The changing face of customer acquisition

feature-shopping-200Recent studies have pegged customer acquisition as the priority for businesses in 2012. And yet most in business have little idea how to lure more customers.

Co-author of newly released book Death of the Salesman Graham Brown says a new breed of empowered consumers is placing far greater pressure on the sales and marketing function within a business.

“The old ways of selling have changed because we’re operating in a far more complex market these days. There is far more emphasis on the expertise of the seller than ever before, with a need to understand a lot more information about not just the product they’re selling, but the wider market, competing products and much more,” Brown says.

But the research, undertaken by the Australian Centre for Retail Studies at Monash University, found that the way most businesses approach their sales function has remain largely stagnant.

Monash University, in conjunction with the Australian Centre for Retail Studies, conducted 20 interviews globally and gathered information via an online survey of 185 Australian organisations.

It found that there are positives and negatives to outsourcing the sales function. Pros include greater access to expertise, ability to expand rapidly, a flexible workforce and reduced financial risk. Cons, on the other hand, include reduced control, risk in quality control, decreased loyalty and a greater potential of fraud. Some respondents also felt that offshore outsourcing could bring negative PR to their business.

Here are some new customer acquisition techniques that could help your business.

Start with a strategy

Many businesses don’t have a customer acquisition strategy in place to begin with, says John Hagerty, managing director of management consultant and corporate finance specialist firm Be Business.

“Businesses have to recognise that the only constant is change. The business that doesn’t change with the market is the business that dies.”

It is vital to understand who your customers are, what they want, how much they will pay, what they have tried before, and what their expectations are to be best prepared to meet the demands of the market, Hagerty says.

His sentiments are shared by Sydney business woman Amanda Bracks, author of Customer Acquisition: 465 Ways to Gain and Retain Customers.

The business coach and keynote speaker was inspired to write the book after discovering that customer acquisition is the biggest issue facing businesses.

“Customer acquisition isn’t an area that comes naturally to many in business, despite its importance. But finding new customers to feed your business doesn’t have to be a huge headache, it’s about putting a strategy in place and sticking with it,” Bracks says.

Go online to find more specific targets

Victorian real estate business development manager Marcel Dybner says his firm, Thomson, focuses heavily on search engine optimisation to drive new customers.

That way, potential investors or home sellers can find the agency in a simple web search.

“I think more than ever, it’s easier to find new clients. You can now connect to a huge network of potential clients without ever leaving your desk,” Dybner says.

“In the past, it was almost impossible to find a group of people who were interested in property investing in Melbourne. Now, you have access forums, chatrooms, Facebook groups, Twitter and lots more places to find people who are interested in what you have to offer and are openly discussing it.”

Creating an online PR strategy is also a great way to harness the internet, says Catriona Pollard, director of PR and social media strategy of Sydney’s CP Communications.

“Businesses should consider optimising media releases with key words and links so they are picked up in search engines and also using online news sites, blogs and social networks to share messages and stories about a business. These approaches are important given online visibility and reputation management are critical in today’s social landscape,” she says.

The power of LinkedIn

Alex Pirouz has never spent a cent on advertising, preferring to utilise LinkedIn to find new customers. He launched a business advisory firm in early 2011 and after using many different strategies, he began investing his time in LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has enabled him to build his business from scratch. He started with no clients and now has consistent monthly clients and also sits on four company boards. He also uses the social networking site to promote products and services relevant to his database to consistently pull in leads and convert those leads into sales. He now has more than 4,500 connections.

Pirouz has also used LinkedIn to promote and execute an event that was attended by more than 130 people, with no other marketing undertaken. The day grossed his business $30,000.

He’s achieved the best response rate to his LinkedIn invites when they’re sent between 9pm and 11pm or 9.30am and 10.45am, with a 91% acceptance rate between these times.

His top tips for using LinkedIn are:

  • Use a professional photo
  • Write your profile from a third-party perspective
  • Don’t advertise with headlines like ‘helping clients win more business’. Use your name, title and business name on your profile.
  • Increase your connections to 500+ to be seen as influential
  • Ask for recommendations

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