Need customers? Start here.

Glenn Muske, in his recent post for Small Biz Survival, gives what should be commonsense advice:

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.

3 Steps to Develop Your Customer Base

Muske’s post is an excellent starting point for thinking through how you’ll win over customers. In mentioning “crossing hurdles,” he touches on competition and differentiation, factors that I think can’t be taken too lightly.

To build on Muske’s observations, customers have many options. These options include buying from a direct competitor, other alternatives to purchasing your specific product or service, or opting out of buying altogether.

The nature of the product or service can greatly expand or limit the market. Are you in a market niche that requires customers to come to you in person? How popular or necessary is your product or service? Is your town sufficiently populous to support your business’s likely current and future popularity?

If your niche offers customers many options, how is your business different or better than competitors? Answering this question isn’t necessarily straightforward; more likely than not your product or service has clear advantages for certain segments of the market. Who are these people? In what channels should you reach out to them? And once you have their attention, how will you explain what you have to offer them?

I do believe that competition plays less of a role in success when your business is a great fit for your passions and personality. But even if you can beat your competitors in every category, or there’s little or no competition at all, you must get people to think about you – and think highly of  you – to stay and succeed in business.