We asked successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council to name some unusual--or at least lesser-known--customer acquisition strategies they've used recently to strong results. Here are some of their best answers.
1. Visit Popular Conferences
If you are a seed, or even a funded start-up, you may not have the resources to attend some of the big-name conferences (which can cost up to of tens of thousands of dollars). Instead, stand outside of the conference venues--dressed appropriately--and meet the attendees while they are on lunch break. This is an effective strategy that's worked for us on numerous occasions.
--Sunil Rajaraman, Scripted.com
2. Investing in Old-Fashioned Relationship-Building
While everyone is busy looking for the next viral campaign, we find old-fashioned relationship-building still trumps all other marketing efforts. Our best customer-acquisition strategy is the oldest one in the book: referrals. Most of our clients are referrals from existing clients, investors and other service providers who work within our ecosystem.
--David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
3. Stop Selling, Start Asking Questions
Instead of trying to guess the sales triggers with a potential customer, let him tell you why he needs your product or service. Ask strategic questions so you can accurately address his needs and close the deal, while adding value to your company over your competitors.
--Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees
4. Posting Contrarian Articles
I've posted contrarian articles on my site with much success. Posts such as "The Best Ways to Build up Credit Card Debt" became quite popular with our readers and attracted many new ones.
--Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
5. Making Weekly Phone Calls With Customers
To start 2013, our team decided to go back to our roots and chat directly with customers. Every team member now has a weekly call with a different customer. We ask for honest feedback (good and bad) and learn a ton. One amazing side result: Our customers have requested different ways to share our story with their friends. We created referral kits and have even helped them host selling parties.
--Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
6. Giving Away Content for Free
We syndicate our company's content for free to publishers who have big audiences because we stand by how good our stuff is, no matter where people first see it. If people read something that's great, they're going to want to know where it came from--and follow that source in the future.
--Derek Flanzraich, Greatist
7. Using Existing Customers to Gain New Ones
Collecting information about your current customers allows you to give them what they want. When they buy something, make sure you keep track of what they purchased. Make sure they're happy. And then, give them the tools to tell their friends about your products. Your best customer is your best marketing tool to acquire new customers.
--Brett Farmiloe, Markitors
8. Sampling Services to Non-Member Companies
We offer free referrals to non-member companies as needed for a win-win-win scenario: Our users find a pro, a pro gets a piping hot lead and we've warmed a promising lead of our own. At times, prospects know nothing about us, but they're open because we helped. When your brand is new, it's important to create these micro-branding experiences for your target market--priming them to be receptive.
--Manpreet Singh, Seva Call
9. Experimenting With Odd Ads
We were stumped as to why our ad campaigns had so many click-throughs, but very few resulting downloads. We ran an experiment with a blank banner ad to see if users on touchscreens were intending to tap our ads, or if the taps were accidental. The blank white banner ad had the highest click-through rate of all our ads. As a result, we are now less likely to use pay-per-click advertising methods.
--Justin Beck, PerBlue