Focus on acquiring customers NOT sales

The objective of any business is to sell, that is never in question. But how best to go about doing it in a way that not just maximises first basket revenue, but also repeat sales?

By focusing on acquiring customers, not sales.

This is more than a subtle shift in tactics, it is a fundamentally different strategy that will impact every part of a business.

A better strategy

Applying this thinking means your ‘product’ is more than just the physical item or intangible service and more than just pre-sales, it becomes the whole experience…

  • Alignment of your marketing promise to the reality – Does your product live up to the promises you made in your marketing to convert them?
  • Customer comms – Do you provide guidance on how to get started and use your product successfully?
  • Control panel – Is it an easy and enjoyable experience to use?
  • Support database – Are the most common FAQs documented and easy to find?
  • Customer support – How quick, accurate and responsive are your support team?
  • Feedback – Do you have a feedback loop in place to action customers’ ideas?

Customers want to know they are being listened to

No one knows your business like your customers. They use and interact with your products in ways you coud never plan for, so it is vital you have a process for capturing and acting on feedback.

This goes for both negative (making changes) and positive (saying “thank you”) feedback.

From my own experiences working in a company that was uncommunicative with their customers, I know how frustrating it can be for proactive customers to feel like their feedback is not being listened to.

In this case, all their feedback was actually being read and a lot were being acted on!

The problem was we weren’t telling them, which meant they thought it was a waste of time and stopped.

Imagine how many brand fans the company could have cultivated if they had sent a personal thanks and a link to the change in action on the website.

Personalise your marketing

The way you market to prospects and your customers should be as personalised as possible, based on who they are (profile data such as age, location, gender, occupation etc.), and how they consume your product (behavioural data such as technical competency, how frequently they purchase, their spend etc.)

Segmenting your customers along their purchase behaviour will instantly reveal your power users and customers at risk of churning.

Using this data you can identify their propensity to buy more, as well as tailor your communications with them e.g. Send churn risks support style comms rather than transactional emails.

It is very easy to create a batch of fire and forget emails that every customers gets, no matter what.

The more you personalise the timing and content, more results you will see.

A couple of software options to set all this up include MailChimp and Intercom.

Customer exclusive content

Again, using the segments you create based on purchase behaviour, you can start to reward your most valuable customers with exclusive content (resources, discounts, offers, competitions…).

These have two positive effects:

  1. It rewards your VIPs, giving them an incentive to continue the behaviour that got them in to that group.
  2. Customers outside of the group aspire to join them.

Have a read of my post 40 ways you can reward your brand fans right now.

Get personal with events and meet ups

There are some industries where meeting customers face to face is an intrinsic part of the job.

However, for anyone working primarily online, it is very rare you get to meet your customers, if at all.

This is a great opportunity to really differentiate yourself from your competitors, developing real relationships and cultivating passionate brand advocates. Ideas include:

  • Training sessions at your offices.
  • Day conference style events, with seminars designed to help your customers become more successful (not just sell your products).
  • Sponsor and attend local events and meet-ups your customers attend (you can find them at

Measuring you performance

Your reporting and analysis should be based around customer behaviour and attitude metrics, and not exclusively units sold or revenue.

Key data that is very easy to get and measure over time includes:

  • NPS (Net promoter Score – I would send one to customers after 6 months, 12 months and then on an annual basis)
  • LTV (Life Time Value)
  • Length of service
  • Period of account inactivity

Acquiring customers and not just sales demands a high level of quality throughout the business, not just in the conversion funnel.

This is why I believe businesses that focuses on simply acquiring a sale will rarely be as successful as a business that focuses on acquiring a customer.

Costa sent me one of the best marketing emails I’ve read

Earlier this year I recieved such a bad marketing email from JD Sports I had to write a post about it. This week I got one from Costa Coffee which is so good, I felt compelled to share this one with you as well, but  this time for the right reasons.

Whoever is writing and signing Costa’s emails always do a great job, but this one was worth highlighting.


In this email they are asking us to share our favourite coffee moments, all wrapped up in to a bigger ‘moments’ campaign they are running.

