If you’re managing an ecommerce store front, there is little doubt that one of your primary objectives is to increase your customer base. There are often many Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that we focus on, and at times can even become distracted by, but converting traffic into paying customers is after all the name of the game. So what can a manager do to increase their site’s conversion rates? Well as we’ve already mentioned, you first need traffic that can be converted. Which will be our starting point.

12 Ways to Grow Your eCommerce Customer and Client Base

5 Ways To Generating Convertible Traffic: Points 1-5

1.) Referral Systems

Create processes that can be regularly used and easily implemented to encourage your current customers to recommend your products or services to their friends, family, and colleagues. A common referral system employed is the typical, “Refer 3 friends, get X for free or at a discount.” The key ingredients for success to be aware of are:

  • Current customers must appreciate your product or service enough to promote it
  • Referred customers must appreciate the prospect of using your product or service
  • The referral system only works when the perks of a successful referral are attainable and wanted
  • Understand if the referral system becomes popular its use can grow exponentially and you must be prepared for the volumes you may have to deal with.
    • This means that the system employed must be properly planned, implemented, and managed

2.) Acquire Customers At Break-Even

This may sound counter intuitive. Why would you sell your product or service at cost? But many companies often use the model of first acquiring the customer then attempting to make a profit off of them later on. The idea simply is that it’s far more difficult to attract a new customer than it is to retain an already existing one. The benefits to be had from this tactic ranges depending on how it is employed. A few quick examples are given below.

  • Giving away a product or service for free attracts significantly more users whom can then be marketed to later on. Free-to-Play games on mobile devices are a good example.
  • The lower something costs initially, the larger the available audience will be. Cell phone companies sell phones at an extremely low discount. Who has ever paid the full $600 for a new iPhone?
  • By providing affordable products you help to gain loyal customers. It creates the perception that your brand is fair, reasonable, and most importantly, desirable. Automobile manufacturer KIA had the initial difficult task of stealing market share in the US, however nowadays they’re doing quite well for themselves.
  • Remember that many purchasing decisions are largely driven by cost. Once you’ve acquired them as a customer, you can then up-sell or cross-sell to them more easily. This opens the opportunity and availability for future purchases to be made. So long as your product or service is of quality, is appreciated, and wanted by your customers… they’ll continue shopping with you.

Again, the cost of acquiring a new customer can be substantial. Especially when traditional marketing tactics are used. By selling your products or services at cost, you will attract a very wide range of potential customers. You then have to focus on turning those customers into referring and loyal customers. Obviously for this model to work, you have to assume there will be repeat business as customers come to you for accessories, additions, or anything else that couples with your products or services. This is where profits can be made.

The key point to identify here is what your customers’ marginal net worth is to your business. In total, what is the lifetime value in profits that can be expected from your customers? How often can you expect further purchases to be made? These questions will determine the total resources you can afford to invest in the acquisition of a new customer by using this break-even customer acquisition tactic.

3.) Risk Reversal

During a transaction, trade, or deal of any nature one party is always taking on more risk than the other. You have to ask whether your products or services have a value higher than the risk associated with making a purchase. If the risk is too great, it’s likely a purchase will not be made. For example:

  • Buying clothes online means you can’t test to see if the items fit (return policies)
  • Buying shoes online means you can’t tell if they’ll be comfortable (return policies)
  • Buying an appliance or tool (How long does the manufacturers warranty last)
  • Renting an automobile (Paying for insurance or facing the consequences of an accident)
  • Purchasing marked down or expired food (These food items may be cheaper, but are they still good)
  • Adventure activities (Risk of death and injury are apparent so life waivers must be signed)

When this risk is placed upon the customer rather than the business… it adds a bit of strain to the relationship as well as the transaction. In essence as the business, you have to make the risk worthwhile to take on in order for a customer to feel confident in making a purchase. This means you must work hard and diligently to reduce or eliminate the burden, or appearance of the burden, of risk for your customers. In short you have to reverse the risk of making a purchase back onto the business. Offer a decent return policy, an affordable extended warranty, a 30-day free trial period… anything where the associated risk of making a purchase can be mitigated.

