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
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Glenn Muske is an independent expert on rural small business, working as GM Consulting – Your partner in achieving small business success. He provides consulting, and writes articles for county extension agents and newspapers across North Dakota. Previously, he was the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.