find-148857_640The same discussion keeps cropping up over and over again, in many contexts:  How do I connect with prospective customers?

Fortunately, most businesses understand that customers are their lifeblood.  If you don’t have customers, then you just have an expensive hobby.  Until your money runs out, and then you have bankruptcy and shutdown to worry about.

OK, so we all need customers.  The RIGHT customers, too, not the ones which cost you more than you’ll ever get out of them.  (And lest that sound like I’m slamming particular people, I’m not:  When someone’s a wrong customer, it just means that there’s not a fair exchange of value.  It may be nobody’s fault.)

So where are those customers, and how do you get them to notice you?  The model is incredibly simple:

  • Find where those people “hang out” when they talk about the issues you can help them with.
  • Engage with them as a group, or individually, in a way which shows that you have something useful and concrete to offer.
  • Make it easy for them to take the next step toward making a purchase.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Suppose that you’re a plumber.  The issue you can help people with is NOT just busted pipes, but actually keeping their home comfortable and functioning without surprises.  If we look just beyond the direct issue of broken plumbing, we can see areas of maintenance, bad-tasting tap water, toilets that never seem to flush right, and so on.

If you think just about the emergencies, then you’ll stick an ad in the phone book and hope that people call you when they’re standing ankle-deep in water.  And then it’s purely about having the most visibility.  But with the other issues, you might invest in home and garden shows which let you tell a more interesting story.  You could write articles in papers or magazines about home maintenance.  You might find online forums where people are looking for ideas on how to fix a tricky issue.

In these techniques, it’s about developing a trusting relationship so that people think about you and no one else.  I have a contract with my plumber, a few bucks a month, which gives me peace of mind that they’ll be extremely responsive to any issue I can pose.  And they haven’t failed me yet, after 24 years.

Suppose that you’re introducing a new soft drink.  Sure, you can put up a stand at the beach, where people are parched and are looking for immediate refreshment.  It can be hard to compete against Coke and Pepsi, but it can work.

Or you might realize that your value, although delivered as a beverage, is really about people having a more unique experience.  Who else would consider combining coffee, kiwi, and cider?  In this case, you want to find where people are looking for the strange and unusual.  Perhaps in restaurants or stores which cater to that kind of person.

Social media could be a great investment here, because it thrives on the weird.  With some interesting testimonials and endorsements, you might even be able to have a hit.

Am I your target customer for this?  Nope.  But there’s plenty of people less boring than me who might just love it.

Suppose you’re in real estate.  There’s tons of these people around, and it’s really hard to differentiate yourself.  But interestingly, I find few of them who are looking for conversations that are happening a year or two before someone decides to move.  These people are looking at housing ideas on Pinterest and Houzz.  You might not be able to afford expensive advertising on HGTV, but where are people talking about what they see on those shows?

It’s admirable that the person who sold me my house 24 years ago is still sending me postcards, but we haven’t had any interaction other than that.  So, honestly, I might be more likely to use an agent who I’ve had deeper discussions with – through the local Chamber or a networking group.

The basic principles are very simple:  Go where your future customers hang out, engage with value, and make it easy to purchase.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.