Article | 12 min read

What is customer acquisition? 9 strategies to acquire customers

Successful customer acquisition strategies combine sales, marketing, and more to get new customers on board

By Tara Ramroop, Staff Writer, @tara_ramroop

Published March 5, 2020
Last updated March 23, 2022

What is customer acquisition?

Customer acquisition is how a company turns a potential customer into a new customer. Some examples of customer acquisition include email marketing, using a CRM (customer relationship management) platform, or providing great customer service and earning a reputation for doing that well.

The purpose of customer acquisition is to help a company earn more business, using the power of different teams, channels, and strategies.

Customer acquisition management is how a company manages the process of getting new customers. Customer acquisition management activities fall into three stages:

  • Awareness

    Brand awareness is the start of the buyer’s journey. Right now, everyone in your target audience who is just discovering your brand is a potential customer. Someone won’t become a customer if they don’t know what you do or the value you can bring them. At this stage, the goal is to engage a variety of prospects. People might not be ready to purchase yet, but they should still fall within your target audience and align with your customer personas.

  • Consideration

    In the consideration phase, customers start showing signs that they are more serious about buying. They might demonstrate this by signing up for a free demo or trial.

  • Conversion

    Here, potential customers enter the sales funnel. This is where people are ready to buy. At this stage, they have already engaged with your brand and done some homework. They are almost ready to take the final steps to become paying customers. For example, they might have added something to their cart or signed up for a free first-month subscription.

Salespeople really shine in the middle and bottom stages of customer acquisition management. No one wants a hard sell if they’re just stepping into the store or browsing the website—for new jeans or new software for their team at work. But after potential customers are more informed and have spent some time thinking about their next steps, salespeople can help confirm why their company is a valuable use of time and money.

How do you acquire customers?

There are many different customer acquisition methods. One thing is for sure: acquiring customers takes many teams to move people through each stage. Companies monitor customer acquisition cost closely because it is expensive—more so than customer retention. But when all teams work together to put the company’s best foot forward, the company is more likely to turn prospective customers into paying ones.

These are just a few of the organizations involved:

  • Creative teams generate interest among potential customers in the company’s offerings. They do this through ads or other kinds of digital and brand campaigns.
  • Marketing teams reach out to different kinds of customers and prospects, providing helpful content resources, like this blog post you’re reading right now, a webinar, or an email newsletter.
  • Sales teams receive leads and prospects generated by these creative and marketing activities. They drive the point home, emphasizing why their company or product is worthy of the customer’s business. They eventually close the deal and that prospect becomes a customer.
  • Customer success teams help ensure that customers accomplish what they need and more with your company. Though customer success teams often come into the picture after prospective customers become paying ones, they play an integral role in retention, customer loyalty, and reducing customer churn.

The answers to “How do you acquire customers?” or “How to increase sales?” are more complicated than being a good salesperson who always be closing (ABC). While having a sales strategy is essential, companies can’t build a successful customer acquisition strategy without understanding how different departments contribute to the customer acquisition process. To acquire new customers, businesses need to connect with prospects in a meaningful way. This means meeting their needs with the right solution, product, or service, at the right time.

What is a customer acquisition strategy?

A customer acquisition strategy is the high-level plan a business uses to get more customers. It involves all of the teams mentioned above: sales, marketing, creative, and more. It also includes the activities and channels that those teams use to get their message across and connect with potential customers.

Let’s go over 9 customer acquisition strategies. Some businesses use some of these, and others might use all of them.

9 customer acquisition strategies

  1. Have a great website
  2. Improve your mobile experience
  3. Use AI to proactively acquire customers
  4. Give sales teams visibility into customer data
  5. Work with marketing to improve the quality of leads
  6. Use CRM software
  7. Add services on top of existing products and services
  8. Listen to customer feedback
  9. Invest in the customer experience

Have a great website

A website that catches people’s eye is one of the best ways to acquire customers. Of all the websites they could have clicked on, they found and clicked on yours. Now that they’ve gotten this far, they should be rewarded. Think of it like a front door: people should have a reason to come in or they’ll keep walking.

A simple UX invites people in. It helps people find what they need, and it helps them decide whether what you’re offering is what they’re looking for. Ideally, the answer is, “Yes, where have you been all my life!?” More likely, people take some time to think about it. A good digital presence caters to both: those who want to buy something quickly—people even buy enterprise software online with a credit card—and people who want to do more research.

In recent years, retail executives talked more about the importance of a simple customer-facing website. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, shopping, ordering, and even pickup had to be simpler than ever. Even something as simple as providing email or text receipts proved a game-changer for a big box, home improvement retailer like Lowe’s.

One thing to keep in mind to ensure a simple, customer-centric digital experience is to design it with customers in mind. Overdoing it can put too much focus on the company’s needs—customer acquisition is a big one—and not enough on the customer’s. According to a 2021 article in the Harvard Business Review:

This isn’t to say companies shouldn’t be trying to influence customer decisions along the way. Influence can be more effective when journeys and experiences are customer-centric, designed not as a path to purchase, but as a path to purpose.

 

Improve your mobile experience

A good mobile experience is one piece of the digital experience, and it is critical to customer acquisition. Mobile browsing isn’t something people just do “on the go” anymore. It’s something they do drinking coffee at home in the morning, sitting on the couch with Netflix, before they nod off in bed, and everywhere in between.

That means there are lots of opportunities to connect with customers this way, but it requires the mobile website to be responsive and designed with customers in mind. Note: that doesn’t necessarily mean “to make sales,” but to be clear, honest, and helpful.