4.) Host Beneficiary Relationships

For most industries, there are a great number of businesses that work either hand-in-hand or along side one another. From producers to transporters, wholesalers to marketers, when you step back and look at every aspect of your business and what takes it function, you soon realize there is a large community of like-minded individuals all working towards the same goal. At times, even direct competition can be leveraged. How many times have you gone into a used bookstore where they tell you they don’t have a certain book, and perhaps to try the other used bookstore around the corner? Or how about a website development company that doesn’t have an in-house marketing team, or a marketing firm that doesn’t have an in-house development team? They both are in the same industry and can not only co-exist but also work together to refer business when available.

Beneficiary relationships can be set up in any number of ways. You can refer customers when you are unable to provide a service or product, or even set up working relationships where customers can be shared. Such as a housing construction company and electricians or plumbers. Teaming up with other businesses dramatically helps establish prime prospects for customers.

The most important question to ask yourself is who within your industry is attracting customers that you want to reach and serve? Of course, direct competition can largely be excluded. But what businesses sells the products or services that are complimentary to yours? What goes with, alongside, before, or after your product, and who is selling those things?

Contact these businesses, set up a working relationship, and propose ideas that are easy to implement and advantageous for both parties. All the while ensuring the relationship is helpful not only for the businesses, but primarily for the customers. Having an animal grooming service team up with an auto mechanic shop really doesn’t cross-promote very well and ads no real value for consumers. But an animal grooming service and dog training center is much different. Or an auto mechanic shop and car wash or detailing business. Complimentary businesses can easily help to promote one another, and these beneficiary relationships should eagerly be sought out

5.) Advertising

The most obvious way to grow your customer base and increase the number of potential leads is by paid advertising. There are a great number of effective options to choose from but the most widely used are Googles Adwords and Display Network Partners. Whether you use display, search, video, or remarketing there is likely a good solution for your advertising needs. However, it is important to keep in mind that you should only advertise when your message is capable of being heard by a large number of targeted users. You want to advertise to real qualified prospects and this is where most issues arise for advertising.

Would you rather an advertisement be shown to 10,000 generic people, or 500 people that specifically are interested in your message? Understanding the demographics of your customers is paramount when it comes to targeting an effective advertisement to them. Remember that people are swamped with advertisements all day everyday. How many advertisements do you actually take notice of in comparison to the total you are exposed to? Chances are the ones you remember are only the ones you are interested in. That said, don’t waste marketing dollars on people that have no interest in your brand. Focus on those that want to hear your message first. You can then attempt to attract others later once you are satisfied with your current customer base.

3 Ways To Contact Prospects Directly: Points 6-8

6.) Direct Mail

It’s easy to forget, but emails aren’t the only place you receive spam and junk mail. Physical and direct mail has long stood as the original means for spamming. But direct mail can serve a useful purpose of attracting new prospects and growing your customer base. Just as you properly formulate, create, and manage an email campaign, direct mail campaigns can be crafted similarly.

Salesmanship in print isn’t dead, nor is it likely ever to die. It creates a great opportunity to present your most powerful messages and promote them to potential customers in your area. You may wonder how physical print can convert to an ecommerce sale: simply put, by directing them to your website or advising them to give you a call where you can then lead them step by step to signing up as a member or making a purchase. It’s important to keep in mind that your online and physical marketing efforts need to work together in conjunction. They are by no means separate from one another and are both attempting to accomplish the same goal. So let the two work together, test your campaigns, refine them, and test again. Be sure to track every bit of data you can for analysis, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

An email can be tossed without ever having opened it… or perhaps even be thrown into a junk mail folder never to be seen. But this is not possible with direct mail. In the least, you know the receiver will hold the piece in their hand before discarding… it is at that point you must grab their attention enough to open, read, and act upon the message given. Obviously, this is certainly easier said than done but certainly possible nonetheless.

