1: Before anything else, attain product/market fit.
Customer acquisition is meaningless until you do.
“Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. Including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling customers no when you don’t want to, telling customers yes when you don’t want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital — whatever is required.” – The Only Thing That Matters, by Marc Andreessen
The market is always evolving. This might seem like advice for people who are starting new businesses, but it’s also a hat that seasoned marketers have to wear from time to time. Henry Ford initially achieved product/market fit with the Model T, but subsequently lost to competition from General Motors. Why? His original vision for the first durable mass-market automobile resonated with the market, but people eventually wanted something different.
Know yourself. What is your product? What is your market? What is the problem that the market has, and how does your product solve it? What does your craziest, most obsessed customer look and sound like, and why does she rave about your product that much?
If you can’t answer all these questions, you probably need to iterate, or go back to the drawing board.
- The Never Ending Road To Product Market Fit, by Brian Balfour
- The Physics Of Customer Acquisition, by Ash Maurya
2: Content marketing: Focus on solving your customer personas’ problems.
Don’t fiddle with peripherals. It’s very tempting as a marketer to fuss about all the random collateral: Your logo, your tagline, your slogan, your site layout’s color scheme. These things matter, but they’re rarely the things that matter the most. Fiddling with them is almost always busy work that we do to distract ourselves from doing the harder, scarier work that actually matters.
Develop a superior understanding of the customer. You should always be in contact with customers and potential customers. You should always be writing and thinking about your customer’s problems. This requires figuring out how to create content that your leads care about, and figuring out how to convince them to make the leap to your landing page. This is almost never a clean, clinical process. Potential customers typically have to encounter your brand positively several times before they consider doing business with you.
- Minimum Viable Content: Real Talk About Content Marketing (And The 4 Mistakes You’ll Make)
- Why Content Marketing Fails [Slideshare], by Rand Fishkin – describes the above reality beautifully.
- How To Build A Content Marketing Strategy, by Stephanie Chang
- How To Build and Operate A Content Marketing Machine, by Toby Murdock
3: You’re leaking money: Landing Page Optimization + Conversion Rate Optimization.
Got leads? Now convert. The simplest central insight is that you’ll have to learn to see things from your customer’s point-of-view, and eliminate all the friction between them and the signup. Simple concept, but it gets incredibly intricate in practice.
Literally map out your customer journey. What is the most important decision you want your potential customer to make? You have to prioritize, or risk being robbed of customers… by decision-paralysis. Map out all the entry points into your funnel, and figure out the best way to get them there.
Here’s some of my favorite literature on the subject.
- Landing Pages That Convert, by Chance Barnett
- GoodUI.org, by Jakub Linowski
- Landing Page Design Tips, by Patrick Mckenzie
- ConversionXL’s blog, by Peep Laja and others
4: Get your numbers in order: Measure all the things!
Measure costs and value. The central math problem of customer acquisition is figuring out how to acquire customers for less than they’re worth to you. The jargon used for this is “Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)” and “Customer Lifetime Value” (LTV). If you want to sound really smart, through these acronyms around and say things like “I highly recommend a CAC to LTV ratio of at least 1:3”. Practically speaking, this just means figuring out how you can acquire higher-value customers more cheaply.
Measure the effectiveness of your acquisition efforts and channels. Specifically: Where are your customers coming from? Which are your best channels of customer acquisition? Do you get more customers on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest? Where do your customers hang out, what do they read? How is your PPC doing? You have to measure these things as much as you reasonably can.
Of course, you also have to avoid getting overly caught up in the data. It’s never completely possible to tell if something is a trend or an anomaly until on hindsight, so factor that into your interpretations.
- Startup Killer: The Cost Of Customer Acquisition, by David Skok. David talks about startups, but it really applies to any business.
- The Magic Formulas: Lifetime Customer Value and Customer Acquisition Cost, by Mihai Dragan
- Calculating Ecommerce Cost Of Customer Acquisition, by Ted Ammon
5: Read, learn, execute, reflect, iterate.
Challenge #1: Complexity. Customer acquisition is merely one part of marketing, but there are so many variables and moving parts that you can dedicate years to mastering it. The best way to get better at it, of course, is to learn from the experiences of the people who’ve done it best, and then apply those lessons to your own customer acquisition practices. And then repeat until you’ve achieved your goals.
Challenge #2: Balance. Reading and study can become a form of escapism from work, but non-directed busywork won’t help you very much, either. Study, implement, learn, teach, share, grow. It’s a lot of fun, really!
- How to become a customer acquisition expert, by Brian Balfour. A great guide written from the perspective of developing as an individual. Lots of links to great resources.
- How to acquire customers, by Ryan Allis. Startup focused, but applies to all businesses.
- Linkbuilding For Small Businesses, by Patrick McKenzie. Not necessarily the most comprehensive SEO/linkbuilding guide around, but Patrick is a compelling writer. Once you sink your teeth into this, you’re well positioned to dig into PPC and other SEO considerations.
- Marketing, Innovation and the Creation of Customers, by Venkatesh Rao. Introduces my personal favorite definition of “customer”, which also explains the Ford story at the start of the post.