When you’re scaling your customer acquisition channels in order to grow your business, it can be tough to know which platform will bring your site traffic that converts.
Sure, you have killer content and you study your site analytics – you know exactly which channel is bringing in the money. But you can always test channels faster, be more flexible, and leverage existing customer data for more insight into your next audience.
To help get you where you want to go, we spoke with 9 founders and marketing heads at 7-figure e-commerce companies who learned how to scale their customer acquisition channels for killer results.
From turning loyal customers into brand ambassadors, to streamlining and automating inbound marketing strategies, here are 10 key lessons that will take your customer acquisition process to the next level.
Lesson #1: Find Your Channel and Double Down
Most successful e-commerce companies have tried-and-true customer acquisition channels, whether a social media platform or a landing page and email sales funnel that work like gangbusters.
Designing a successful customer acquisition channel doesn’t happen by accident. Whether you attract customers through your social platforms or your landing page and sales funnel, it takes plenty of trial and error to find a strategy that works.
After chatting with leaders from companies like HELM Boots and ButcherBox, one strategy in particular became crystal clear: strengthen the inbound marketing tactics that work for your company – and ditch the ones that don’t help you land the sale.
Of course, the more you know about your audience – including the kinds of content they find valuable and how they like to consume it – the easier this will be.
“Pursuing different channels was difficult for us because we didn’t have enough data to know exactly what we were going after,” Joshua Bingaman, the founder of HELM Boots, told us via email.
If Bingaman could do things over today, he would take a different approach. “Having a clearer goal and a more focused plan of attack would have proven more results,” he explained. “Having enough data to see if there was any ROI per channel – so we could pivot and drop what wasn’t working and focus on what was – would have been key.”
When you do have accurate data about ROI, the results can be transformative, says Mike Filbey, the co-founder of ButcherBox.
“I understand the idea that you want to have ‘back up channels’, but the reality is that you really only need one, maybe two channels to succeed,” Filbey wrote. “For example, doing some split testing on your landing page could double the conversion rate. Experimenting with a new offer could be the ticket. Finding a new tool to supplement your follow-up process could lead to a quicker sales cycle. Paying influencers more money could double the number of customers they sign up each month.”
“There are always things to improve, and when you compound a handful of seemingly-small improvements, the impact can be huge,” he added. “Do that before putting a ton of money into testing new traction channels with an unknown ROI.”
Lesson #2: Figure Out How to Leverage Affiliates and Influencers
In e-commerce, influencer marketing can be your biggest revenue driver. With the right influencer on your team, your campaigns can become long-term partnerships that reach the right audience for your brand, too. In fact, according to a recent eMarketer survey, more than 80% of respondents who partnered with a major influencer found the campaign drove both brand engagement and awareness.
Time and again, these e-commerce store owners emphasized how powerful influencer marketing was for scaling their audience. When you’re a new brand, however, influencer campaigns can be difficult to get off the ground. Campaigns require a hefty budget and plenty of management – plus, it can take influencers time to trust you and your product. At ButcherBox, Filbey and his team found influencers were reluctant to work with their brand – until they saw evidence of the brand’s success.
“In the earliest stages it was difficult to get big influencers to [accept] a pay-per-performance affiliate structure,” Filbey wrote. “Many of them wanted money up front and were unsure how ButcherBox would convert. Turns out, we convert great – and they make more money doing pay-per-performance than a fixed payment upfront.”
“Once you get a few big influencers pushing your brand, it’s WAY easier to onboard more top-tier influencers,” Filbey added. “Nobody wants to be first.”
With influencers on board, keep working to build smart strategic partnerships and think ahead about what these influencers – and your company – will need.
A smart payment strategy, detailed toolkits that help influencers promote your product, and a marketing lead dedicated to influencer cultivation will all make the process easier – helping you attract the big names you crave.
“We soon learned that it was easier to partner with larger influencers if we paid out commissions for each sale they referred us,” explained Jack Meredith, senior growth marketer for Kettle & Fire.
“Once we saw huge results from our first affiliate promotions, it became clear that this was a channel to double down on,” Meredith added. “Our CPA sweet spot gives us great margins on each purchase, and keeps our influencers happy so they continue to promote.”
For some companies, though, influencer posts may not be the way to go. Pay attention to the success rate of your affiliate and influencer posts – is this something your audience responds to? Or does your company have more success when you focus on building relationships with customers directly?
Influencer marketing works because influencers have genuine relationships with your target customers, who trust the influencer’s recommendations. You can build these relationships directly with customers through social media, leveraging positive engagement into word-of-mouth business.
For Brad Day, the chief operating officer of HELM Boots, social media channels provide great platforms for “natural ambassadors.”
“By creating a deeply personal experience and delivering a best-in-class product, the customers that experience our brand are going to naturally want to share those experiences,” Day explained, which is why he focuses on social acquisition as an integral part of the company’s engagement strategy.
Learn more about how to create a social media influencer strategy here.
Lesson #3: Consider Going Straight for the Sale
Most e-commerce companies invest time and energy in persuading visitors to join their email list. Over time – and by experiencing the value of the relationship – subscribers convert to customers. However, that’s not always the best approach. Depending on your niche, margins, and industry, you can go straight for the sale at every customer touchpoint.
