If you don’t have customers you don’t have a business. And if you can’t constantly add new customers, your business is not going to last very long.
So it’s not an overstatement to say that your business starts and finishes with your ability to continue to bring a new pipeline of customer’s to your company month on month.
The technical term for this is ‘customer acquisition’.
In this article I tackle, head-on, how to get more customers for your business (irrespective of the nature of your business). This is the definitive guide on customer acquisition that you can refer to, and work through in order to make sure you are leaving no stone unturned to help your business grow.
Whether you are using paid marketing (i.e. Facebook Ads) or are looking to acquire customers through more cost-effective or free means, the principles in this article will ensure you make the most of the resources you have to hand.
Critical Mistakes to Avoid with Customer Acquisition
Before we get into the tactics, it is important to confront the common mistakes that entrepreneurs make, and which you may be making right now, when it comes to trying to secure new prospects.
Mistakes with customer acquisition come about from inexperience or over-confidence or a combination of both.
So lets understand some fundamental rules that you need to bear in mind so that you don’t fall into these obvious traps when you are trying to secure new customers to grow your business.
“Build it and They Will Come”
If you’ve just seen the video above, don’t believe what James Earl Jones says to Kevin Costner. Because as far as your business is concerned, people will certainly not come if you just build it.
By far the biggest mistake business owners make, especially if they are new to business, is to believe that once their product or service is up and running, or has been launched, that customers will flock to offer up their hard-earned cash.
This could not be further from the truth. Most people, who have not prepared properly for the launch of a new product, or indeed their business, hear nothing but the sound of crickets.
And if you’ve been in business long enough, no doubt you’ve heard this demoralising sound.
Even if you have a loyal customer base that devoured your previous products, if you are launching a new product or service you cannot rely on those customers to instinctively buy without you going through the right steps with them first (i.e. going through a product launch).
Everything in business needs its own product launch. And the launch needs to be structured well in advance of D-day in order for there to be any success.
Expecting Too Much from First-Timers
Consumer buying habits can be complicated to predict.
Expecting that the first interaction prospects have with you or your brand will be enough to convince them to buy is another mistake many entrepreneurs make.
This is not how you yourself would buy. Especially if the product was even slightly expensive (say $50 +).
Think about it.
For most of us, if we were buying a pair of shoes, say, we would most likely go and visit a few stores, and then check online.
Only after we’re totally satisfied that we’ve checked all the other options will we come to the first store again in order to buy (assuming they had what we wanted and the price was competitive).
The time lag between the first visit and when we eventually buy could be up to a month or longer. Some insight suggests it takes between six to eight touches just to generate a viable sales lead, never mind securing the sale.
Now one thing that would get me to act quicker would be if after my first visit there was a sale on the shoes or they were running out of stock (i.e. scarcity). Failing those circumstances, most people will take some time before they are ready to buy from you.
Expecting an Immediate Return
Whatever investment in time or money you make in your business, it is prudent to expect that it will take you some time to make the return.
An investment in someone you hire won’t give immediate results, as the employee has to get used to the new job before they can add value. New software in your business will take some getting used to before it demonstrates cost-savings.
Similarly, any investment in a marketing campaign will sow the seeds with prospects, but it will still take them time to react.
There are various different pieces of research around how long it takes before a customer buys, and no doubt, the exact timing will differ from industry to industry and for differing types of product.
The key thing to understand here is that a person needs to know you, your reputation, and your product or service, before he or she is willing to make a purchase.
And as you might expect, building the right level of familiarity and reputation takes time.
Unstructured Paid Marketing
When we talk about paid marketing these days, we are typically talking about paid social media marketing i.e. on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any of the other social media channels, including Google Ads.
The mistake many entrepreneurs make is they don’t think hard enough about where their customers are and end up pimping themselves on all the social media channels for marketing (paid or otherwise).
The problem with this is it becomes difficult to know where you are getting the best return for your marketing effort. This can become very expensive very quickly.
This is a mistake I have personally learnt from in the past.
With previous businesses, I wanted to hit the social media paid marketing hard: Jean-Claude Van Damme style.