Sometimes, potential customers are interested enough to move down the funnel. Because of this, it’s important to make it easy to connect with a sales rep, sign up for a free trial, receive a demo, or even connect with a customer service associate if they’re having trouble checking out. Consider how many times you abandoned an online shopping cart because the checkout or mobile experience was too difficult.

Use AI to proactively acquire customers

Innovative companies take a proactive approach to customer acquisition. And with the help of AI, it doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. A chatbot can proactively welcome visitors to your website or app, and easily connect them to sales or support if they have questions or need help. It may sound small, but a simple popup assuring potential customers that you’re there to help can go a long way.

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Give sales teams visibility into customer data

Customer data is an essential element of the feedback loop, which includes customer support data, sales data, and more. These days, companies don’t have to guess what customers want. Now, they can use trends in customer data and analytics to give them a hint. This data can impact what products get made, how a company communicates with potential customers, and more. For example, reviewing the most common customer complaints your customer service team sees can be eye-opening. If sales teams had visibility into this data, they might better understand what customers want and how to tailor their pitches.

Making sales is not the only reason everyone in a company should have visibility into customer data. Customer-focused businesses use data about pain points to improve. After Zappos learned that existing customers were frustrated with having to pay for returns, they made returns free. This further encouraged people to shop with them for the first time. Here, a customer-centric business decision had a direct impact on customer acquisition.

Work with marketing to improve the quality of leads

Some companies buy sales leads, but they often come from targeted marketing activities: webinars, live events, and people simply giving the company their information in exchange for helpful downloadable resources. A common complaint from salespeople is that the leads they got were not good. To put it in more customer-centric terms, they were not ready to make a purchase, but the business thought (or hoped) that they were.

It’s tricky. Not everyone who signs up for a demo or your email newsletter is ready to make a purchase, but some of them are. Sales leaders should proactively work with marketing to address the distance between good leads and bad ones. Find out why the leads go cold, and create a cross-functional plan to get better ones. In more customer-centric terms, get better at differentiating between the different types of potential customers.

Use CRM software

A customer relationship management (CRM) system can help you better understand your audience’s needs and build a better sales process.

With CRM software, you can monitor leads and their movements through the sales funnel, automate emails and data capture, discover new opportunities, and track performance. Visibility into the sales pipeline helps salespeople become more productive and can also help improve customer satisfaction rates. Sales prospecting might then have more meaningful results for both customers and the business.

Add services on top of existing products and services

Getting creative when the going got tough was necessary for businesses in 2020. Think about how many restaurants started offering specialty menus to enjoy at home, and how many bars started offering takeout alcohol.

At the National Retail Federation Big Show in 2021, speaker Mitch Joel described the many ways in which retailers could turn pandemic lemons into lemonade. One of his suggestions was adding services on top of existing products and services to get people excited about a wider range of offerings. Using Walmart as an example, Joel pointed to how the retailer started offering pet insurance. With a rush on pandemic pet adoptions, this was a logical customer acquisition opportunity given the many pet products the company already sells.

The pandemic forced leaders in all industries to reach new customers in new ways. Joel suggests that there’s no reason this spirit of innovation can’t continue—why wouldn’t it if it met customer needs?

Listen to customer feedback

Market research isn’t always spot-on, and customer tastes change all the time. This is why it’s important to really listen to customers when they’re giving feedback: intentionally or not.

Many businesses are guilty of pushing products or services that they think people want to buy. When people don’t buy, companies then wonder why so much inventory is left on shelves or why a sales pitch went flat. The solution is making more customer-centric decisions and listening to customer feedback. That means reviewing official feedback from surveys and reviews, connecting with your support team on customer complaints (see above), and even monitoring chatter on your social media channels and online community.

Remember that customer feedback doesn’t only come from existing customers. Potential customers and prospects leave feedback about their experiences with a company all the time. It’s up to the business to be aware of those conversations and to listen carefully wherever they’re happening. It can come off tone-deaf if a salesperson was unaware of a negative news story or viral social post, so this can be an important avenue for customer acquisition.

Invest in the customer experience

Customer experience influences purchase decisions, meaning it has a huge impact on customer acquisition. A Zendesk survey revealed that 62 percent of B2B and 42 percent of B2C customers purchased more after a good customer service experience. And 66 percent of B2B and 52 percent of B2C customers stopped buying after a bad customer service interaction. Potential customers’ experience with your customer service is often their first direct interaction with your brand. Ensure that it’s an experience that will leave them wanting more.

Research also shows that people often make purchase decisions based on emotion. Since customer support is on the front lines, they play a large role in the emotional aspect of your brand.

Customer acquisition channels

Customer acquisition channels are the tools a business uses to connect with potential and existing customers. These channels are used to bring many of the customer acquisition strategies above to life, and they can be used at all stages of the customer journey.

Customer acquisition channels include:

  • The company website
  • The company blog and other content marketing activities
  • Email marketing
  • Events and field marketing booths
  • Social media
  • Paid ads (print and digital, like the Google ad or Facebook ads you might see online)
  • Sales calls
  • The product itself—calls to action within the product to learn more about new features or to engage with the company

Customer acquisition expert Matthew Barby suggests making even your product go viral, but not in the way bad PR or cat videos go viral. He uses Dropbox as an example. Dropbox ties their in-product referral system to customers’ experience of the product: how much free storage they can get and use. It is a great customer acquisition example because it taps into a couple key strategies described above:

  1. It provides the referrer a better customer experience with the product (more storage).
  2. It reduces customer acquisition cost because the company didn’t have to do much to get that lead. It just needed that referral capability built in.

Customer acquisition in your world

Customer acquisition is a complex process, but working collaboratively with internal teams and listening to customers can put sales teams on the right track. Don’t just close deals—help ensure that your company is the best one to earn a customer’s business.

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