Class 6, Week 3 – Customer Acquistion

As we close out week 3, I’m asking the students where their sticking points are. I would like to structure the curriculum to be as helpful as possible for their current problems. That brings the classroom learning out of the theoretical and into the practical and relevant. This week the teams asked to discuss customer acquisition.

Thinking about finding customers

We started the class by thinking about how you would find “customers” for a language immersion dorm on campus. (Sidebar: This is a little project I’m working on with Dillon from CCEW and I plan on writing a separate post about the experience). A language immersion dorm pairs American students learning a foreign language with exchange students who are native speakers of the language. The pairs live together in university housing and have access to a variety of extracurricular activities, such as movie nights and cooking classes. The housing and events are foreign-language only. The American students get a great chance to learn and practice the language they are studying and foreign students get a chance to live with Americans and get plugged into the local community.

In order to find the American students, we brainstormed it would be possible to get the emails from the language department for everyone studying the language. It would also be possible to find student clubs that are interested in the language. You could also drop in on language classes in person to pitch the students on the dorm.

In order to find the exchange students, it would make sense to contact the Study Abroad office, who arrange everything related to exchange student life on campus.

The purpose of the exercise was to think about where your target audience is already aggregated and go after them there. It is much easier to find your audience doing the things they already do (like going to class) then to try and get them to come to your website, for example.

Aggregate points to find customers

Then for each team we considered where their own customers are being aggregated. We took a quick detour through soap opera land. Soap operas were originally developed as a way of aggregating stay-at-home moms, the main purchasers of household goods, in order to sell them soap. The first step in trying to reach your customers to sell them things is to figure out where they are.

The teams came up with a variety of responses. Some teams are targeting businesses that want to be found, like car dealers and real estate brokers. Others need to target groups of people going to special events or wheelchair-related facilities (like a rehab center). Outside of the direct approach route, it is also possible to find your audience through aggregators like magazines or niche websites. Search engine marketing tools allow you to target people based on the keywords they use to look for more information and Facebook lets you target on demographic interests.

Software tools

Once you’ve found your target audience and figure out how to reach them, the next step in the customer acquisition process is to either ask questions to understand frustrations and opportunities or attempt to sell them possible solutions for their problems or needs (for startups who are pre-product/market fit). There are a variety of tools that can make tracking this process easier.

Email tracking lets you see if people are opening your emails and clicking through on your call to action. Yesware (for one-to-one) and Mailchimp (for newsletters)

Large organizations use tools like Eloqua to track their email campaigns down to the tiniest detail. This diagram shows a make-believe flow of email out to contacts on a list, and shows possible split tests and follow-ups depending on the action the recipient took. While none of the teams need to use such a sophisticated system to reach their clients, I thought it was helpful to understand how a large organization looks at testing and grouping email contacts by their responses to emails they receive.


CRM (customer relationship management) lets you track leads through the sales cycle until they become customers- Salesforce, Onepagecrm, and Highrise.

Owning vs Renting

We briefly discussed the difference between owning a channel (like an email list) vs renting it (like buying ads). Owning is like aggregating a group yourself, and after you’ve been in business and had some customers, you’ll be able to reach out to that aggregate group directly. Renting is paying to get in front of a group that someone else aggregated, essentially the business model for both Google, Facebook, TV, magazines and blogs.

Gone testing

At the end of class, we again planned out tests to run between Tuesday and Thursday, particularly around customer acquisition. I’m a big believer in pre-selling or getting down payments on products to test their viability before beginning work on the technical side of making a product. All of the teams are in that process right now of trying to attract customer interest for their business.

Posted in Education, Lean Startup, Marketing, Testing ideas in the real world

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