So I went at LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter in order to get my message out there to attract my customers.
Three wasted weeks and hundreds of dollars of wasted money that brought me some new customers, but none who were really engaged or interested in what I had to say.
If you want to go down the road of paid social media marketing, identify the one channel that resonates most with your target customer base and focus your efforts (and your money) on that.
That is how the experts get the results with paid marketing. Tell ‘em Gary…
Inviting Everyone to be Your Customer
This is something we will discuss in more detail later in this article. But the point is that you want to spend your time and efforts on those people who are likely to be engaged customers as opposed to those who are flaky and will leave the party halfway through.
It takes a lot of time and effort to acquire customers so much better to be focused at the outset about the people you are inviting to your business than going to the effort of randomly welcoming everyone, and only later on realising that you’ve wasted time and money.
Being Too Eager for the Sale
A key no-no with prospects is going for the sale too early or too quick in the process.
Not only does this look desperate, but it also looks pushy and ends up having the inverse result of actually turning people off from you and your business.
You wouldn’t buy from a pushy salesman so why expect anyone else to?
You need to make your commercial and considered judgement when you believe prospects are ready to buy and we will discuss below how you know they are ready to be sold to.
Only once the relevant boxes have been ticked should you even suggest the possibility of them buying from you.
If you’ve done your job properly, you shouldn’t even need to ask them at that point; they will be ready and eager to let you help them.
The 7 Step Process to Acquire Customers
In addition to the above more specific mistakes people make when seeking out new customers, entrepreneurs also think of securing customers as a single occurrence as opposed to as a sequence of occurrences (something we touched on above).
You cannot think of making a sale as an event, but more as a process that you need to work your way through with every customer.
You need to get familiar with the sales process (i.e. the process to acquire a customer). And that process may take a few hours, a few days or a few months. For larger purchases (i.e. a house or a car), this could even be a few years.
There are some fundamental questions you need ask yourself:
- Have you given the prospect an opportunity to know you?
- Do they know of the kind of reputation you have in your market?
- Are prospects familiar with your product or service?
- Are you able to articulate the problem they are looking to solve by purchasing your product or service?
- Have you educated them about the benefits that arise from what you have to offer?
- Do they know how to buy?
- Do they trust you?
Let’s go into the process you need to follow in order to successfully secure new customers for your business.
1.Identify Your Target Market
Without doubt, the first thing you should ever do before you are looking to acquire new customers for your business is to make sure you know exactly who your target market is.
The importance of this is, as discussed above, you don’t want to be spending time and effort on people who are not likely to ever spend any money with you.
Identifying your target market is one of those things all entrepreneurs know they need to do but very few actually instil the discipline to do it.
This is also the reason why so many businesses fail to take off the ground or fail to last as a sustainable, grown up business. Much of the strategies I’ll talk you through later are easier to implement, but if you put in the effort to do everything that follows with the wrong people, you are not going to get sales.
Implementing the other steps in this article will have a profound impact on your business’ ability to secure new customers if you can properly identify your target market.
In order to identify your target market stop and think about the exact person who you believe is the customer for your product or service. This belief could be based on your expectation of people who buy similar products or services from your customers, or it could be a mirror of people who have bought from you in the past for the same product or service. It could also be based on the profiles of customers you know who buy from your competitors.
The point is you need to be able to give a name and detailed description of whom it is you are selling to.
This is called building up your customer avatar.
Once you have this fixed in your mind you will be a lot clearer about who you are going after and you will have greater certainty that the hard work you are putting in will pay off because you’ve nailed this fundamental step.
In order to create the avatar for your customer, addressing the following questions will help:
- What are their demographic details (name, age, relationship status, dependents, location, occupation, income level, education etc.)?
- What are their objectives and principles (i.e. what are they trying to achieve professionally – be as specific as you can – and what is important to them when it comes to their business)?
- What are the challenges they face and what are their fears (i.e. what are they struggling with and what are all the things holding them back right now)?
