This article aims to give you bird's eye view of a strategy to win customers over without an advertising budget or cold calling. You'll learn the principles and what to do if things don't work out the way you want them to. Organic customer acquisition (and I don't mean SEO) is still possible in 2021. And it can be done in an honest and authentic way.
The problem for agencies
For context, a few words about my own experience with acquisition in agencies. In my own agency, I always had the challenge of not having enough time for acquisition because I had so many customer projects on the go. But then there were also times when I had capacity for new clients but didn't know how to get them. I tried different strategies at the time but nothing really lasted very long. Either because it didn't work that well or didn't feel right.
The reason why many find it so difficult to acquire customers - even though they, as web designers, Facebook marketers or consultants know how acquisition works - lies, in my opinion, in the oversupply of agencies. Most agencies also offer comparable services. Of course, not every agency is equally good, but potential customers will find it very difficult to choose the right provider.
I noticed this back when I compared my own website to those of other Facebook agencies. If I'm really honest, my website looked almost like all the others on the market. "We are the best and your success is our priority" plus a few funny marketing slogans here and there. That's how you could sum up the content of most agency websites. At that time, however, hardly anyone really contacted me via my website. Most customers came through recommendations and contacts.
My mentor told me back then "Stop fishing in the blood red sea full of sharks! It's much harder to catch fish there than if you just pick a small pond or section of the sea." In other words: I should look for a positioning where there isn't as much competition.
To anticipate some objections right away: no, it doesn't have to be an industry. That's often a bit superficial. And no, it doesn't limit you in your customer acquisition. The customers who come via recommendations will continue to come! And last but not least: no, you don't have to choose a positioning that is 'final' and unchangeable. Take a target group now, learn about it, work with it and change it. It's a dynamic process, not a static one.
More on these three points again below. Why am I writing about this when it's supposed to be about acquisition? Because that was exactly the reason why acquisition didn't work for me all the time.
If you find a good positioning, you can easily decide where you need to be on the internet to attract your customers and how you should address them so they take notice of you.
So, in order to give you the guide to "organic customer acquisition", it's essential we have a clear positioning.
Organic marketing: the right target group
But how do you find your positioning? How pointed or broad should it be? How do you go about it specifically? And when do you realize that you have found a good positioning? We could write several blog articles on these questions alone and it would still be a closed book for many people.
In a nutshell: what worked very well for me (and then later for my clients) is conducting interviews to find out the challenges and problems. As providers, we too often ask ourselves "Who could buy my service?" instead of asking the question "What do my clients want to achieve in their lives and what's stopping them?"
Maybe you think you already know the answer. In that case, I can only say one thing: that's even more reason to do the interviews! You'll get a lot of new insights!
Basically, positioning yourself is a long process that you shouldn't just do for five minutes after work. It involves many individual steps. But to make it as practical and straightforward as possible, here's some simple advice: sit down in interview-style conversations with different people whose challenges you might be able to help solve. Look for patterns, similarities and differences in these interviews to form an initial idea of your target audience.
For example, clients of ours have found out this way that restaurants are currently losing sales and having to pay high fees to delivery management services. The solution to this (i.e. their service) was to integrate their own ordering system on the restaurant website and to place Facebook Ads for the restaurant. This meant the owners paid less in fees to external services and increased their sales and prominence.
The offer sells like hotcakes because it solves a problem and you don't have to share the market with thousands of other providers who also offer "websites" or "Facebook advertising". That's not to say these are bad services in general, but they always involve price wars and competition with other agencies.
Three final notes on positioning:
- You can change it at any time. It's better to choose a positioning now and test how it's received in practice, instead of just pondering it by yourself without taking any action. You don't have to marry your positioning!
- It doesn't have to be an industry. Don't just look at what other agencies have for target audiences. I can tell you from working with over 350 agencies that for most companies, their positioning was too generic or shallow. SMEs or accountants are not a positioning, they are an industry. Go deeper, find out what bothers people and develop something that's "unique".
- A positioning describes a process and is therefore not static. I think that sums up the first two points well. For your customers, your positioning describes the transformation they're going through. And for you, it's an ongoing process, not something you do once and then tick off your list forever. There is no point at which the positioning is "finished".
Organic marketing: the right platforms
Now we've determined the target audience, we can also easily decide which platforms make sense. Because we can simply stay where our target group is. Before the positioning process, most agencies have "SMEs" or "everyone who signs up" as their target group and are therefore also on all possible platforms without having a clear plan of how to get new clientele there. We've solved this problem with the positioning.
Important here: don't limit your thinking to which social media channels you can use yourself, i.e. Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Think about which platforms others have already set up and where your target group is. For example, blogs, podcasts or YouTube channels that your target group consumes and where the platform operators don't offer the same services as you do.
Example: You do a joint webinar with Shopify on the topic of conversion optimization. This is how a CRO agency we support did it and was very successful with this approach. Because many Shopify customers also want to optimize their online shop.
Internally, we call such strategic partners "target group ownership partners". Many people ask themselves straight away how much they have to pay for this. The answer is: nothing. It's about building a relationship with the target group owner partner and then moving each other forward.
Ask yourself which one or two social media channels can I build myself to reach my target group? And which one or two target group owner partners have reach in my target group but with a different offer and are open for a collaboration?
Organic marketing: the wrong platforms
Besides the things you should definitely do for client acquisition, there are also a lot of things you should definitely avoid. For example, having your own YouTube channel when you don't have any ads running yet and rarely get the chance for customer acquisition on top of your agency work.
YouTube - just like a podcast - is great for building trust. But it needs to be run over a long period of time. In situations where you have only a little time besides customer projects, you should focus on activities that have a direct impact on sales.
