Customer acquisition strategies
from the experts

Attracting new customers is paramount to any business but it is especially important for SMEs and start-up companies who are looking to grow and increase sales at an increased rate. There are different challenges faced by different sectors but themes do emerge across all businesses.

M&S Corporate Gifts have been helping companies attract new customers for years. Our solutions have been used by our customers to acquire new clients with outstanding results from a range of sectors. Our team work closely with businesses to understand their objectives and target audience to ensure they set up the right customer acquisition scheme.

With the right customer acquisition strategy, M&S Corporate Gifts believe all businesses are able to achieve growth. We therefore wanted to share our knowledge and experience as well as those of other companies to assist more businesses with the development of greater customer acquisition strategies.

We contacted business owners, directors and senior management in some of the fastest growing and most inspiring companies in the UK to ask them for their advice on acquiring new customers, the challenges they face and tips for other SMEs and young businesses. These businesses have either been recognised by The Sunday Times Fast Track 100 as companies who have shown exceptional growth in sales, or have featured in the London Stock Exchange 100 Companies to Inspire Britain list which celebrates the fastest-growing and most dynamic small businesses.

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Be innovative

In such a fast-paced world, staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and happenings can be an enormous task in itself, let alone ensuring your business offering is kept up-to-date. For some businesses who lack innovation in their product or service, this has resulted in them being left behind from the competition with hugely detrimental effects. For others, it has quite simply been the key to their success.

Matt Lumb, COO of Tangle Teezer believes that innovation of the product was definitely the key to Shaun Pulfrey’s success when he initially invented the product. ‘The average consumer wants and expects innovation and modern technology in almost every item’. Tangle Teezer have achieved this with great success and have received two Queen’s Awards for Innovation and International Trade.

Spotting new trends and becoming the leader of that trend can also provide your company with stand-out. Morph Suits Founder Gregor Lawson, ensures his business puts ‘a lot of focus on innovation, identifying new trends and opportunities which appeal to new customers’. This is how they have continued to attract new customers as well as keep engaged with their current audience.

With service based industries, adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of the sector can be a real challenge, however, done correctly can prove very profitable in attracting a constant stream of new customers. Unruly, a Marketing technology company and global platform for social video marketing, has an almost unique approach to innovation.

Scott Button, Founder and CEO of Unruly, describes them as ‘an agile company, committed to rapid cycles of customer feedback and innovation’. They innovate their offering after every campaign to ensure they are continually offering their clients ‘access to the latest technology and insight’.

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Clearly define and position your product offering

Positioning your product or service correctly will pay dividends when it comes to acquiring new customers. The ways in which you do this will differ depending on the sector but the reasons for doing it, do not.

By positioning your offering, you are ensuring that both your target audience and employees fully understand and appreciate the clear benefits of what your business has to offer and therefore why they should select you (both to work with and purchase from).

At Uniting Ambition, Howard Murfin (Customer Engagement Director) comments ‘we know what we’re good at and we’ve stuck to it. Our customer list reflects our skillset; we’re not trying to be all things to all people’.

For new businesses getting this right first time may prove challenging but once it has clicked, it will bring with it focus and determination.

Businesses should not attempt to offer a solution to every problem but should instead focus on a particular problem and come up with a brilliant solution to solve this. At First Utility, their success is partly due to them having achieved ‘a product and a brand proposition that is resonating with people’ (Ed Kamm, CEO, First Utility). Competing in a highly competitive market makes this more difficult but with strong brand positioning, First Utility have been very successful with new customer acquisition.

We know what we’re good at and we’ve stuck to it. Our customer list reflects our skillset; we’re not trying to be all things to all people.
Howard Murfin, Customer Engagement Director at Uniting Ambition

Differentiate yourself from competitors

Finding that one thing that differentiates you from the competition gives your audience a reason to purchase – whether this is your product attributes or your company values.