- What or who are their influencers – this can be books, blogs, websites, people, magazines or TV shows
- What are their possible objections to the buying process and whom do they need to convince before making the purchase – cost is an obvious objection for people in the purchase process but so is time, or how they believe they will be perceived by their nearest and dearest. In many instances there are other people in your target customers’ world who need to be convinced before a purchase can be made – maybe a personal or professional partner, a boss, or maybe themselves.
By going through the process you will start to formulate a clearer picture of who your target customer is.
2.Find Out Where Your Target Market Hang Out
Once you’ve identified what your target market, or avatar looks like, you can begin the work of finding out where they like to socialise (either offline or online).
Having identified your target prospect, seeking them becomes much easier.
Depending on the type of product or service you have and the kind of business you run, you might find your target customer in a number of places.
By far the easiest place to find your target customer will be online. As part of the questions you will have asked yourself to define your avatar, you will have thought through the media that they consume and use. This will include websites, blogs, social media etc.
As such, the obvious place you will go to seek them out is in those exact places as previously identified.
Some of these channels will be more fruitful for you than others. Your job therefore, is to go to, say a blog where you believe they frequent, and visit the comments section to see who is commenting what on the articles. This gives you an initial introduction to your targeted prospect.
Similarly you can conduct searches on the social media of choice for your avatar around particular topics that relate to your product or service. Then identify those people who are messaging on those topics. These people could also form part of your target market.
Prospects for craft and homemade products and businesses typically use Pinterest for example. Consequently, if I were creating homemade products I would search out the relevant boards in Pinterest that highlight similar products, and start interacting with others who visit there.
In today’s connected world, most interests and niches are represented online. So even if you have a gluten free food company or a beauty salon, you should still be able to find your target customers online, some even local to where you live.
As an additional ploy, you may want to look at your immediate competitors and check out their website or social media accounts. By browsing through, you will get access to your immediate target market.
3. Engage Your Target Prospects
Now that you have found your target customers, it is possible for you to begin the next stage of the sales process.
This is starting to build a relationship with your prospect.
Remember from the outset of this article people buy when they have familiarity with you; they need to know you and your reputation before they learn about your product or service.
There can be various ways in which you engage your prospects so they begin to trust you. The most sincere way, I have found, has been in adding your voice to a discussion and exhibiting your authority in an area where they have a problem (ideally, a problem that your business can eventually go on to solve).
An example could be if, after you have found your target prospect in the comments section of a retail blog, you find them talking about the long-time of product deliveries for products that your business also sells, then you can empathise and explain how your business does it better.
Or better still, rather than even mention your business, explain what the average time for deliveries for products in said niche is, demonstrating your awareness of your sector, hence coming across as an authority.
Listening to your prospects is by far the best way of engaging your prospects.
They may not buy from you when initially engage in conversation with them, but if you demonstrated empathy and good listening skills, and an understanding of their problems, you can guarantee that they will return.
And when they do return, well now they know you, they trust you a little, and you have successfully moved them along the sales process.
4. Educate, educate, educate
After you feel you’ve engaged a prospect, you need to start educating them about what it is you are selling.
This is the next step in the process.
Educating prospects is a step that many people miss out completely which always surprises me. This is yet another sign of how many entrepreneurs come across as being arrogant, naïve or short-sighted in their approach to growing their business.
Why on earth would you believe that people should know why your product or service is the perfect answer to all their problems?
The answer is that prospects will not know why your product or service is a solution for them. Hence, you need to tell them. This is the point at which you introduce your product or service to your targeted customers.
You need to do the following:
- Understand the exact problem the prospect has;
- Explain to him or her how your product or service can help them with their challenge;
- Explain why your product or service is better than anything else that is out on the market, and underline why they need to purchase what you have as opposed to shopping around (you have invested the effort to build trust so you can push a little here now);
- Show them how having your product or service will change their life. In other words, what does their life look like with and without your product or service? Do they save more time, more money, and gain respect as a result of buying from you?
Answer any questions they have clearly and without the B.S.
It may be that they are not ready to purchase from you (or anyone for that matter) right now, perhaps because they cannot commit the time to your product to make it a success for them, for example. If this is the case, be bold enough to tell them.
It is not worth the short-term gain for long-term pain. They will appreciate it and when they are ready to buy, they will come back to you for sure.
