The Power of Noticing.

How to Win Big with Small Data.

The Power of Noticing.

How to Win Big with Small Data.

by admin

Published on November 8, 2018
Robert Hackman
Strategic Sales and Marketing, Change Management | Consulting & Coaching

Despite the reach and influence of Big Data, the information it provides is frequently incomplete, sometimes in critical ways. Relying on it too heavily can lead companies to forget about and bypass the equally important and frequently more powerful contributions offered by small Data, personal interactions with customers and associates.

This article tells a compelling story illustrating how a sophisticated, vertically integrated company used small Data to help dominate its service markets. It noticed how its customers interacted with its entry doors.

The company is Wawa. A category defying, convenience retailer that sells gasoline, made to order sandwiches, prepared fresh foods, drinks and food staples such as milk and eggs that currently operates in 6 States.

It does use Big Data. However, what sets Wawa apart from its competition, is the closeness the firm’s leadership maintains with its customers and associates and the direct connections the company makes to its “Why.” “Why” as in, Wawa’s foundational purpose in business, combined with relentless commitment to its fundamentals.


After analyzing its competitors Wawa decided to experiment. The company installed a set of automatic opening doors at a new store in Florida, rather than its traditional, manually operated glass doors. Most Wawa stores had a vestibule entry. Meaning customers needed to open 2-sets of doors to enter and exit its stores, demanding 4-times the effort required by automatic doors.

However, the company immediately realized “it was not them.” Why not? How did they know so quickly? What was going on?

The electrically operated doors denied Wawa customers the opportunity to hold the door for one another. A core behavior of Wawa customers and a fundamental part of its brand and culture.

This is exemplified through an impromptu statement made by a business executive I met who traveled weekly from the mid-West to work in the Philadelphia area. She told me, “The people in Philadelphia are so nice, everyone at the Wawa holds the door for you…” Welcome sentiments to an area native, not always associated with the City of Brotherly Love, but strongly associated with Wawa.

Noticing customer interactions at the small Data store level, company leaders learned critical information that they never could have through the Big Data level analysis of computer spread sheets at company headquarters.

Direct customer observation by senior management, viewed through the lens of company’s “Why” it was in business, facilitated their immediate recognition that the automatic doors were misaligned with its mission.

Wawa’s overarching reason for being in business is to “create community and connection.” Quite a profound purpose for a convenience retailer, and a core element of its identity and position in the market. Wawa leadership says the company does this 5-minutes at a time.


Even though ease of use and efficiency were company imperatives, knowing and paying attention to its “Why,” kept the company from mistaking them as the primary drivers of its success. Wawa firmly believes shopping at its stores is more than transactional, it is about feel-good experiences based on person-to-person interactions. To monitor this effectively, leadership commits to regularly spending time in its stores collecting small Data.

Wawa customers get a rush of endorphins (feel good, social hormones) when they hold the door for someone and they get a similar rush of endorphins when the door is held for them. Consequently, its store entryways are a foundational part of how the customer experience at Wawa creates community. So much so, that “holding the door” is part of the company’s PowerPoint slide presentation that Wawa leadership uses to tell its story.


The company develops Wawa devotees and an almost cult like status in each of the markets it enters. Wawa’s relentless commitment to its fundamentals has positioned the company to sell 4% of the nation’s gas, despite only operating in 6-States. It is the dominant fresh brewed coffee retailer within its operating markets, despite competing against much larger and more widely known competitors.

Wawa uses its overarching go-to-market strategy and foundational values as lenses through which to evaluate its decision making. The company continually relies on collecting small Data at the store level to align its actions and measure its success.

Automatic doors were misaligned with its fundamental strategy and mission. Wawa knew its core strategy was to delight customers and its primary purpose was creating community and connection, it just happens to do so by providing convenient gas and food.

Does your firm utilize small Data? Do your company leaders regularly spend time with customers and associates? Has your organization determined its “Why” and used it as a pair of glasses through which to view its decision making and align its actions? How would things be better if it did? What can you do to put these behaviors into motion in your company?


1. It does not work to rely Big Data alone, by itself it is not enough of a differentiator. It is critical to determine ways to get into relationship with customers and associates on an ongoing basis.

2. Core Values are a verb. Regularly practiced and infused in culture, they influence strategy in critical ways and guide decision making at all levels.

3. Overarching go-to-market strategy, together with core values, provides the foundation for agile responses to the market, to which all other elements of an organization should be aligned.

Robert Hackman is the Founder and Principal of 4C Consulting, a Consulting and Executive Coaching business centered around helping companies, their leaders and associates grow and flourish, so that they can live the lives they want and leave the legacies they intend. He can be reached via the 4C Consulting Website  email and text or voice at 484.800.2203