No matter how great your idea is, you need customers in order to survive. In fact, many statistics show that failure of market/product fit is one of the leading reasons why startups fail. Near the top of that list you’ll also find inability to sell, along with cash flow issues — both of which can be redeemed if you have the right customers paying you for your product or service.
Acquiring customers isn’t rocket science, but it does take a methodical process, as well as nerves of steel to be willing to try, try and try again. It also means extending your ask beyond friends and family. This is where you’ll find customers who really want what you have to offer based on your value proposition. Not because they find you warm, friendly, and worthy of $5.99/mo.
Let’s focus on five simple steps that will help you learn how to acquire customers:
The key to customer acquisition is doing your research! Be sure you do your research so you have a strong standing of your target market, brand, values, and positioning. Outline all of the answers to the following questions:
- Who is your target market?
- Where does your target market go to for information?
- What are the pain points experienced by your target market?
- Who are the competitors in your space/industry? What are the industry trends?
2) Design a Compelling Message
Taking a cue card from Stanford’s Design School, complete the following exercise to design a compelling position in the marketplace that separates you from the competition, while speaking directly to your target audience.
Sentence 1 – Value to Customer
For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product/service name) is a (product/service category) that (statement of benefit).
Sentence 2 – Uniqueness
Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).
Use the essence of these two sentences to develop compelling headlines for email campaigns, print campaigns, product materials, etc.
3) Connect with your audience
Identify the channels/areas/mediums where your potential customers are active. If you sell HR software, there’s a good chance a significant portion of your target audience is active on LinkedIn and online job boards. You could also find them in professional organizations such as the society of human resource management.
Connecting leads to the obvious mass media locations, such as TV, radio, online streaming, social media, etc. However, these often carry a high price tag and are less likely to lead to conversions that have a good track history. Look for outlets that often go unnoticed (which means they have less competition), such as:
- Industry blogs
- LinkedIn groups
- Professional associations
- Networking groups
- Online learning communities like Skillshare, etc
- Partner/fusion marketing with another company’s email list/audience
- Conferences (even attending is valuable in many cases)
- Similar startups who offer a service that augments, but does not compete with yours
4) Promote the value
As you connect with your target audience, it’s easy to get concerned with conversions, sales, and dollars in the door. After all, you need to pay your bills. Nevertheless, take some time to identify long-term strategies that may pay off indirectly by providing value to your potential audience.
For example, if you have a company that sells marketing products, introducing yourself to a LinkedIn group along with a free resource like a marketing planning template download makes you seem less “salesy” and more likely to secure relationships. Giving is the new currency. Oh, and by the way, if you need a marketing plan template and guide, we've got a free one of those for you :-)
The Help Scout Blog is a great example of this as well – they have many thought provoking ideas and research that further validate the need for great customer service (they sell a customer service software). It’s spot on.
5) Build your network
Despite all of the tools, channels, networks, and hubs that we have available to us, people still buy from people. You’ll notice many of the most successful startups placing their founders and/or CEO at the forefront of communications (if you’re a customer of Treehouse or Hootsuite for example, you’ll find emails from their CEOs in your inbox).
They want customers to realize that there are people working to make the magic happen. Since word of mouth marketing now has a million ways to spread online (and in person), your founding team needs to put strategic effort into building your network. This could include an influential board of directors, strategic alliances with like-minded organizations, community groups, mentors, and more.
Never underestimate the power of the “right referral source.”