Testimonials are also a great way to educate your prospects because, done correctly, they will highlight to your prospect how others who were in a similar position to them, turned to you to help them, and they’ll be able to see the results achieved.
A 2010 study by The Nielsen Company confirmed what we already knew – people read reviews and decide by them.
Nearly 60% of online shoppers said they consult reviews prior to purchasing consumer electronics and 40% of online shoppers claimed that they would not even buy electronics without seeking reviews about the product online first.
Testimonials and product reviews are great as a stamp of approval to help increase familiarity and trust.
5.Make the Sale
Finally you come to the final stage of the sale making process and to actually acquiring your customer.
Actually making the sale is, surprisingly, something that many people will fail to do properly. If you cannot express your desire for people to buy from you articulately, people will not buy from you.
In order to close the sale you need to:
- Address any final concerns prospects have;
- Explain to them the buying process (i.e. how do they practically buy);
- Show them what happens after they buy (i.e. they can take the product home; it will be delivered to them; they get an immediate download or access);
- Reassure them with any guarantee’s you provide (i.e. 30 day money back guarantee);
- Provide the necessary options to be able to accept their money.
By this point you should not be reluctant to push a little for the sale if needed – you’ve earned yourself that liberty.
The chances are, if you have executed on the previous steps accurately, the customer will be ready to buy him or herself.
In order to overcome the awkwardness that many feel in trying to finally make the sale, you need to believe that you are helping them with a problem that they have told you about, and that you know you can help with.
It’s only right that you give them the opportunity to understand how to buy.
Although the above five points talk through the process by which you can routinely add new targeted customers to your business, there are two other steps that many entrepreneurs often gloss over.
However, these two strategies can short-circuit the process for you and have the potential to multiply to your customer acquisition activity.
These tactics are discussed below.
A great way to acquire new customers is by developing strategic partnerships with other businesses who also focus on your exact target market.
The benefit of this is that you have a group of prospects that are already your target market, and you know how to get to them.
They are already engaged and possibly also educated to what you are likely to offer as, ideally, your strategic partner has been selling them a non-competing yet complimentary product.
Hence, in many instances all you would need to do is to make the sale.
In order to take advantage of this tactic you first need to find a person who runs a blog in the same niche as you. Or if you are a fashion retail shop, find a local business that attracts your customer for other products.
In all cases, you can run a join event (physical or online via a webinar) where their audience is introduced to you and you are provided with the platform to sell your product.
I’ve seen such partnerships to be extremely valuable and can help you scale up relevant customers exponentially in a short period of time.
A good example of this is where Shopify recently partnered with Uber to help merchants deliver goods to customers.
7.‘Partner’ With Your Customer
The natural evolution to partnering up with other businesses is to ‘partner’ with your customers.
This is often fertile ground and an area that more business owners should explore.
Previous customers are familiar with you, respect you, and given they have given you money in the past; they trust you and believe you can help them.
So it’s only natural that they would want to talk to their friends and peers about how you helped them. You can leave it at that and let word of mouth marketing do its thing.
Or you could help this along a little by incentivising your customers to get their friends and family to buy from you also. After all, their friends and family are likely to have a similar outlook on life, and will trust the judgement of their friend.
And all your existing customers need to go that bit further to help you get more customers is a little incentivisation.
So how would you incentivise them?
Well be creative. You could offer your existing customer a discount on a next purchase for every X number of customers they introduce. Or maybe a positive social media mention earns them loyalty points to be used in the future. Think about what works best for your business and experiment.
This strategy gives you relatively free, new customers and you can always multiply the effect by offering the same incentivisation to friends of your customer who come on board.
Use this tactic and let me know your results.
A Funnel for Customer Acquisition
Clearly the steps above are a lot to do for every single customer you may come into contact with, and not something that can be sustained as your business grows given the workload involved.
As such, it is important to develop a ‘funnel’ to be able to qualify, vet, and sell to relevant prospects.
The benefit of the funnel is that it continues working for you in the background whilst you focus on doing those things that cannot be automated. This not only saves you time but will save you money and allows you to scale your business.