7.) Telemarketing

Telemarketing is the marketing of goods or services by means of telephone calls, typically unsolicited, to potential customers. Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I hang up on telemarketers all the time. Why would I perform a marketing strategy that I know doesn’t even work on me?” The answer is that you are a single person, and many people do indeed respond to telemarketing phone calls. Your experience is not the same as everyone’s. For example, I eagerly respond to telemarketing phone calls when a product has been purchased or a service rendered. The reason I’m eager is because you don’t often get the chance to speak to someone directly. Often times you are left to fill out a form or drop your complaint into a comments box. Being able to converse with a live representative is becoming increasingly rare nowadays for most businesses. Automation is and will increasingly become more popular. But that doesn’t exactly sit well with customers as much as it does the bottom line of the company.

You can create a telemarketing system that won’t perform well, and that’s obviously much easier than achieving success. But there are a number of benefits to using telemarketing so long as you do it right. A few points to keep in mind are listed below.

  • Ability to survey your target market. Asking nearby residents questions about starting a business in an area will give you a great idea to the want or desire of that service or product in the targeted community. It can largely dictate whether opening a store or offering services in an area is even warranted. Without the demand no business can succeed.
  • Customer feedback. If you’re able to collect the phone numbers of current customers, you can then call them to receive their honest opinion of your business. Gathering and understanding customer feedback is critical for making improvements to any business. If you don’t know what your customers appreciate and/or hate about your business…exactly how will you determine your next best step?
  • Generate referrals. Striking conversations with people cause them, at times, to bring up that conversation to other people. If you are able to get prospective customers to talk about your business, product, or service to their friends, family, and colleagues… then you’ve potentially increased your total number of possible referral customers.
  • Establish and develop relationships with prospects and customers. The larger the business, typically the further it stands apart from its consumers. Sometimes a business can feel like a cold hard stone that neither communicates nor cares about you. But when you make a business feel like a warm, polite, and kind friend… well you can only imagine how that might motivate potential customers, convert skeptics, and reaffirm existing and loyal customers. Communication and engagement are key in today’s business world. People hate Walmart. They love Google. They hate Microsoft. They love Apple. Consider each of these businesses and how they interact and deal with people. You’ll soon notice that Apple and Google are in essence friendlier than Microsoft and Walmart. Of course there are a whole slew of other differences, but the largest is how they are perceived as a business: friendly or not.
  • Follow up on sales letters, direct mail or email, to either prospective or current customers. They say you have to have at least three forms of contact with a person before they will take note of you online. Maybe they came across your business mentioned in an article, they heard a friend or colleague talk about you on social media, or found an advertisement of yours online. Finally, after its apparent to a person that “Hey I know these guys…” they will finally make an attempt to seek you out on their own. This of course is not a rule, but the bit is that the more points of contact you make with a person, the greater the likelihood that they will remember you when the time comes for them to buy a product or service that you happen to offer.
  • Talk to people who refuse to use your service or product and figure out why. We all would love to only receive constructive criticisms. But honestly, what good are those? Often times they are sugar coated and at that point, what is their value if they are not 100% honest? You should want to know why certain people refuse to make a purchase from you. In fact, understanding why certain people don?t buy from you is more important than understanding why people do buy from you. There is little to learn from success… you’ve already done it right. Failure on the other hand is packed full of lessons to learn. Seek out reasons why people wouldn’t purchase from you, improve upon them, and then your overall offering will be that much stronger. Assuming of course you haven’t degraded the perceived value of your current offering. Furthermore, and an important point, this creates a great opportunity to convert these customers. Simply speaking with them and letting them know their opinion matters does make a difference. So much so they may reconsider buying from you.
  • Offer loyal customers preferential values on products or services. This is a great tactic that can be employed to show your valued customers that you actually care about them. Receiving a phone call stating, “Because of your loyalty and our appreciation of your business, here is a free X” will make a customer’s ears perk up. Then imagine the positive feedback they will tell people they know, making it in essence another form of referral marketing. Who doesn’t brag about receiving something few others have?

