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The Customer Acquisition Process

We’ll begin our discussion with a quick review of the Purchase Process we first looked at in “Marketing.” The Purchase Process is the mental process your customers go through when making a buying decision. When we first examined it, I asked you to consider how your business might facilitate your customers’ movement through this process. Here, we will get more specific by determining exactly how your sales and marketing activities will work to make this happen as smoothly as possible.

Your customer’s “Purchase Process” and your business’s “Customer Acquisition Process” are really two sides of the same coin. If the Purchase Process represents your customer’s experience when making a buying decision, then the Customer Acquisition Process represents your participation in that experience. Put another way, it is the job of your Customer Acquisition Process to facilitate your prospect’s Purchase Process.

The Customer Acquisition Process is similar to the process of panning for gold. You start by filling your imaginary pan with sales prospects and then slowly sort through the unqualified leads, until all you have left are customers. It is the job of your Marketing System to keep your pan filled with qualified prospects and it is the job of your Sales System to maximize the number of qualified prospects who end up as customers. Of course you’re not likely to end up with all of your prospects being customers any more than a prospector is likely to end up with a pan full of gold, but there are ways we can increase the number of customers that emerge from this process.

the purchase process

  1. Just as a gold prospector could begin with more rocks and a larger pan, we could increase the total number of leads we have to work with by increasing the pace, scope or efficiency of your marketing activities. All things being equal, if we begin with more prospects we will end up with more customers.

  2. Just as a gold prospector could increase the percentage of rocks that end up being gold by carefully selecting the panning location, we could increase the percentage of qualified leads we attract by more carefully targeting your marketing activities. Given the same numbers of leads, if a larger number of prospects are fully qualified then more will likely end up as customers.

  3. Just as a gold prospector could increase the amount of gold he ends up with by improving his panning technique, we could increase the number of customers you end up with by improving your sales technique. Qualified leads are bound to occasionally slip by unnoticed, but if your Sales System does a better job, you will end up with more customers.

panning for gold

Following are the nine steps of the Customer Acquisition Process. As you read through them, try to imagine how they might fit with your business.

  1. Marketing — In this first step, your prospects respond to your marketing activities. At the very least, this should take care of everything leading up to the customer’s “decision phase” in the Purchase Process, but done correctly, they can, and should, do a whole lot more. Design your marketing activities to take your prospects as far along in the Purchase Process as possible. Position your products or services as the solution to their needs, right from the start. The more work your marketing activities can accomplish, the less will be required from your Sales activities. A mail-order catalogue is a good example of this. Initially, it is a marketing piece, but eventually the customer makes a buying decision and might even initiate a sales transaction based entirely on the information contained in a catalogue. All that is left for the business to do is process and fill the order.

  2. Relationship — In step two, your customer relationships are forged. This is the emotional connection that prospects use to determine their level of interest in making a purchase from you. The prospect must feel good about doing business with you. If they do, they will then begin to look for logical reasons to back up this decision. If they can find those reasons, then they are well on the way to making a purchase. The major steps here are:

  • Engage the prospect — Make a personal connection.
  • Qualify the prospect — Make sure they really are a prospect.
  • Introduce your Market Position to the prospect — Let them know they have come to the right place.
  1. Needs Analysis — The “logical reasons” your prospects are looking for, are practical solutions to their needs at a price that represents “value” to them. Ironically, however, your prospects may not be fully aware of their needs or even their desires until they are made clear to them. This is where your needs assessment comes into play. Done properly, this step will help both you and your prospects identify their needs more accurately.

  2. Solutions — Once your prospects are aware of their needs, they will look for solutions to those needs. Price may not be their primary concern, but value will be a factor. A trustworthy relationship with a knowledgeable expert, for example, may be as valuable to some prospects as a price reduction.

  3. Test Close — While this step may occur at any time, now is a good time to find out how serious your prospects are about eventually making a purchase.

  4. Demonstration — Now is the time to let your prospects take a “test drive.” Putting your prospects in the virtual drivers’ seat, allows them to revisit the emotional feelings that drew them to your business in the first place.

  5. Questions and Objections — These may be answered at any time, but make sure you have answered all of them before closing the sale. The last thing you need is a customer who is unhappy with his purchase.

  6. Sale Occurs — This is where you ask for the sale and complete the transaction. If everything else has been done right, then by the time you get to this point, the sale should be all but made. Think of a sale as the logical conclusion to an effective presentation given to the right prospect. It is still important to make this process smooth and easy, however, the part your prospect likes the least is when he must hand over his cash. No matter how good he feels about the deal, it still represents a potential risk on his part. The more you can ease this process, the less likely he will back out of the deal, and the better your chances for future business with this prospect.

  7. Partnerships — While sales are important, the real goal of this entire process is to develop lifelong customers. The value to your business of a customer is many times that of a single sale. Think back to our discussions in “Leadership” on “spending” versus “investing” time. This is exactly the same concept. When you “invest” time into developing relationships, the payout is considerably greater in the long run, than when you “spend” time on making a sale. This is why follow-up is so important. Do everything in your power to become your customers’ trusted ally and they will reward you with their loyalty.

The following chart demonstrates the relationship between your customers’ Purchase Process and your company’s Customer Acquisition Process.

Purchase ProcessCustomer Acquisition Process
Possible AwarenessMarketing
Needs or WantsMarketing
Research and Evaluation of OptionsMarketing
DecisionNeeds Analysis
DecisionTest Close
DecisionQuestions and Objections
DecisionSale occurs