3 Steps to Develop Your Customer Base

Customers in a busy coffee shop

First, they have to know about you. Then they have to try and like what you provide. Then they can be regular customers. Photo by Becky McCray. 

As small-business owners know, a business needs customers coming in the door to survive. But a common fallacy is that customers will flock to your store just because you open the doors.

Building a customer base is a huge challenge, but it is reality. Even with a great product, you need to let customers know you are in business, convince them that your product or service offers them benefits and keep them satisfied so they return to the store.

Given these challenges, the business owner needs to make customer acquisition and retention plans. Flying blind may work occasionally, but owners who think strategically ahead of time greatly increase their odds of staying open.

Business owners find it helpful if they break this process into three parts. First, they need to make the customer aware that they are in business.

Research has found that potential customers need to hear or see the name of a new business three to five times before they even recognize that the business exists. Thus, a one-time big advertisement will do little to bring in customers. Continuity in the early days is crucial.

Knowing about the business is only part of step one, however. You now have to get customers in the door. Research suggests that potential customers may need another five to seven contacts with your product or service to recognize its benefits to them. Remember, the customer wants to solve a problem.

Yet getting them in the door is actually the easy part. You got a potential customer to look, but now you want him or her to like what he or she sees and make a purchase.

In many cases, getting customers to buy your product means they must cross one or two hurdles. First, they must decide that spending their money with you is a better option than spending it someplace else. And money is a limited resource. This is true for all customers.

Second, many customers must forgo a known product and try yours instead. Not only do you want the purchase to meet their needs, but you also want them to feel they had great customer service.

Once customers have found you and like you, you want to gain their trust, build your brand and reputation, have them return and become your brand ambassadors. All of this occurs each and every time they return. To make sure they return, your product must continue to meet their needs and you must support it with good customer service.

Trust and reputation form the core of your brand. Your brand becomes the heart of the marketing message spread by you and your brand ambassadors, your existing customers.

Building your customer base doesn’t just happen. It takes time and effort, but the payoff can be substantial.

Glenn Muske is the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality. Follow Glenn on Twitter: @gmuske

About Glenn Muske

Glenn Muske is the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.

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  1. says

    Great points. I especially like the reminder that a customer normally has to make a change from a known product or service and try yours. This is a hurdle that we forget about and trips up a lot of new business owners. We have to make the argument persuasive enough for them to make that change – whether through a free trial, free sample, or some other enticement.
    Thanks for the reminder,

    • says

      Thanks. You remind all of us that when marketing your new business and/or product, you need a strong call to action. Enticements certainly get attention.

  2. says

    Yep! The message I love here is that all good things take time.

    Marketing the right way, through a combination of cohesive branding, good writing and design, and possibly storytelling, is all about nuance and getting to know your customer … and more importantly … them getting to know your over time.

    Pull, don’t Push and be calm, but focused in your approach. Sounds kinda Zen-like, but it works :)

  3. says

    Really good tips here. I’m sharing this with my team now and I’m positive these tips can help us improve our current strategies! We needed the help, very much thanks.

  4. says

    I’m adverting my service in as many places as I can right now, just like you have said I want they name out there as much as possible so people start thinking about me when they think of the service I provide. They may not contact me first but in the future I hope i’ll be the only name they think of.

    Thanks for the tips