Customer Acquisition Tips from the Pros at Maine Startup & Create Week

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Growing your customer base is essential for growing your business. Whether you’re a startup, an enterprise level marketer or an aspiring business owner, the question of how to acquire customers is ever-present and the answer is rarely black and white. To attract new users and customers, you need to have a system in place for tracking results, as well as a method of consistently testing your marketing efforts –but what does that mean for your business?

To delve into the topic and make sense of the countless channels and tactics available, Maine Startup and Create Week, a national conference held this past week (June 22-26) in Portland, Maine, brought together three industry experts, from completely different backgrounds, to offer their advice, experience and ideas on how to best utilize different channels to drive traffic and increase your customer base.

Panelists on the session titled “Customer Acquisition: How you get your first 100 customers, and how that’s different from your next 10,000” included, Eric Sherman, Digital Marketing Lead at HubSpot, Meagan Moughty, Director of Internet Business for, and Sandrine Mangia-Park, VP of Marketing at The Grommet. Our founder and CEO, Haj Carr, a serial entrepreneur with experience building successful mortgage, real estate and finance businesses companies –and now an international publishing firm –was granted the privilege of moderating the panel discussion.

The session was designed to help attendees discover new channels to reach potential customers, learn stories of success and failure with email lists, surveys, paid acquisition, social media strategies and marketing. Opening questions up to the floor also provided a forum for conversation and questions to flow directly between the panelists and the audience, which was made up primarily of small-business owners.

Here are the panelists’ answers to a few of the toughest questions facing today’s small-business owners looking to broaden their reach and acquire new customers…

Which channel is best?

Without a solid, data-backed strategy, posting to your website, sending emails, sharing on social media and creating blogs is a waste of time. Strategy is the first step in having an effective campaign and in order to create that strategy you need to know where your customers are, who they are and what they want.

“There is no specific channel that is best for reaching an audience and if I told you there were, I’d be lying,” says Eric. “Every business is different and it takes time, trial and error to uncover the answer.”

“There is no specific channel that is best for reaching an audience and if I told you there were, I’d be lying. Every business is different and it takes time, trial and error to uncover the answer.” – Eric Sherman, Digital Marketing Lead at HubSpot

But, don’t get discouraged. Tools like the ones listed below can help you uncover data that can lead you to customers. Here are a few of the panelists’ most-loved analytics tools, some of which are completely free:

Analyzing data helps you make better marketing decisions across the board. Knowing how your audience behaves online, from anonymity to churn, lets you optimize every interaction and enhance communications at key conversion points. “Always be testing and trying new things,” insists Eric. “Consistently try your methods so you can get to the centers of truth and get more information as fast as possible.”

Each change you make gives you a chance to improve –a chance to put your current model out of business with a new and improved one. “Don’t abandon what you do well,” advises Eric. “Just carve out some space to try something different.”

What if I am strapped for cash?

Not every business has a stack of cash to spend on market research, but sometimes adventurousness outweighs impressive budgets. “There are ways to research and make decisions without spending money, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort,” Eric explains. “You don’t have to have the biggest budget or the biggest team – you can find big answers in small ways.”

If your marketing budget is next to nothing, and you need to grow, there are some options:

Affiliate Marketing 

If no one knows who you are or what you’re selling, your chances of making a sale are pretty slim. By joining forces with a well-known brand, site, product or service, you can gain credibility and traction for your own business. Affiliate marketing is a way for your business to sell products by signing up with individuals or businesses (typically high-traffic, complementary sites) that market your products to their visitors for a commission.

To make this an effective venture, Sandrine suggests that you, “go after a site that already has an audience. It is as easy as contacting the site and starting a partnership – there are even websites dedicated to creating affiliate programs.” She also offers a warning that since affiliates promote businesses as a part of their own marketing efforts, you generally lose control of your presentation. “It may not be the best option for businesses, such as lifestyle brands, with a heavy emphasis on their company image,” she says.