8.) Special Events and Information Nights

The first and most obvious example of this would be wine tastings at restaurants, wineries, and liquor stores. You put on an (often free) event, perhaps offer some insights, training, or information, maybe give away some free swag, invite businesses you have working relationships with to participate, and make it above all enjoyable, and you will notice a positive response from your customers. Again, this also humanizes a business and allows customers to easily engage (in real life) with it. Hosting events is also a great way to attract potential customers, increase brand awareness, and shape brand identity. Use this tactic, and use it wisely.

4 Ways To Better Your Public Image: Points 9-12

9.) Qualified Lists and Directories

It’s been long argued that listing your website on directories is not only a dying tactic, but is actually bad for your website. This statement is both true and false at the same time. Quality directory listings are actually rather rare, and by no means are they all created equally. Also having your website listed on directories that by any other means could be considered link farms is very, very bad. That said, there are many good directories you can use for most industries which will not count against you. The trick is in the directories you choose to list yourself on. Some quality directories that come to mind are Hoovers, Yelp, World Site Index, Data Spear, Gimpsy, Family Friendly Sites, and numerous others.

Again, it is very important that if you decide to list yourself on a directory that the directory you choose follows Google guidelines. If you happen to list yourself on an untrustworthy and damaging directory, have yourself taken off immediately. You will certainly be penalized if you are found to be consorting with less than reputable websites.

10.) Unique Selling Propositions (USP)

Every business needs to have, or should strive to achieve, a unique selling point that sets them apart from their competition. If everything else is equal, the only advantage to purchasing from one dealer rather than another is price. As most managers will know, you can’t always compete on price. If you can, then by all means try to undercut the competition. But sometimes a low cost is not the determining factor that persuades a customer to make a purchase. We have mentioned that cost, overall, largely determines a customers purchasing habits. But if price is only marginally different from one brand to another, then you have to have something else to offer to entice customers to make a purchase from you.

Does your business donate a percentage of proceeds to charitable organizations? Is your business actively involved in the community? Does your product come with a bit of prestige (expensive and high end products)? Is your brand environmentally conscious? Do you offer free services, information, or advice? Do you have a loyalty program? Do you have a referral program? Is your brand trendy or hip (spot this quickly because trendiness rarely lasts)? Are you a leader in your industry (trick question as every business should pose as such)?

Your unique selling proposition is what distinctly sets you apart from your competition. The goal is to convince every customer and prospective client that if they were to do business with you, they can expect to receive unique benefits both immediately and on an ongoing basis. This point is made even stronger when compared to competitors (in a classy manner of course). This isn’t to say that trash talking should be a strategy, but giving an accurate comparison of your product/service benefits compared to your competitors has been a long standing tradition for persuading customers.

11.) Increase Your Businesses Perceived Value Through Education

In this day and age, people love being and feeling informed. Information is at our fingertips whenever and nearly wherever we need it. If a person is going to do a search about something your brand should be an industry leader in, your website should offer and make available that information. Sometimes this will be topical, entertaining, and/or educational. In other words, you want to provide content that may answer certain peoples questions and search queries. This is why content is considered king, because outside of providing the exact product or service someone needs, the only other way to attract them to your site is through quality content. This point must be understood, and certainly not underestimated.

Educating and informing users is also an extension of your Unique Selling Proposition. This gives users a reason to choose to visit your website over one of your competitors. The important part to keep in mind is that you need to provide information that users will actually appreciate. Now of course, being the industry leader you are, you understand what people need to know. But that doesn’t mean you understand what people want to know. Pay close attention to Social Media and similar forums elsewhere on the web, spot trending topics, unanswered questions, and essentially anything else that the customer base is missing in the form of information online.