A funnel is really a system that you will create that breaks down the process as identified above from mapping out your target market, to engaging with them, educating them, and finally selling to them (you could also include encouraging them to get their friends to buy in here as well).
Once this system is in its component parts you need to look at each section to see what, if anything, can be automated.
This will differ for all businesses based on how you operate but lets look at what’s possible.
Typically once you have defined your avatar, it will remain as such unless you have information to suggest otherwise. For example, if you start to get a certain sub-set of customers who are converting to buyers more than others then you may think about refining your avatar further.
With regards engaging your target prospects, I have found that the more personal you are, the better the results. This is typically not an area of the process where you want to outsource to an external party or where you want to automate the process.
Remember, the objective of engaging prospects is to get them to be familiar with you and to trust you. This can only be done if they are exposed to you in the most sincere and real of ways.
The next step in the process however, can be open to automation. When trying to educate your prospects, it is likely that the majority of them need to understand the same aspects of your solution, or indeed, their own problem.
Consequently this is something you could automate, or teach in ‘group sessions’ rather than individually with every single person.
I have found webinars for this kind of thing can be great to educate one-to-many whilst also being able to build relationships en masse.
If you have a local, brick and mortar business, consider arranging a ‘product review evening’. This is not uncommon. You may be familiar with certain product evenings that are arranged in towns up and down the country by local reps of cosmetics, kitchen cutlery, or health and beauty companies such as Avon.
People still do them because they foster familiarity and trust whilst reaching out to many people at the same time.
That then leaves us with making the sale, the final stage in the process of acquiring your customer.
Again, circumstances may require you to be present to make the sale (i.e. at your shop say). If you have an online presence, as many businesses do today, then this would mean that payment options, confirmation emails, delivery tracking, fulfilment and seeking feedback are all automated to ensure you deliver on your promise, but also so you come across as a professional outfit.
It is typically at point of sale (or immediately thereafter) that customers are given the opportunity to introduce their friends to a product or service in exchange for some form of incentivisation. Typically this is as simple as filling out a form, or clicking a check box; tasks that can be automated.
So think through for your business the areas that you can replicate once they are proven to work. This saves you time and allows you to make a real difference to the fortunes of your business.
A Brief Comment on Customer Retention
This article has focused on the process of securing customers for your business.
The big mistake many entrepreneurs make, which ends up making life difficult for them, is in not working to retain existing customers whilst they are hunting for new customers.
Why is this important?
Well you’ve ticked a lot of the boxes that are prerequisites of getting people to buy from you (engage, educate, familiarity, trust etc.) so why would you let that go out the door once you’ve sold them one of your products? That doesn’t make sense right?
It’s much better to retain those people and keep them engaged so that you can sell more of your products or services to them in the future.
Retaining your customers is all about keeping value-driven contact with them. It is no use contacting them just when you are looking to sell to them as that looks as though you are just interested in them for their money.
Once they’ve become your customer continue to demonstrate to them that you are an authority in your niche, that you are a respected individual in your industry, and that you consider their time and attention as being extremely important.
I have found that a blog is the best way to do this as it allows you to capture prospect and existing customer details. Thereafter you can reach out to them to inform them of developments in your industry.
A blog also allows you to store customer details (email address) hence you can introduce them to new offers in your business at the right time.
Whether you choose to use a blog or something else it is important you give some serious thought to how you will retain existing customers so you can sell new products to them at the right time in the future.
In order to successfully acquire new customers, it is important to firstly understand who your target market is as this massively impacts the return you will get on your time and investment in seeking out customers.
Remember, securing your customers through making a sale is a process and not an event so engage and educate your prospects before you make the sale. Identify and take advantage of partnerships that are mutually beneficial to you and others in your industry, and don’t be afraid of leveraging the ‘partnership’ with your customers.
Retention of customers is a cost-effective and wise way of acquiring free customers for new products and services you are launching so be sure not to give up on customers you’ve sold to as you can still help them further, and they can help you too.
Have you made any of the mistakes noted above when trying to acquire customers? Are there any other ways in which you have added customers to your business? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.