kinds of Entrepreneurs? “has also added much inspiration for this blog post. The HBR article went on to ask the following question:
… entrepreneurs are held in high esteem even as big business is generally viewed with disdain. Why?

Here are just a few articles on why BIG Business may be viewed with disdain:

  • Bombardier unable to shake public anger over executive pay hikes
  • ‘We do it because our jobs are at stake’: TD bank employees admit to breaking the law 
  • United Airlines CEO defends staff, calling ejected passenger ‘disruptive and belligerent’
  • CEO’s often make exorbitant salaries with little or no real accountability to shareholders

Small business tend to know their customers

IMHO when you boil it right down most small business owners not only know who their customers are, but they also interact with them on a regular basis. As the owner of a small business one of my favorite pastimes is chatting with my customers about their opportunities, challenges and issues. I genuinely like to learn more about my customers so we can serve them better.

Customer is a fuzzy concept for BIG business

On the other hand, in a large enterprise it is quite possible that the people leading those organizations and making many customer impacting decisions never even come into contact with a customer. There are layers of organizational structure between the CEO  and the end customer. These layers of separation from the customer create distance and disconnect. The United Airlines story and the CEO initial reaction to the ejected passenger are a perfect example of customer disconnect.

Customer intimacy is a key differentiator

Perhaps the key differentiator between small & BIG business is knowing your customer. Most small business owners I know from restaurant owner to tech Startup genuinely care about their customer’s experience. However, for a BIG business customer experience may be important to the front-line staff, but those making the decisions are often so far removed they lack empathy.

How can small business beat BIG Business?

Small business can beat BIG Business through customer intimacy and superior local market knowledge.

​- Ian Graham