4 Ways to Build Your Customer Base

by Rachel Hartman on January 27, 2014
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Three out of four U.S. small businesses expect better sales in 2014, according to the latest monthly survey of CEOs [PDF] released by The Wall Street Journal and Vistage.

Is that what you want for your company as well? A key way to sell more goods or services is to attract new clientele. Follow these steps to build your customer base.

1. Get personal. “Business and sales are not impersonal; in fact, [they’re] just the opposite,” notes Patrick Sprouse, executive vice president of S.E. Covington & Co., a commercial real estate firm based in Houston. “To build up a customer base takes time and dedication.”

One method: Attend networking events and collect business cards. In the days and weeks that follow, send emails to let your new contacts know how much you appreciated meeting them. Ask whether you can do anything to support them and continue to keep in touch. By building relationships, you establish yourself as a reliable resource and open the door to new business opportunities.

2. Be smart about reaching out. “The best place to start is by looking at your existing customer base,” Sprouse says. Ask these customers for referrals. Use the information you’ve collected about them (ZIP code, preferred form of payment, average transaction amount, etc.) to build a typical customer profile.

Understanding these factors will help you focus your marketing efforts. For example, if you run a pediatric dental practice, you could distribute toothbrush kits to schools and daycare centers in the neighborhoods where prospective customers are most likely to live.

3. Partner with a noncompeting business. Look for other businesses that have the same type of clients and an active marketing database. “This indicates they’re actively invested in growing their business and will be more receptive to your partnering idea,” says Lori Feldman, president of The Database Diva.

Let’s say you own a bakery and decide to partner with a real estate agent. You could send a free cupcake to each of agent’s clients on their birthdays, Feldman says. The agent, in turn, could order trays of your bakery’s pastries for open houses and pass out your cards or flyers. Through this type of co-marketing, you gain exposure to potential customers without having to pay hefty advertising costs.

4. Expand your specialized content. Revisit the information you offer to customers on your company’s website and consider how you could provide even more valuable material to potential buyers. You might decide to include a form that visitors can fill out to receive a free consultation, white paper, or email newsletter. After one of Feldman’s clients, a firm that specializes in precast concrete fencing and wall systems, added a form offering two free color samples, its leads increased by at least 600 percent, she notes.

When adding content, focus on problem-solving information that showcases your ability to go deeper into a topic than anyone else. That way, Feldman says, when readers are ready to buy, “you’ll be the only one on the short list.”

Rachel Hartman is a writer who frequently covers topics related to small businesses. Her work has appeared in The Costco Connection, Wells Fargo Conversations, Pizza Today, Bankrate.com, InsuranceQuotes.com, CreditCardGuide.com, and many other outlets.

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