12.) Better Public Relations

Within your market place there are a wide range of publications, organizations with newsletters, radio shows, television programs, webinars, podcasts, and other special alternative forms of media communication that are hungry for information and ideas. Furthermore, they are hungry for information provided by industry leaders. These outlets are prime territories for areas where you can influence user opinion and overall perception of your brand or industry. If left to form your own uneducated opinion on a subject, how accurate do you believe your opinion will be? That said, how strongly will you believe in and defend that opinion? Global Warming, Pit Bulls, Running Barefoot, GMO Foods, Organic Cotton, Walmart Ethics, and so on. All of these have strongly opinionated persons on both side of the debate.

Here is a great example of how public relations can be bettered. Chipotle, the delicious burrito maker, originally started out as a health conscious food provider. They were successful, and after a few years the business was purchased by McDonalds. Now, for customers who are food conscious, do you imagine they had the same belief and faith in Chipotle as they did before they sold out to perhaps one of the least perceived food conscious businesses on the planet? No they didn’t; in fact Chipotle had a terrible backlash once the sale was completed. The loyal health conscious customer base they had fostered for years was lost. That said Chipotle continued to grow, and succeed, as the business model for McDonalds must be perfected at this point. But successful or not, they had lost a large portion of their market share for certain health conscious individuals. Years later, the original founder of Chipotle actually re-purchased the business back from McDonalds. Soon came a new marketing campaign that stressed the businesses outlook on sustainable food from ethical producers. They had reverted back to their old ways, whilst maintaining the current market share McDonalds had provided, and furthermore made their older health conscious customers revert their business back to them.

Chipotle’s brand image was tarnished for a period of time, and being owned by McDonalds there was nothing that could be said to convince the public that food quality wasn’t going to be reduced. Whether it would be true or not… it’s McDonalds speaking. That would be like Freedom Group (Americas largest manufacturer of firearms) advocating peace and singing kumbaya around a campfire. Even if it were true… no one could believe it. Worse yet, since public opinion is often so strongly set, it is extremely difficult to undue a perception once it created. Take the Swastika as another example. Long before the Nazis employed its use, it represented many things to many different cultures, mostly revolving around being fortunate. However, if you see a Swastika nowadays… you don’t think of anything peaceful. You think of horrific events, nefarious villains, and World War 2. You can even consider Comcast, they’ve been in the news a lot as of late, and the discussions typically revolve around how terrible they are as a business. I don’t imagine they will be able to anything any time soon to repair the backlash that the public has against them. Opinion is just too strong, though fortunately their market share is so large that the business will simply lurch forwards. That is of course until a comparable competitor enters the market that is perceived to treat their customers better and offer a better service. That is of course, the beauty of a free market and the invisible hand that guides it.

The point being, if you are in an industry where the perception of your business can have a negative connotation, you absolutely must do all you can to persuade users to the benefits and dispel any negativities surrounding your brand. If you are in an industry that otherwise is not considered negatively, do everything you can to further impress upon your customers the importance of shopping with you. Brand perception and imagery is vital to any business. Make sure your brand is perceived in a positive light and strive to continually shape and improve upon it.

By now, you should have a rather heathy understanding of what can be done to both increase your ecommerce customer base and improve the amount of prospective leads your business receives. By performing one of these tactics you should notice improvements. But if you combine two or more of these tactics (which is highly recommended) you will give your business the greatest chance it has to succeed. Each of these points is important in itself, but when they work in conjunction with one another, you will have formed a proper strategy that can be tested, analyzed, and improved upon. If you notice one tactic doesn’t work very well, you can try something else that might do better. Just keep your nose to the wind, eyes on the horizon, and keep moving forward. Because as the saying goes… a rolling stone gathers no moss.