Connect with Influencers

Networking is key for business leaders, marketers and anyone trying to build a name for themselves or their brand. “Find influencers in your market and pick their brain,” recommends Sandrine. “It’s a free way to collect firsthand information and experiences –and you’ll build a relationship with leaders in your industry.” Plus, leveraging your connections can often get you a new sale or at least a foot in the door. In fact, TheShelf, an influencer marketing platform, recently reported that 92% of consumers trust influencers more than brands and that sharing your content through influencers in your industry increases conversion by at least a 3-10x higher rate.

Stalk the Competition

Knowing what your competition is doing will not only help you differentiate yourself, but also give you insights into where your audience is hanging out. “Stalk the competition and see what’s working for them, but always be your unique self,” Meagan encourages. “Copying exactly what competitors are doing won’t put you in the spotlight.”

Eric takes this advice a step further saying, “Finding channels that competitors and advertisers haven’t entered yet lets you acquire new customers at a low cost.”

Social Media

While social media channels are essentially free, knowing which ones to focus on will be your biggest challenge – not to mention the time it takes to actively and effectively engage with your communities. To make the most of your efforts, try the tactics and tools listed above to narrow down your focus. “Social media is a hungry baby, you have to feed it all the time,” says Sandrine.

How do I make my message relevant?

Making your message and campaign as relevant to your customer or prospect as possible is the key to success. If an email subject line doesn’t resonate with you, will you open it? If you see an ad that doesn’t catch your eye, will you click it? Probably not, which means the chance for conversion is next to none.

Here are some tips on creating campaigns that resonate, allowing you to reach your 1:1, or at least close to it:

Just Ask

To get to the bottom of what your customers want, it’s as simple as asking! “When I first started at HubSpot I thought we’d have some fancy tool or marketing email to solicit feedback from customers or potentials who hadn’t visited our site for a while,” Eric explained. “Turns out it was as simple as sending a personal email and asking what we could do better and why they weren’t using the product – and it actually works really well.”

Test, Test and Test Again!

“I am obsessed with testing,” says Meagan. “You can have instincts that match your aesthetic, but it may not match that of your customer.”

Rather than giving up because you didn’t get the results you wanted from that one time you put something on Facebook or sent out an email or posted an ad, iterate data-backed changes and try again. Sandrine adds, “You’re not talking to yourself, put yourself in the shoes of the customer, and then test your campaigns.”

Be Real

Some restaurant menus have photos of the dishes offered. While this may be a great tactic for making mouths water, it can also be a really easy way to let customers down. If patrons see double-stacked patties with melted cheese and crisp green lettuce peeking out from under a fluffy bun, that’s exactly what they expect to have on their plate – but this isn’t always the reality.

What’s the takeaway? Don’t mislead your potential customers. Whether it’s an online advertisement or a real life burger, deceiving your customers with glitzy stock photos and clickbait headlines is an excellent way to make sure they never come back. “What customers get when they click or open a box has to be what they are expecting, if not better,” Sandrine says. “Happiness is priceless.”

While there were many actionable and insightful points touched upon during the panel discussion, every answer, regardless of the question, circled back to testing. Testing what you know, what you think you know and how your customers react to different tactics is the most effective way to acquire new customers and keep the customers you already have coming back for more.

“I like to call it ‘Battleship testing,'” Eric says of his approach to mining and utilizing data.”It’s more important to feel around and see what works than to focus intently on one tactic. Just get in the ballpark; you don’t have to sink the ship in one shot.”

Thank you to all our panelists, Maine Startup and Create Week for hosting such an inspiring and collaborative event, as well as Tristan Corriveau, Account Manager at Zootility tools and panel organizer, for inviting Haj to moderate the session. Also, thank you to the conference sponsors Norton Insurance and Blackstone Growth, and our presenting sponsor MEMIC.

Do you have any tips on customer acquisition? Or anything you’d like to ask the panelists? Connect with us on social media –we’ll share your tips and find answers to your burning questions!