‘We really focus on developing things that people really want. We try to do them better than anyone else and we genuinely enjoy what we do’ Jon Simon, Co-founder of Pieminister.

It is always beneficial to try and be different to your customers by offering a bespoke solution to solve their individual needs. Piers Daniell, Founder and MD at Fluidata, believes this has been their key to successfully attracting new customers, commenting ‘we are small enough to still deliver the personal touch from every level of the business’.

Further to this, brand awareness also plays a key part in distinguishing your business from competitors, especially in sectors where there is little differentiation available. Howard Murfin, Customer Engagement Director at Uniting Ambition comments ‘Brand awareness is a crucial part of customer attraction. Most sectors face the same challenge; there are hundreds of companies out there all purporting to offer the same products and services’.

Differentiation can be a great way to connect with an audience who is looking for justification of their choice. Businesses need to ensure that they are providing a solution alongside a solid reason to purchase – it is no longer enough to simply offer a product or service. ‘Give your customers a great reason to buy from you, and shout about it.’, Ed Kamm, CCO at First Utility.

It is always beneficial to try and be different to your customers by offering a bespoke solution to solve their individual needs.
Piers Daniell, Founder and MD at Fluidata

Differentiating with incentives

Incentivising your offering can also pay dividends in the long run in relation to attracting new customers. By offering something in addition to your product or service will again give the customer another reason for purchase. Incentives come in many different forms and what the incentive should be should be based on your audience.

First Utility is a great example of a business within a sector with little scope for differentiation. It is one in which it is difficult to offer something in addition to the basic product and therefore their incentive is focused on what is the single differentiating factor – price. ‘We do all we can to make sure our tariffs are the cheapest they can be’. This in itself, if communicated correctly, will be received as an added benefit which helps to attract new customers.

At Uniting Ambition they believe ‘successfully attracting new customers comes down to two things, ensuring you can add value to the customer, and proving it’, Howard Murfin. A similar approach is taken at Hanson Wade. Tony Lloyd, Head of Sales commented on the ‘need to give prospective customers insight into what you can do for them’.

To ensure you add value you need to understand their needs and deliver solutions for them.

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Understand your audience

‘By understanding your current customer…you can work out how to get more new customers’ Gregor Lawson, Founder of Morph Suits.

Being able to understand your audience sounds simple but many companies find this a very challenging task. Being able to identify your target audience is very useful from a marketing perspective, however, understanding the needs and wants of the people who actually purchase your products is a whole new ‘ball-game’.

Uniting Ambition agree that understanding your audience is a major contributor to successfully attracting a new audience. Howard Murfin commented ‘Uniting Ambition has a very specific target customer base which enables us to get to know our customers intimately, something that has undoubtedly helped us win and retain business.’

A very similar opinion is had by First Utility who believe that attracting new customers becomes easier when you ‘identify your audience, know what appeals to them and ensure that your product and messaging is completely geared towards it.’, Ed Kamm, First Utility.

Again, understanding your audience can assist you with differentiating your business to your competitors and therefore winning that new customer.

BathEmpire do exactly this and Chris Li, Founder and Director at BathEmpire, believes ‘determining who your customer is and understanding what motivates them to choose your product’ is the first step in acquiring more of the same.

If you already have great customers, finding out a little more about their motivations can allow you to reap the rewards of attracting like-minded people.

Similarly, Fluidata believe businesses should ‘really focus on the customer demographic and make sure everything you do is focused towards that’. They feel this has been key to their success and find it helps to focus their marketing efforts and attention.

There are several ways in which to gain a better understanding of your audience which are both quick and inexpensive.

Using previous research (or purchasing research), using tools such as analytics on your website or even setting up surveys or collecting feedback are all great ways to get in touch with your customer. This is something Morph Suits strive to do in order to keep up-to-date with their customers. Gregor Lawson mentions ‘it has never been cheaper or easier to speak to your customers’ and by gaining this insightful understanding, they have managed to ‘work out how to get more new customers’.

