The customer acquisition process, also known as a sales funnel or pipeline, has been a marketing staple for years and always seems to be a trending topic. Before the Internet, an example of a customer acquisition process would have been a local newspaper ad that included a phone number and then a salesman followed up with anyone who called the number. Today, that may work, but other things work a lot better.

Julie Stoian, founder of the online entrepreneur site Create Your Laptop Life, is a customer acquisition and digital marketing expert, regularly working with clients to build or modify and implement successful sales funnels.

"There are approximately 11 billion different ways to build a customer acquisition process and many marketing experts will tell you they have their own 'secret formula,'" she said. "I don't think there is a formula, but there are some principles that everyone should consider before building their first process."

As the process evolves with changes in technology and marketing strategies, starting with a simple acquisition process is essential for small businesses to be more effective in targeting potential customers.

1. The Bait

First, and perhaps most importantly, the process needs something to draw in a prospective customer to capture their information, especially an email address. Why email? It's still the most effective way to follow up with someone. The bait should be enticing and free, offering something in return for the information such as an ebook, workshop, masterclass, report or how-to guide.

When determining the bait, Stoian recommends thinking about the ideal prospective customer base and then creating an offer that will reach as many of those prospects as possible.

"Think about the people who will go through the acquisition process as three different types: cold traffic, warm traffic and hot traffic," Stoian said. "All three know they have a problem, but what they don't know is the key."

2. Advertise the Bait

After creating the bait, advertise it. This doesn't have to be a complex advertising strategy. It could be as simple as a dedicated web page or more complex to build an opt-in.

"The goal with advertising the bait is to get the potential customer to have no other choice than to enter their email," Stoian said. "No extra links or buttons are needed - just copy, a picture of the bait and input fields so the person can add their name and email."

3. A Thank You Page

After the prospective customer submits their name and email address, you have approximately five seconds to tell the prospect anything you'd like, including thank you. At this point, consider setting up what is one of the most underused customer acquisition techniques, a thank you page. To get the most out of the page, determine what you want the prospect to do or buy, such as join your Facebook group or purchase one of your low-cost offers.

4. Send an Email

According to Stoian's research, 80 to 90 percent of people who opt-in to receive a free gift won't pay attention to a thank you page. That statistic seems high, and she was quick to point out that 10 to 20 percent will take action and if you're selling something good, you'll create significant income.

If there are people who ignored the thank you page altogether, email them. Since you've captured their email address, go ahead and send them useful content to begin building a relationship. It brings the prospective customer back to you.

5. Generate Traffic

Any customer acquisition process needs some sort of traffic, meaning the process should be filled with people. Traffic can come through a variety of ways such as social media, Google searches, and paid ads.

Stoian recommends focusing on one or two types of traffic first before moving onto others and to think beyond traditional ways of generating traffic. Utilize email signatures, the back of business cards and even podcasts as part of the acquisition process.

Creating customer acquisition process can seem intimidating with all the experts out there offering advice, but it isn't as bad as it seems. Create the bait, the page to advertise it, a thank you page with some sort of offer or call to action, and an email series that keeps them engaged. Then, get out there and conquer your customer acquisition goals.