Posted: 11th May 2015
Finding customers is of interest to us all – new businesses as well as established ones – we all need customers to survive and to flourish.
The key to success is to make sure you understand who are the most likely people to buy from you and what their likely purchasing habits are. That will help you decide how and where to sell to them.
If you are selling to individuals you need to think about how old they are, whether they are more likely to be men or women, how wealthy they are, where they live, how they shop, what hobbies they might have. You might think this is a bit nosy, but if you are selling organic food then you know that your customers are more likely to be health-conscious, relatively wealthy, middle-class. So an advert in a local health food shop would bring you more results than an advert in a burger bar. If you are selling fashionable clothing then the people you want to reach are likely to be younger, female, and likely to shop in boutique shops – so you can try and get your product listed in that type of outlet.
The same applies if you are selling to businesses. You need to have an idea of how big they are, how many employees they have, where they are based, what departments they have. If you are selling IT services then your target business is more likely to be small to medium sized – and without its own IT department. If you sell coffee machines, plants, office furniture then your target customer is more likely to be one who has recently moved premises.
Understanding your customer will help you to then decide on your route to market. Are you planning to track all the customers down yourself, or could you sell your product/service indirectly?
The advantage of selling directly is that you don’t have to pass any of the profit on. However it does mean that you are likely to reach fewer potential customers, so you might want to consider letting some-one else have the pleasure of tracking down customers on your behalf – you may well be able to make a good living selling more with a lower margin.
So having understood your customer, and your route to market, you can start trying to track them down.
For businesses it is often straightforward. Start by looking for trade associations that deal with the business sectors you are interested in. You can also look for lists of potential customers on a website such as www.marketingfile.com where you can select the criteria for the type of firm you want and then buy contact details. If your potential customers are retail outlets then walking along your local high street is as good a way as any of getting the full list of potential customers! You can use websites such as www.yell.com too to track down customers. If you are planning to phone potential business customers then don’t forget to check whether they are listed with the telephone preference service. If you are buying a list from a list owner or broker each record should be pre-checked and you should confirm this with them. If you are sourcing your own list you will need to do the checking yourself.
Individuals are slightly more tricky to track down. No trade associations to help you here! However, you can still buy lists of consumers, just as you can buy lists of businesses on marketingfile.com. Also – think laterally about your customers. Do you think your customers are the type of buy from a certain catalogue? Boden, Great Little Trading Company, Verbaudet? Do you have a competitor who has a catalogue? If so then contact the organisation and see if you can buy their database. That way you get a full list of customers who you know are interested in products like yours.
So how else are you going to track down customers? Well here are a few ideas that should help you on your way.
Any business-to-business company will tell you that networking is the single most successful way of reaching customers. So join a networking organisation – they aren’t all expensive. There are often local groups that are much more cost-effective than the bigger networking organisations. Other ways of networking are to use your existing customers to win new ones. Get them to recommend you to their customers. Whether you are dealing with businesses or individuals “Recommend a Friend” promotions can get you in touch with potential customers.
If you organise events then you can get customers to come to you. This could be exhibitions, parties, open days. Think about ways to get people to visit you and reasons for them to do so. If you have a shop then you can have select “invitation only” previews of new stock. Perhaps your business could team up with other businesses to get people to visit. Might your product work on a “Tupperware party” type event? A friend of mine has had great success selling her jewellery in this way.
We’re talking about finding new customers, and some of the tried and tested promotion mechanics are designed to do just that. Free trials, samples, discounts and offers for new customers. All of these are designed to get new people through your door, or on the phone talking to you. If you are planning mail shots then try a small mail shot first so that you can plan to follow it up with a phone call.
This enables you to stagger the workload (because who amongst us enjoys cold-calling?!) and also gives you a chance to get some feedback about the mailer you used – has it been noticed, admired or simply consigned to the bin?
It is a fact of life that most businesses gain momentum with time, and as you win new customers you can get into a virtuous circle of providing a good product or service, getting the respect and appreciation of your customer, winning new orders from your customer, and most importantly getting new recommendations via your customer. So never forget that all the work that you put into finding your customers must be supported by good products and good service. Good Luck with finding your customers, and importantly with hanging on to them too!