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Engage with that audience

Defining your target audience and understanding your customers will put your business in great stead, but this will mean nothing if you do not engage and interact with that audience in the right way.

Tangle Teezer agree and believe ‘engaging with the consumer is important in today’s social-media savvy age.’ Where the internet has become so prevalent in many consumers lives, it has also opened up the opportunity for your audience to talk about you in a far more public arena.

‘Listen to the customer and the consumer, it’s vitally important’ (Matt Lumb, Tangle Teezer). This can be a charm and a curse as you are quickly able to hear the thoughts of your customers but similarly, this feedback may not always be possible.

What this form of engagement does allow for though is discussion. Answering your customers questions, whether that is directly through platforms such as social media or by editing content on your website, improving your marketing or even improving your product offering.

Hanson Wade follow a very similar train of thought, Tony Lloyd, Head of Sales ‘Understanding [customers] and their needs and developing products they want’ has been the foundations for their success.

He also mentions that success ‘can be accelerated by talking to your market and listening very carefully’. This has helped them to develop new solutions for their customers and ultimately worked well to attract more customers.

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Satisfy your customer

Understanding and engaging with your audience will go a long way to acquiring new business but providing an offering which satisfies, and at times, surpasses both the expectations of your customers and your competitors offering; will go a long way in confirming the sale.

BathEmpire follow a similar thought process – ‘We think the one area of focus for a start-up business should ultimately be customer satisfaction’ Ravenn Sandhu, BathEmpire.

As a new business, these early customers are vital to getting your brand talked-about and ultimately promoted. BathEmpire feel they have seen great success with ensuring these customers are fully satisfied. First Utility operate in a highly competitive sector and therefore know their ‘consumers are attracted to alternatives that can demonstrate they put the customer first’, Ed Kamm, First Utility.

They rely on differentiating themselves but also putting the customer’s needs first. Customers are looking for low tariffs and therefore this is their focus.

Fully satisfying or surpassing the needs of those early adopting customers will help you gain recommendations and endorsements – ultimately leading to new business in the future.

Of course there are times when this is not possible or errors occur which lead to dissatisfied customers.

The way in which you deal with these problems can be seen as an opportunity to go above and beyond for your customer. This can actually lead to a more powerful endorsement should the problem be resolved well.

Look after your current customers, ‘in turn they will become your biggest source of new business through recommendation of your brand to others.
Chris Li, Founder and Director at BathEmpire

Gain recommendations & endorsements

Endorsements are quickly becoming a hugely powerful marketing tool in relation to customer acquisition as an honest and trusted review by the consumer, for the consumer.

Where word of mouth has translated online, reviews, recommendations and endorsements have become a big business – so much so that there are now entire businesses dedicated to providing you with honest reviews from real customers.

‘If you can get your customer to introduce you, or let potential customers know of your existence that is half the sale done’, Piers Daniell, Founder and MD at Fluidata.

It is therefore vitally important to pay close attention to your existing customers as a key source of free marketing for your business.

At BathEmpire, they believe ‘the key element that brings success to any business is establishing a loyal customer base that trusts your brand’, Chris Li.

Consumer trust is something which is hugely important, very difficult to achieve and easy to break. Chris Li also mentions; ‘Look after your current customers, in turn they will become your biggest source of new business through recommendation of your brand to others’.

A similar approach is taken at First Utility where they believe ‘endorsements can play a key role [in building a level of trust] – be this via awards, media, customer advocacy or something else’, Ed Kamm.

They believe that building your credibility in the sector through endorsements will help to attract further customers.

For new businesses, harnessing this early relationship will pay dividends in the future through these recommendations and endorsements.

At Pieminister, they rely on this approach to achieve their substantial growth plans. Jon Simon, Co-founder comments; ‘however small the customers in the short term they will lay the foundations for the bigger ones in the future’.