Costa email

The brilliant part of this is we, as customers, are segmenting ourselves for them.

No expensive customer research conducted by a fancy agency, no intrusive online surveys, no qualitative group sessions and no time consuming field research.

Just one simple email, written to feel like we are sharing our ‘coffee moments’, that has their predefined segments ready for us to lump ourselves in to.


This information, married with purchase behaviour gleaned from my loyalty point card, will be an incredibly powerful tool for their branding, product and customer retention marketing.

How do you deal with “generation free”?

Thanks to the likes of Google and open source providers such as WordPress, we are increasingly becoming trained to expect a lot for very little, or even for nothing at all.

The freemium model has been around for years, but there has been a dramatic shift towards this becoming the expected norm. Online services and apps have to increasingly deal with customers’ expectation they will get something for nothing as part of their product and pricing strategy.

As a small business or a start-up, how do you deal with this kind of competition, and more importantly, consumers’ expectation they should get services for free?

With major companies such as Evernote seeing only 2% of free accounts becoming sources of revenue, how do you put a strategy in place to get customers paying?

Business/ power users fund the consumers

SaaS providers such as Dropbox, MailChimp (screenshot below) and Wunderlist don’t offer personal/home users cut down, limited versions of their products for free, they offer business/power users enhanced versions of their products for a fee. MailChimpThere is a subtle difference here from what most companies do. By giving personal users a complete product they make their product synonymous with people’s daily lives.

This essentially turns them into a platform, one that so many people use that they become a natural tool for a business.

Microsoft used this strategy to dominate the PC OS market in the 90’s – get it on to as many computers as possible!

Limited time freemium

You can play to customers’ expectations they should get to use your product for free by having a free trial as the default (or even only) choice.

You can see this in action with Netflix (30 days) and Shopify (14 days), with Netflix not even giving you the option to part with your cash.

Compare Shopify a year or so ago to now…

ThenShopify old price table

NowShopify current price tableFrom a subtle nudge, to the centre of their pricing strategy, their free trial has become the primary driver.

I would surmise this is in response to the rise in free ecommerce platforms such as Magento and WordPress ecommerce plug-ins (like WooCommerce).

There is a handful of useful reads about converting trial users in to paying customers:

Bolt ons, upgrades and in-app purchases

Mobile games are a classic example of this strategy in play. How many games in the app stores can you think of that are free to download, but the only way you can progress at a reasonable rate is to buy add-ons/power ups?clash of clans

The danger here is you make the basic free product so limited that no can get anything done with it.

The most successful games on iOS and Android take a patient approach, letting you get deep enough in to the game that it is starting to form a habit before limiting the experience until you pay.

The worst games dive straight in demanding cash to do the simplest tasks before I’ve really got in to the game. These games are instantly deleted from the phone!

Because your product is free, there is absolutely no financial or emotional relationship between you and the user to start with. They don’t have that sensation to “get their money’s worth out of you”.

This means you have to work hard to get them to use your product, and not become another forgotten log-in password. Give them enough of a taste to form a habit and desire more.

Get value without the revenue

The best example of what I mean here is Dropbox. When you first sign up you don’t get a great deal to start with. The real meat comes from all the extra actions you can do to earn more.Dropbox referral bonusEvery free account user who has tweeted, shared, or referred their friends for the service can be built in to your customer acquisition costs, making the shares, invites, and tweets from “free” users actually correlate to real marketing pounds.

Do it for a reason, not just because everyone else does it

Free account customers are notoriously difficult to move along the funnel, so it is vital you have a strategy behind your freemium plan. An important question to ask yourself is “Are my customers attracted to ‘free’?”

What would you say if I offered you a fridge for free? Chances are you’d get a little suspicious and assume there was something wrong with it. Some products are so important or complex that customers prefer to pay for them, associating price with quality.

Teach yourself marketing a SaaS product

Marketing a SaaS product can be a minefield, especially when it comes to pricing, features, support and customer acquisition budgets.

Judging the right mix of how much to charge, what each package will allow a customer to do, and how much you can afford to spend acquiring a new sign up can make or break a SaaS product/company.