In the best case, you first have a social media network (or at most two) that you actively use - how exactly, more on that in a moment - and a handful of target group owner partners.
Running your own blog, building a relevant YouTube channel, or making a podcast that's really successful not only takes a lot of effort but also comes with high opportunity costs. This means you may have less time to build a good team culture, attract new clients or deliver good results for your clients. Own marketing is good and important but spending "too much" time on it automatically means "too little" time for projects or your own team.
The benchmark for our clients is: YouTube, podcast and your own blog can be run if you have at least €100,000 revenue per month for a few months at a time and have ads running for yourself. The profit margin should be around 50 percent or more. Before that, it's more of a distraction than profitable. Just like it's easy to get bogged down when you're constantly on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, going live and writing to people.
Conclusion: rather choose one platform and do it really well!
How to approach customers
Now you've found your social media platforms, the only question left is how to use them to get quality inquiries at the touch of a button.
Once again, there are several options here and plenty of things you should definitely avoid doing Let's start with the absolute no gos:
- Spamming people: Reaching out to every contact in your network and sending links to webinars, etc., probably won't go over well with the other person and will damage your reputation throughout the industry.
- Use bots: There are "robots" that can send networking requests for you or even send initial messages and automatic follow-ups. Not only does the platform notice something like this quickly and possibly even ban your profile, but any customization is also lost in the process. This brings us back to the first point; you simply look like a spammer.
- Posting boring content: There are countless opinions on the topic of content and the question "What should I actually post? My opinion is if you have nothing to say, then don't post anything! As an expert, you have a lot to say about your own field. Most people just don't realize it because they've built up their competence subconsciously.
- Sending voice messages: This also falls into the spam category. Very few professional contacts on LinkedIn would be happy to receive a voice message telling them what you do and how you can help them.
Now we know what to avoid, let's look at the other side and consider how you can now acquire new customers on your chosen social media platform in an authentic and effective way. This organic marketing strategy for customer acquisition has proven very effective for us.
1. Add people from your target group to the network
On LinkedIn, this works very well via search and, on Facebook, via Facebook groups. Our experience has shown that not including a networking message in the request is more effective. Because no matter what you write, it will always come across as if you want to sell something to your counterpart. And nobody wants that. Even if you write that you "just want to network."
I'm not mentioning the Xing professional network here because it's proven to be less effective across the board. Platforms like Clubhouse or TikTok also don't currently offer opportunities for what we want to achieve.
When adding the target group on LinkedIn, always select the "2nd degree of contact", not the third, as this means you only add people with whom you have shared contacts. Once this is done - we take about 15 to 30 minutes a day to do this internally - we move on to the next step.
2. Post relevant content
It's important to point out here that your content should be entertaining, informative or provocative. It should stimulate discussion, tell exciting stories or dispel misconceptions your potential customers may have.
To get some inspiration for this, I can recommend the following three people on LinkedIn. Feel free to check out their posts:
3. Responding to requests and making contact
The third and final step is then responding to inbound queries or proactively writing to contacts. Responding to inquiries is pretty easy, so we won't go into it here. A side tip: if your positioning is really good, it will appeal to the target audience so well that they'll become interested just by looking at your profile. A good example of this is Robin Schmidt, a client of ours. He regularly receives numerous inbound inquiries and was able to build up his consultancy relatively quickly.
But how exactly do you do it if your positioning is not yet good enough that you receive inbound inquiries? It's hard to give a general answer to this because I wouldn't work with "templates", i.e. send the same message to every contact.
For us, a good conversation opener has been sincere praise for the counterparts' experience, customers or projects. And then an equally genuine question regarding the customer focus of their offer as we can't identify it from their profile.
An example message would be:
"Hey Peter, thank you for accepting my request! Exciting that you once did the design for Loewe, I'm sure that was a great time.
The only thing I couldn't get from your profile and website is which target group you're focusing on right now.
The customer approach appears rather "general".
I'm looking forward to a professional exchange.
First name Last name".
And already we've have started an exciting conversation. The typical answer is that the other party doesn't have a target group and therefore doesn't have a good acquisition process. This is then the door opener to give the contact a few valuable impulses and build trust in a free initial meeting.
Then we have a warmed-up lead who we can - as soon as there's interest in our service - invite to a sales meeting. Of course, this is just an example, your chat flow could look completely different and that's totally okay. As long as the conversation remains personal, friendly and honest, everything is fine.
As a general rule, the routine should only "cost" you 30 to 60 minutes a day and generate one to five new prospects - depending on how well you know your audience, what content you post and how you write with contacts.
With target group owner partners, the procedure is similar, except that you make your idea of a joint interview or blog post directly in the first email or message on social media and ask them what they think about it. You can find an example of a joint interview with me and an audience owner partner in this YouTube video. Pascal offers a form tool for WordPress so he also has agencies as his target audience.
So there we have it, this is the organic marketing routine to use to gain lots of inquiries and clients every month with ease. It works great for our clients. There are a lot of levers to pull and I'm sure you have questions about some of the subtopics. Please write in the comments exactly what you want to know and we'll be happy to answer.
How to optimize the approach
Now it's time to find your own way. Your style for relevant content and your own chat flow. In other words, the way you turn contacts into prospects who want to buy from you.
Important tips to be able to operate this approach successfully in the long term:
- Regularity: Even when your business is busy. Otherwise, it's exactly as described at the beginning. Sometimes you have too few projects and sometimes too many. You keep the balance by doing a little bit every day. Even if it's only 10 minutes and you answer your messages, that's still better than doing nothing at all.
- Don't give up too soon: Just because it doesn't work the way you thought it would at first, it doesn't mean it won't work at all. Look at the individual levers and optimize them bit by bit.
I hope this post has provided some clarity on how you can attract your ideal customers via social media using organic marketing.