To achieve this level of trust, The Genuine Gemstone Company believes you must be ‘open and honest with your customers, take them on your journey and help them to understand your brand’. They believe companies must be ‘focused on ethics in order to flourish in the future’, Steve Bennett, Founder.

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Hire the right employees

Acquiring new customers is not only reliant on your positioning, product offering and audience targeting, but it is also dependent on the right people to implement it.

Customer acquisition strategy success is more often than not, fully dependant on your employees who act as brand ambassadors, the face and the voice of your business.

At Unruly, they ‘hire people who go above and beyond to deliver impact’ (Scott Burton, Founder & CEO). They have built their business on ‘great company spirit and highly-skilled, deeply dedicated people, determined to deliver WOW’ for their clients. This strategy has worked well to win them new business as well as attract attention from their key audience.

Tangle Teezer also believe in the power of staff and mention, as a start-up or small business enterprise, you should ‘surround yourself with the best staff you possibly can and then empower them’ to get you where you believe you should be, Matt Lumb.

They have achieved great success with this strategy and continue to grow and develop as a result of it. Employing people who ‘go above and beyond for [their] customers’ is paramount at The Genuine Gemstone Company . As one of the fastest growing privately held companies, they have seen great success in growing into a company of over 500 members of staff but at all times maintain their focus on ethical trading – something which is highly sought-after in the Gemstone sector, Steve Bennett.

As the business grows, it becomes inevitable that the values of that business will at times become diluted. It is therefore paramount to ensure you have the right people behind you who believe in your business to get you to where you company strives to be.

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Market your business offering

Marketing is a great way to increase brand recognition and credibility.

By targeting the right audience in the right places, you can attract new customers simply by marketing to them in the right way.

Understanding your audience goes a long way to achieving this but ‘quite simply, people are more likely to pick you if they’ve heard of you’, Ed Kamm, First Utility.

Where your customers usually interact with you will determine the way in which you market to them. At Fluidata they ‘put a lot of effort into PR and thought leadership to ensure [their] name is synonymous with authority’.

By positioning themselves as authoritative, they will win the confidence of their target market and pull customers towards them. This does rely on them having the ability to back up this authority with successes.

A similar approach is taken by The Genuine Gemstone Company who have found that ‘PR and social media has had an extremely positive impact on our business’ Steve Bennett, Founder of TGGC.

They use public relations to connect with their audience but also utilise social media to learn more about their audience which becomes highly valuable when developing further marketing strategies.

Marketing can be expensive and therefore it is important that you understand who it is you want to target, where it is best to target them and how to target them.

Learning about your existing audience is vital in understanding their thought processes and therefore how to attract more like-minded people.

At the end of it all, your customers are the reason you are in business, look after them, treat them well and they will grow and help your business to flourish in the future.

Final thoughts

There are a huge number of things businesses can do to acquire new customers and which ones your company should chose can be a difficult thing to decipher.

It is vital that you understand both your audience and your business objectives first and foremost and then consider both the positives and implications of each course of action.

Developing a clear and concise strategy will assist your business in finding and retaining focus on objectives.

Get your employees involved in the decision making process if you feel it would be beneficial to ensure they are all on board and don’t forget about or alienate your existing customers. You want to grow the customer base rather than replace it.

Jon Simon at Pieminister advises businesses ‘get out and sell’, they have built their businesses quickly based on the passion they have for their product. They believe they are making the best product they can make and therefore want to share that experience with others.

‘Embrace change’, is the advice from Scott Button at Unruly. ‘It’s vital to stay one step ahead for your customers’.

Staying one step ahead can be immensely difficult but ensures that you are always offering customers what they want as well as developing what they will need in the future.

‘Have a clear and focused understanding of who your target customer is’ Tony Lloyd, Hanson Wade.

At the end of it all, your customers are the reason you are in business, look after them, treat them well and they will grow and help your business to flourish in the future.