For a small business owner, acquiring new customers can be expensive, and many traditional “lead-generation” strategies — such as cold-calling lists of potential customers or door-knocking — simply don’t work anymore. People have more ways than ever to check a business’s reputation before they spend money at it, and they care about their overall customer experience.
The most successful companies know that the secret to acquiring customers today is to create the most customer-friendly business — one that outshines the competition, so that customers would be crazy to go anywhere else. That said, there are a variety of ways to improve your company’s lead gen so that more people gain exposure to your business in the first place.
Here are seven proven ways that successful companies acquire new customers:
1. Provide first-time customers with special offers.
Getting people to take the plunge and try your business may be as simple as offering them a deal. Many companies, large and small, have used this strategy. Amazon Prime — the popular $99-a-year service that provides Amazon customers with no-cost shipping and online video streaming, among other perks — has grown its membership considerably by offering 30-day free trials to first-time users.
2. Build a “five star” reputation on customer review sites.
Consumers increasingly check reviews on sites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook to find businesses they want to buy from. Thus, small businesses that are able to build great reputations on these sites can draw in more new customers.
While certain review sites have policies against businesses pressuring customers to leave glowing reviews, you can actively manage your profile on those sites, add a link to your review-site pages in your email signature, and simply mention that you have a profile on review sites and always welcome feedback. A 2016 Harvard Business School working paper found that for a restaurant to receive “a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue.”
3. Host events — and make sure prospective customers are invited.
You also can draw new customers to your business by hosting events that provide entertainment, useful information, or once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Many large corporations use event marketing as a way to captivate new customers: Chipotle’s Cultivate Festival, for example, offers free music concerts as well as food samples and education on sustainable farming as a way to reel in more diners.
But small businesses can use event marketing as well. Consider a marketing firm that invites its key clients to join them in box seats for a local baseball playoff game — and encourages them to bring a friend along (read: hopefully a prospective client). Or consider the bookstore that hosts well-known authors reading and signing their books. Make sure to capture your attendees’ contact information, perhaps through an email sign-up, so you can reach out and thank them for attending the event later on.
4. Use social media as an outreach tool.
Your business probably has a social media presence, such as a Facebook profile where you post occasional updates. If so, you may be able to use it more opportunely to connect with prospective clients and customers.
First, make sure your social media profiles are robust and include attractive photos, perhaps video, your contact information, and a link to your website. But also think about ways to make more valuable connections through social media.
On LinkedIn, for example, you can search for other professionals who might be interested in your services and ask to connect. (You can do the same on Facebook and Twitter, but LinkedIn specializes in being a professional networking site.) Share informative content or invite your LinkedIn connections to ask you questions about your specialty. If they see you as a go-to resource, they may turn to you the next time they’re looking for a business like yours.
5. Produce and maintain valuable content.
Creating and sharing blog posts, articles, videos, infographics, and other valuable content that showcases your company’s expertise can help you win new clients. Look for ways to use content marketing most effectively.
If you run an IT company, you might write a blog on current technology-related issues, such as how to prevent a website from getting hacked. To help get your expertise out into the world, consider guest blogging for other tech-related websites or even answering questions on IT-related matters on sites such as reddit or Quora. The better able you are to position yourself as a thought leader, the more likely people will turn to you.
6. Time your marketing and offers right.
Good timing is more essential to lead generation than you might think.
In its early days, Airbnb made the strategic decision to offer its popular home and room rental service during major events in cities — such as the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver — when local hotel rooms would be in short supply. This generated many new “leads” for the company that eventually turned into loyal customers.
Consider the best time to unveil offers and to approach your prospective customers, as certain times may be more compelling (and thus lucrative for your business) than others.
7. View your website as a key lead-gen tool.
You can optimize your business website in many ways:
- First, make sure it shows up prominently in search engine results for key terms that prospective customers would use to look for a business like yours.
- If you can’t get a good search ranking organically, consider buying paid search ads — which may not be that expensive, depending on what search terms you’re paying for.
- Make sure your site loads quickly and that people can easily find your contact info, including business address and/or phone number and email.
- Consider ways to draw website visitors into your site, whether it’s through the use of beautiful photography, client testimonials, or informative and timely content.
Whatever you decide, your business website design should be clear to understand and easy to navigate — and not only at the desktop but also on mobile devices.
Consumers today prefer to feel that they’ve “discovered” a business on their own — not that they’re being hard-pitched. Thankfully, there are many ways you can help them to discover your business more easily and, over time, to develop a relationship with you.