Here are the resources you need to read if you are planning on launching a new SaaS product, or you are already involved in marketing one.

Sixteen Ventures is has some of the best blogs I have ever read, providing “Marketing, Customer Acquisition, & Churn Reduction Consulting for SaaS providers” It is an essential read if you are interested in marketing. Recent articles to get started with include:

Help Scout

Online help desk software provider ‘Help Scout’ has a fantastic blog, often aimed at customer support issues, but also with great ideas on running a SaaS company. Here are some stand out articles:


GrooveHQ are another online help desk solution, but their blog is a little different. They tie up their posts in to a narrative, as we follow them on their journey to $500k per month revenue. The blog is very open about their successes and mistakes. As well as a great source of information for your SaaS product, it is also a great case study in content marketing.

Price Intelligently

Price Intelligently are a company that specialises in helping businesses create their pricing strategy. Their pricing blog is full of great advice to help guide your SaaS price.


As a very successful SaaS provider themselves, Kissmetrics are well positioned to guide you through the trials and pit falls of marketing a SaaS product. Always insightful and easy to read.

Chaotic Flow by Joel York

Chaotic flow is a SaaS marketing specilaist blog with of the objective of sharing “…knowledge and opinions that will help executives at Internet software companies that create and deliver SaaS and cloud applications critically analyze real-world, go-to-market strategies and tactics by applying sound business principles.” It isn’t updated very much anymore, but there is a huge library of really useful posts from the past couple of years.

Some general tidbits

ConversionXL have a useful post linking to 9 case studies that ‘ll help you reduce SaaS churn today.

SaaSopdia is a useful mini-library of SaaS terms and SaaS terminology.

Customer loyalty’ by Jill Griffen – Increasing repeat purchases by creating and growing loyal customers

Quite a big read, but very comprehensive, The ultimate lifecycle email marketing guide from Vero is a great jump board for developing your life cycle strategy.

Lessons from Stripe’s user onboarding

User onboarding is such a powerful concept, full of light bulb moments driven by seemingly obvious marketing that so few of us actually do. Online payment platform Stripe has definitely applied user onboarding principles to their website and order process.

Their sign up process is one of the best I have ever seen.

In this post I will give you a breakdown of that experience, along with notes on how you can apply these ideas to convert more customers through your sign up process.

A quick note about user onboarding

You can read my guide on how to create your first user onboarding strategy for more detail about the concept. In a nutshell, user onboarding is a process for increasing the likelihood new users become successful when adopting your product.

Successful customers stay longer, spend more and generate positive word of mouth. They are also much less of a drain on your resources.

There are five stages to consider when putting together your user boarding strategy.

  • Introduction to product: Align you product with their success
  • Sign up process: Remove friction and simplify
  • First use of product: Guide them to an important quick win for a positive first step
  • Recurring use of product: Give them the tools and ideas to become successful
  • Advanced use of product: Prompt and nudge to turn regular use in to a habit

In this post I am looking at Stripe’s introduction to the product and sign up process. Let’s get started!

Arriving on their home page

This is a classic example of modern Unique Value Proposition (UVP) principles (read more about creating a UVP on the Help Scout blog). The headline firmly plants their flag within the web developer community, supported by a sentence explaining the benefits of using their product.

1 stripe home page

They are also using a trusted and fashionable companies (Lyft and Dribbble) to show it being used in the wild, instantly adding credibility.

Although beautifully presented, there is still not enough information for me to sign up, so I am going to click on the very easy to find “Learn more about Stripe” call to action.

Finding out more about their features

The next page guides me through all the key features and benefits of the product, as well as any concerns I may have about security.

2 Stripe features page

This leads to me to a very clear CTA at the bottom of the page:

2 stripe CTA

So far, so good, but you may be thinking “It looks very pretty, but these type of sites are a dime a dozen now”, and you would be right. But it is at this stage onwards where Stripe does a particularly amazing job.

Signing up to an account – or not!

I don’t have to create an account to start using the product. How often do you see that? You’ll notice from the screenshot below, even if I do choose to create an account, they aren’t asking for me to buy upfront. They are only interested in customers who are confident they want to buy from Stripe.

