When you’re scaling up, it’s all about customer acquisition.
You have to build a minimum customer base in order to get the scale you need. But more than that, you won’t really learn about your market and how it interacts with your product until you have a reasonable customer base.
If you search for customer acquisition, you find a lot of platitudes about email marketing, SEO, content marketing, blah, blah, blah.
Don’t get me wrong. Those are all critical things. And if you need a primer in these items, check out Help Scout’s comprehensive post on it.
You know all of that. Maybe you even do it. But still, the people don’t come.
Because all of the marketing tools in the world don’t matter if you don’t have the big 3: Relevance, Trust, and Authority.
1. Get Relevant through Audience Segmentation
One of the major things you need to do in a start up is choose a target market. A target market focuses you to the demographics and psychographics that define your ideal customer.
Many thing that’s enough to target the message. But that’s a mistake.
You need to take that target market and segment it across two dimensions.
Dimension #1: Customer Profile
A lot of marketing professionals talk about this as your “avatar.” Think about the type of customer you have. Imagine the situation they’re in and draw up a profile.
Write down the following:
- Give your customer a name.
- What are their demographics: age, income, educational level, job function, family status, etc.?
- What are their aspirations? What do they want?
- What are their biggest frustrations? What keeps them up at night?
- Where do they usually go for solutions to these problems?
- What would their objections be?
- What is their “buying trigger?” In other words, what one sentence would convince them to say “yes.” This is BIG.
You should have between 3 and 10 of these. If you have fewer than 3, you should think harder. It could be that your target market it too small, but usually that’s not the case.
I tell my clients they really have to convince me that their target market is too small. Usually, you’re just not thinking hard enough.
If you have more than 10, then you probably aren’t focused enough. Think about reducing your target market (even just temporarily) in order to study and understand your market. There’ll be time to cast a wide net…once you have a big enough boat to fit the fish.
Many entrepreneurs stop here. Also not enough.
Why not? Because your customer has different emotional trigger based on how much they know about you and how they feel about the problem you’re trying to solve. If you want to enable customer acquisition, you need to know your potential customers – personally.
Dimension #2: Need Segment
The need segment is a measurement of how much your customer has identified the need for your product. It’s not about whether or not the customer needs your product, but whether or not the customer thinks they need your product.
I like the Market With Numbers framework for considering need segments. It resembles a retail experience and is pretty familiar to everyone.
- Loiterer: someone who doesn’t know anything about your business. They need to be educated about your target market and solution. If they don’t fit your criteria, they need to be re-directed.
- Looker: someone who has wants and preferences, but not any identified need. They need to “catch the vision” about what life would be like with your product or service. It’s all about the vision.
- Shopper: someone who has an identified need, but hasn’t yet decided if your product fits the need. They need to hear about the benefits of your product and specifically how they meet their need. It’s all about facts and figures.
- Buyer: someone who has decided that your product will meet their need, and they want to transact. Now they need to know how to transact business with you. It’s all about the sales process.
Since there are four distinct need segments, you need to tailor your text, calls-to-action, and offer to match the emotional trigger at each level.
You also need to be able to recognize when your prospect has moved from one need segment to the next….and respond accordingly. Customer acquisition only occurs when the prospect moves to the Buyer segment and you facilitate the transaction. Not before.
You do that in 3 ways.
- Your sales copy needs to match the trigger. Loiterers get clear explanation of what you do. Lookers get a case study, vision, or “imagine if..” text. Shoppers get facts and figures. Buyers get directions to transact.
- Your call-to-action has to match the need segment. There are really only 4 sales calls-to-action you can use. The Loiterer needs the “Learn More” call-to-action. The Looker needs the “Better Life” call-to-action. The Shopper needs the “Fix It” call-to-action. And the Buyer needs the old, trusty “Buy Now” call-to-action.
- When your prospect responds to one of these calls-to-action, either by clicking a link or responding to a campaign, you need to track the interaction and “move them up the ladder” so that future marketing material matches the new need segment.
Between these two dimension, you can map your prospects into these groups and provide them with the perfect message and campaign each and every time.
2. Get Trust through Staged Marketing Campaigns
The idea of having multiple marketing campaigns to facilitate customer acquisition by care-and-feeding over time is not new. But I like the framework of building loyalty and trust over time. That’s why I like the Market With Numbers Loyalty Ladder concept.
The idea is that you should have multiple steps on the ladder for your prospect to “stand” while they take their time to move through the need segments you just identified. Once you achieve customer acquisition, they move to the highest rungs on the ladder – becoming a “fan.”
What’s unique about the Loyalty Ladder idea is that each of those steps should correspond to a need segment (and beyond into customer segments). The colors on the ladder correspond to the need segments, from red to green. The blue and purple are post customer acquisition, but we aren’t focusing there right now.
In many cases, a prospect will take time at each stage. But not always. For low priced items, a prospect may move through the need segments quite quickly, or the advertising copy that got them into the Loyalty Ladder to begin with targeted people who were already at a higher need segment.
There are a number of questions about how many touchpoint stages you really need to facilitate customer acquisition. The answer varies from company to company, of course, but there is a lot of correlation with the price of the item.
First, let’s define what I mean by a “touchpoint stage.”
