How to target new customers

It's typically much more difficult to reach new customers than to get existing ones to buy more. But because of that, once you have a wide, established customer base, sales are going to be easier, more predictable, and easier to grow.

This guide introduces you to a range of techniques for targeting new customers. Which ones you choose to use will depend on your budget, timescale and logistical capability.

  • Incentivise. Offer exclusive deals and discounts for first-time users. This has a double advantage in that to ensure people can only be a 'first time buyer' once, you need to take contact details - thus building on your store of customer data.
  • Show them what it's all about for free. Give out samples of your product, either outside your premises, online (which would enable you to collect data and contact details for future use) or in locations where your target customer is likely to be. Ensure anyone handing out samples is wearing a branded T-shirt.
  • Hold 'open evenings' or 'open days' where new customers are able to wander in to your premises and try your services out for free as a one-off (this won't suit every business, of course, but some, particularly gyms, use it to great effect).
  • Create offers structured around giving a first taster of your services or product for free, but then the customer needs to pay for the next time.
  • Target new customers through your existing customer base. Incentivise your existing customers to bring their friends to your business by introducing 'refer a friend' schemes - discounts or special offers for the person who has convinced a friend to register an account with or buy from your business.
  • Introduce gift certificates (where appropriate) - the person who receives them may potentially be a new customer. Apparently approximately 20% of all gift certificates are never redeemed, 80% are redeemed for more than their value, and 40% are redeemed for more than twice their value - they're practically a license to print money!
  • Use everyone you know. If you haven't already, you need to get friends and family to sing the praises of everyone you know. Make sure they understand what exactly your business does, and make sure you sound excited and passionate when you talk to them about it - you'll inspire them to want to help you further your hopes for the business. Ask them to tell people they know about it - promising you'll return the favour somehow, one day!
  • Advertise. To make any ad spend worthwhile, you need to carry out some detailed research on who your new target customer is going to be.
    • As targeting new customers can be somewhat hit and miss, you may want to reduce costs by trying co-operative advertising - where you team up with another company to produce an ad.
    • Some websites will allow you to list yourself for free - try placing a free as on Gumtree or Craig's List, for example.
  • Get yourself in relevant directories. Getting listed in a directory such as Yellow Pages for a year can cost as little as £100, but can be a quick-fire way to drawing people who definitely want the service you offer to your business.
  • Take out classified ads. In much the same way as directories work, with classifieds you know the people are looking for the service you offer if they find you - that's a gold mine - you don't even have to try to sell to them!
  • Trade shows and expos. They can be expensive to attend (think a few hundred pounds for a stand, plus the additional cost of producing marketing material and flyers, as well as taking at least a day out of your schedule). But if you know there are going to be hundreds of potential new customers there, it can be worth the cash.
    • Find out normal attendance numbers before you pay for anything to make sure it's worthwhile.
    • Check out who else is taking a stand, so you know you're in the right company, and so that if a huge number of the other stands are your larger and more popular competitors you know it's either pointless taking a stand or that you really need to put on a great display.
    • Go armed with loads of flyers, marketing material, product and sample, banners if possible, and other things to decorate a stand with - and of course hundreds of business cards. You want to be the brightest most appealing stand in the hall, not the one everyone looks past. Sweets or wine, while simplistic and fickle, are also consistently effective in drawing people to a stand.
    • If you can't afford a stand, just go and network with as many people as you can to tell them about your business - this can still be highly effective.
  • Flyers can be a good vehicle for lots of information, but they often get chucked straight into the bin.
    • It's usually best only to hand them out with free samples, or at least a sweet or something similarly enticing to encourage people to actually look at what you're handing them.
    • That said, if you can get a good deal at the printers and don't mind standing around for a few hours, the scattergun approach of flyering always produces a few results - just monitor how much return you get on the time and money investment to see well it's worked for your business.
  • Do PR. Either use an agency (read more in our guide on *how to use a PR agency*) or do it yourself (get advice on that from our guide on *how to get your business into the press*).
  • Promotions on other sites. Asking another website to promote you to drive traffic to yours can work well with sites who cater for a similar audience but who are non-competitive.
    • Offer to promote them on yours in blogs and on the pages they prefer in return.
    • Getting another site to include links to your website has the added advantage of upping your Google rankings, which are dependent on other websites linking to yours.
  • Creating an eBay shop (where appropriate) gets you exposure to a potentially massive audience nationwide (or even internationally).
    • It can also be a nice little extra revenue stream.
    • You can brand your shop, so getting the word out about your business.
    • You can also direct traffic to your business website, so drawing more people closer to your brand.
    • Just make sure you always deliver on time and to the standard promised, else you risk doing damage to your brand.
  • Competitions. Giveaways in trade or relevant magazines and websites and a good way of getting the brand name out there, reaching a specific demographic and showcasing your product. A highly favourable description and a nice big picture of a product never did anyone any harm - in fact, you're essentially getting an advert for free.
  • Social media. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Smarta, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, Bebo - is free and can potentially open you up to a nationwide or even international customer base.
    • Each site has its own etiquette, and each has certain sneaky ways for your business to reach as many people as possible.
    • Read all about how to use it to your best advantage in our social media section.
  • Draw customers away from a brand they already use. Undercut the existing brand on price, out-do them in quality or offer customers a deal they can't refuse, then make your advantage over the competitor abundantly clear in your marketing communications with the new target customers and/or your advertising.
  • Sponsor events or awards.
    • If you know your target customers arelikely to be there at an event can be a good way of getting your brand name out there.
    • You may also be able to give samples out at the event.
    • It will, however, be expensive - from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
    • Speak to event organisers in-depth about their usual demographic and attendance numbers before handing over any cash to make sure they align with yours.
    • Assess whether the people attending are influential enough in their social or work circles to make the money per head it would cost you to sponsor worthwhile in terms of how many people they're likely to tell about your business as a result of sponsoring.
    • Sponsoring smaller scale events and awards in the local community can help position you as a locally-liked business and brand, one that's supporting the community, and make you look both professional and, potentially larger and more established than you actually are.
  • Cold calling.
    • Many consumer are resistant to cold calling, as it can be seen to very irritating, and, in some cases - particularly for older people - very unsettling. So think very carefully before you do it.
    • It is also very time-consuming and can be incredibly disheartening - you may spend days on the phone only to have one or two people interested, if that (there's quite an art to phone sales and it's a lot more difficult than it sounds).
    • Make sure you are always polite, never pushy, and try to focus on the advantages to the person on the other end rather than just explaining what you're selling.
  • Door to door.
    • Many consumers are averse to door-to-door selling, and it can be very annoying. Then again, it must produce some success, or else people wouldn't try it.
    • We'd recommend leaving it as a last option, as it could do more harm than good to your brand and reputation - it can look fairly desperate and some people find it intimidating.

Monitor your results

  • As always with marketing activity, you need to measure results carefully to ensure everything you do is producing enough benefit to your business to warrant any money and time you spend on it.
  • Ask new customers how they heard about you when they place an order to monitor this.
  • Adapt your strategy for getting new customers accordingly by focusing on the most effective channels and dropping the least effective ones.

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