This will reduce churn, the load on their support staff and creates a customer base that is instantly positive about the brand.
3 stripe sign upI’m not ready to commit my personal data, so I’m going to ‘Skip this step’.

Rather than leaving you to it, and hoping you work out, upon logging in for the first time you are given access to some great getting started guides.

4 stripe first time log in

Alternatively you can dive straight in and ‘Go straight to your dashboard’.

Stripe are clearly eager to provide assistance at every stage, with links to ‘Learn more’ on each sections’ home screen. 5 Stripe learn moreSee the orange ‘Live – Test’ toggle at the top left on the control panel above? Clicking that brings up this message:

6 Activate stripe account

If I have spent hours playing around with the account, adding data and testing the code on my website, I would feel very strongly about not wanting all that time to be wasted. I would need the gratification that can only come with going live. That means I need to start becoming a paid customer!

That’s all great, but where are the takeaways?

I’ve taken you through each stage, highlighting some nice features, but here are the lessons you can take away from Stripe.

  • 3 steps to having an account – Home page, product page, form – done!
  • Only 3 fields to fill in if I do want an account
  • Reduce friction to the point where they don’t even need my details for me to start using the product
  • Give prospective customers the ability to play and experiment with out any pressure
  • Provide clear guidance on where I can read more/get help at within the control panel
  • Get me using the product and then ask me to buy
  • I decide when I start paying for the account, not an arbitrary date (e.g. 30 days free)

This is a very confident approach to marketing, and they clearly have a lot of belief in their product. You may think that your product can’t live up to that kind of scrutiny, or you can’t afford to support free accounts.

A lot of marketing theory based blogs would now try to convince you why it is a worthwhile investment to offer free accounts, or that if you aren’t confident in your product, you shouldn’t sell it. Both those points of view are nonsense in the real world.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t cherry pick elements of it. Are you providing guidance for new customers – how are you helping them set up their account and achieve that first quick win? Is every question you ask in your order process 100% necessary – how can you strip it down more? Is every stage in your order process necessary – what can you consolidate or remove?

How to target mobile users with Google AdWords

We all know that mobile phones are becoming increasingly important in the research stage of the buying cycle. Research shows that 61% of UK shoppers use their mobile phone to research products before they purchase.

What is not as well known is the speed at which people go from research to purchase.

43% of users researching for local businesses using a mobile phone, who make a purchase, typically do it within an hour

(source: Google).

That is a huge target audience for any business to put themselves in front of via Google AdWords. However, a lot of advertisers are displaying the same adverts to mobile users as they are desktop users.

This is a wasted opportunity to tailor the copy and destination to the limitations of a smaller screen.

If you have a product/service/app that is specific to mobile users or you want to target people as they are out and about (e.g. they are searching for a shop nearby), you can use Google AdWords’ targeting options to make sure you deliver a highly targeted advert, specific to that device.

In this post I will show you how to create mobile optimised adverts in Google AdWords that drive more clicks and conversions.

I am going to assume you already have a Google AdWords account, and you already now a lot of the basics (e.g. the structure of  an account, how to research keywords etc.) So let’s get started!

Create campaigns just for targeting mobile phones

I would strongly recommend creating campaigns and ad groups just for your mobile adverts. The example below is for a Manchester based florist who wants to target customers looking for a local supplier whilst they are on the move.

1 ad groups naming

Breaking out your ad groups like this makes it much easier administering your account, including reporting, bid management, audience targeting and ad creation. It also keeps your quality score contained.

Set your bid modifier

Because a click is worth more to you if it comes from a mobile device, by setting bid adjustments you can increase or decrease your bids to gain more control over when and where your ad is shown. To do this, at the ad group level (which should be a mobile only ad group!), click on the ‘Settings’ tab and then ‘devices.

2 mobile bid modifierFrom here you can increase or decrease the amount you are willing to bid based on the user’s device. Because we want to target mobile users with this ad group, I am going to increase my bid by 100% when the search comes from a mobile device.