Marketing with Touchpoint Stages
Each time you give your prospect a “plateau” to think about their buying decision, you’ve provided a toughpoint stage. Generally, if the prospect hasn’t changed their need state, then the plateaus are all one stage. If you expect quick movement, then you need to convince your prospect to move through multiple need states at one time.
Moving through the stages through customer acquisition still requires you to address each need, but you can do it in one visit – although often with multiple pages or calls-to-action in one session.
But if the price is high, that won’t work. You’ll need to build trust and loyalty over time – all while continuing to provide “need state relevant” content so the prospect doesn’t slide backwards down the ladder. The definition of “high price” depends on each business, though I’ll try to provide some guidelines.
Sow how many stages should you build in?
I break down businesses into B2C (Business-to-Consumer) and B2B (Business-to-Business). You have to be a bit careful, however, with those descriptions. Many companies that sell to small businesses feel more like B2C companies because they’re targeting the business owner, who acts more often like a consumer and not a business. But having said that, I’m providing (very) rough guidelines on how many touchpoint stages you need along the Loyalty Ladder. In addition, sometimes you will need to sell a lower-barrier-to-entry product (at a lower price) before you can sell your “big” one. In cases where I see that be helpful, I note that here too.
Think about creating those stages and building automated “care-and-feeding” campaigns to interact with these need states. You actually accelerate customer acquisition by creating these stages.
As an example, if you’re an enterprise software company selling 7-figure software, don’t expect your prospect to buy the first time they see your website. Sure, you might get lucky, but you don’t plan for lucky; you plan for typical.
The biggest mistake I see enterprise software companies make is to have a 2-stage sales cycle. Step 1: get a demo. Step 2: buy the 10 million dollar software.
Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
At least it’s not going to happen quickly. And most of your time will be spent with your sales team checking in on prospects stuck in the Looker phase trying to talk about Shopper-like content. And most prospects never move forward.
If you don’t have multiple separate plateaus for your prospects to get value from you that are oriented to these need states, you’ll have a hard time with customer acquisition. And interestingly enough, those multiple stages create momentum for your prospect that actually get them through the sales process faster.
3. Build Authority through Personal Branding
I actually talk about personal branding here , but as a quick review, I see personal branding as critical to any start up success. Relevance and trust will get you to an operational sales cycle. But authority through a personal brand will make customer acquisition faster, easier, and cheaper.
Why? Because people like to buy from experts.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re an expert, I assure you that your status as an entrepreneur in your space makes you one. If you still don’t feel like it, then read Debbie Allen’s book, The Highly Paid Expert. She does a great job of walking you through how you can feel like an expert, and then how to keep that momentum.
The bottom-line is that your customers expect you – as the entrepreneur – to be the expert. And if you don’t seem like one, then it really slows down customer acquisition. Do everything you can to build your authority.
There are 3 major ways you can do that.
Be Visible and Engaged (in a positive way)
Don’t hide behind your company’s name. Be out there as the founder or entrepreneur to be seen as an expert. Experts are known and named. If you’re not the founder of the company, work with your company. Many companies are hesitant to allow an employee to build a personal brand around the company’s core offering. This is a mistake. But convincing them is difficult sometimes.
If you want to be visible, there’s no easier way than via social media. True, it takes some investment of time, but if you do it right (on the right social media platforms) you will gain a community following over time. It takes time to do it right. Don’t fall victim to the “fake follower” businesses out there promising to deliver fans in a short period of time. They aren’t true fans, they don’t care about your expertise, and they don’t help you build a brand.
Be aware that if you build a personal brand on social media that every thing you say is saved and (when you get really big) analyzed. I highly caution you against taking controversial political stands or making overly personal comments on whatever platform you’ve chosen to use to build your brand. You may feel passionate about the latest news item, but about half of your audience may disagree. You could lose them quickly by weighing in on things not related to your business.
Obviously, you should challenge and be provocative about your business. Otherwise, you’d just be boring. But think twice before retweeting that political message or from disparaging someone on social media. Your company doesn’t need the hassle, and it doesn’t do anything to build your brand.
Teach Everything You Know
Experts teach. And not just for money. They add to the community by sharing what they know. This tactic blends nicely with the Loyalty Ladder mentioned above. You can really build a personal brand by making education part of your marketing campaign.
Consider building training programs, videos, blog posts, whatever it takes to teach your prospects.
What do you teach? Teach them how to solve problems related to your product. Don’t worry if it may run sales off. You will gather more sales than you chase away. And likely, you won’t be chasing any away anyways.
Take your role as teacher seriously. Think about intellectual property and curriculum. Think about teaching formally and you’ll do much better. Sure, you can throw out a weekly blog post or two, but if you formulate these ideas into a training program, it will increase the perceived value many-fold, and that will play out through improved customer acquisition.
Contribute to the Conversation
Related to the last point, you want to be where the conversation is occurring. That means guest posting on related blogs. That means speaking whenever you can – even if it’s for free.
First join the conversation before you try to start one. When you join a conversation, what do you do first? You listen to see what the conversation is about, the tone and the pace. Then, after you figure that out, you join in at an appropriate moment to continue the pace and tone of the conversation – not to overtake it.
Find chances to contribute and soon you’ll be the center of the conversation. But that has to happen naturally and over time. Not immediately. Be patient. Be thoughtful. It will happen.
Customer Acquisition is about Execution
You have all the tools. Now execute. Execute well with relevance, trust, and authority.
These things keep you on the track to efficient and successful customer acquisition.