To do this  I click the cell in the “Bid adj.” column of the row that I want to adjust.:

3 mobile bid modifier increasing mobile bidTo make sure the adverts are not going to appear on desktop computers or tablets, I will then reduce those bids by 100%, essentially taking the bid down to £0. I couldn’t do this if I mixed mobile targeting with desktop targeting!

Create mobile specific ads

There are three different ad types you can choose from to target mobile users. You can use all three, or just one, it is totally up to you based on your needs.

Mobile preferred ads

The most straight forward way to create a mobile focused advert is using this method. When you create your advert, you can tick a check box that marks it as “mobile-preferred”, telling Google you want that advert to primarily be displayed on mobile devices.

4 Mobile prefered adsThis gives you the opportunity to customize your messaging specifically to people on mobile devices. E.g. “Call us now” in your call to action.

Note: Some advertisers have reported seeing these ads appearing on desktop searches, which is why Google are very clever with their wording here i.e. ‘preferred’, not guaranteed.

Call only ads

Call only ads are designed to encourage people to call you rather than go to a website, with all clicks on these ads sending potential customers to call you from their phones. To create your call only ad, go to create a new advert as usual, and choose ‘Call-only ad’.

6 click to call ad

Then simply add your details, ad copy and preferences before clicking ‘Save ad’.

7 call ad creation

This is particularly useful when you sell high value goods and customers like to speak to a person to find out more, or if your business is primarily phone based commerce rather than e-commerce.

Click and call ads

Ad extensions’ ‘Call extensions’ lets you create ads that people can either click or call, depending on what they want to do. To set this up,  click on the ‘Ad extensions’ tab, and choose to view ‘Call extensions’

5 call extension ads

Underneath “Select phone numbers to use with this ad group.” where you should see an empty box, click on “+ New phone number”. You will be presented with this pop up:

6 call extension options

Add your information and choices, and click ‘Save’. The ads in this ad group will now start to show the phone number you listed above in the ads – another reason why having your mobile ads in standalone ad groups is so important.

Start targeting by location

If you are a local/regional service you can add additional parameters to ensure your advert is only shown to people in that area. You only show your ads to people who can act, making it a huge money (and time) saver.

Setting this up is really quick and easy. At the campaign level (which you have created just for mobile ads!), click on the ‘Settings’ tab and then ‘Locations’. To add a new location to target, click on the red ‘+LOCATIONS’ button. Click on ‘Advanced search’ to bring up this lovely map:

8 Location targeting map

Right now I am targeting all of the UK, but my florist only serve the Manchester area, so there is the potential for a lot of wasted clicks and call here. You’ll see there are  a number of targeting options on the screen shot above, including a simple location field I can type in to, as well as ‘Radius targeting’, ‘Location groups’ and ‘Bulk locations’.

To be as specific as possible and only target customers who are within an easy to get to distance from my store, I am going to choose ‘Radius targeting’, choosing a 5 mile radius.

9 Location targeting map

So, that is my ad targeting all set up driving traffic to my website. The next step is to convert them in to customers.

Send people to mobile optimised content

Despite most mobile phone having decent sized screens and full internet access, full desktop websites with a lot of information become very frustrating to navigate. This is especially so when you are walking around town, and all you want is some basic information about a supplier nearby.

Never send traffic to a generic home page. People on their mobile phones need the information instantly or they will bounce and continue searching elsewhere.

  • Minimal graphics + limited text to read = Fast page load speed
  • Key info very easy to find e.g. phone number, directions, menus etc.
  • Minimal product choices (preferably just the one they searched for)

With this in mind, direct visitors who come to your site via a mobile ad to a dedicated landing page created specifically to their needs.

Transational mobile searches is only going to get bigger

Google is investing a huge amount of resources in to devleoping tools and data to help small businesses target mobile searchers at the final research stage, and who are getting ready to buy.

They know it has the potential to be a gold mine for them, but only if small businesses start to understand the significance of the shift we are seeing in people’s buying habits.

Small businesses that get in at the ground floor can take advantage of this transitional phase, because it won’t last forever. It is inevitable that local businesses will increasingly wake up to the sales opportunities mobile saearch offers.

My advice…get started now.