At BombTech Golf, a high profit margin meant founder Tyler Sullivan and his team could afford to shift their focus to customer service and marketing to existing customers.
“Our unique brand position in the golf industry and perceived value allows us to profit on first sale almost always,” explained Sullivan. “We only focus on email acquisition via purchase. Our customers are worth so much more than just sign-ups for coupons.”
“Since our cost to acquire works – and we profit on sale – we use that method to get emails, then wow them on the customer service side to get them to come back for our other products,” he added. “This certainly is unlike many email capture methods, but we are crushing it!”
This strategy works especially well when your sales and marketing team have a killer strategy for converting visitor interest into sales [lead prioritization]. That could mean responding to abandoned carts with lightning-quick drip campaigns, or automating your sales funnels to capture real-time interest in your product. Once you and your team have priorities in place, it’s time to start converting those leads into sales.
Lesson #4: Content + Offer + Engagement = Scale
Customers know when they’re being sold to – but offer content that’s valuable, and they’ll keep coming back for more.
“Scale really is a function of offer and quality of content,” emphasized Sullivan. “I have been able to push our scale and ad spend up the better our content and offer became.”
“I don’t believe tactics are truly big levers, but engaging with customers in a meaningful way and building a real relationship is,” he added. “I have taught our employees to do anything and everything to make sure we communicate with every customer – even our haters!”
Engaging directly with customers helps develop trust and value, and when you couple this with content your customers need – like Sullivan did – you clearly have a recipe for success.
Be sure to capitalize on your engagement strategy by using happy existing customers to advocate for your brand, too. After all, the best marketers for your company are often the customers who bought and loved your product.
Since a majority of consumers trust the word of their friends and family over traditional marketing, your ability to leverage engagement into user-generated content – like product reviews or social media posts – will drive your bottom line.
Lesson #5: Commit to Consistent Quality
Now that social media users have more control over the ads in their feeds, it’s easier than ever for them to tune you out. Facebook famously offered users the ability to personalize ad content last year, while Instagram still allows users to “hide” irrelevant sponsored content – and potentially report it.
That means your social media channels have to do more than market your brand – they have to add value with consistent, authentic, and engaging content. This is only possible if you imagine the kind of journey your customers take from exposure to sale, says Day.
“Have a clean, clear consumer journey wherever potential consumers engage with your brand,” Day writes.
“If they find your website, make sure it 100% represents the story that you’re trying to tell,” he adds. “If [your primary channel is] Instagram, don’t let one photo go up that doesn’t tell your story or your product’s story. Consistency and authenticity are essential.”
Of course, you can only provide content that resonates with your customers when you deeply understand your audience, a strategy Chris Gerbig, the co-founder of Pink Lily Boutique advocates.
“Use the available tools to understand who you are selling your products to,” suggests Gerbig. “Use this data to fine-tune your campaign so that you are only spending advertising dollars on customers who are more likely to convert. Once you know this you can make more informed decisions based on the available data.”
“Second, make sure the customer is engaged!” he adds. “This is very important to us at Pink Lily Boutique. There is a lot of competition in the e-commerce world. If you aren’t getting the engagement you want, take a look at what you are posting and make sure it’s something that would interest you as a customer.
“On our Pink Lily Boutique Facebook page, we try to have a mix of product advertisements, contests, giveaways, lifestyle photography, and humor. This way the customer does not get burned out, and there is always content that keeps the customer engaged and satisfied. We gained over a million FB followers in our first 18 months using this strategy.”
When you find a strategy that works, the numbers don’t lie.
Lesson #6: Stay on the Hunt for New Audiences
When it comes to paid advertising, you’ll see the best returns when you take the time to test new copy and new audiences. These tactics also work best when you’re using ads to target and create value for potential new customers, says Rachael Ulman, the president and COO of Greats Brand.
“Any company will see tactic fatigue if you don’t mix up your creative, messaging, and audience,” shared Ulman via email. “The amazing thing about digital advertising is that you are able to measure real-time how your channels are performing. When you see your acquisition costs creeping up, it’s time to test new tactics.”
Use analytics to adjust your targeted audience, until you find the demographic that makes your business boom. When John Lott, the CFO of SpearmintLOVE, managed to hit his target audience, the company took off.
“Getting the audience right took a considerable amount of time,” acknowledges Lott. “We had great organic content, but figuring out which audience to target was a trial-and-error process that took three months.”
Once you identify your audience, do your best to add value with your ads, offering content your customers want to engage with – rather than targeted ads they’ll simply tune out.
Learn more about how to build a winning digital advertising strategy at HubSpot.
Lesson #7: Use Paid Advertising Wisely
Improve your paid advertising ROI by targeting and personalizing content for your demographic. This may mean that you’re reaching fewer people – but those leads are more likely to convert, says Gerbig.
“A couple years ago Facebook changed their algorithm,” Gerbig wrote. “We saw a drop in traffic to pinklily.com due to this change.
“Through Facebook’s business manager, we were able to customize our advertisements to make sure the followers that saw our posts were more likely to make a purchase on our website. We chose specific demographics, attributes, and customer traits that would lead to higher conversions. We still use these tools in our advertising.”
According to Michael Fishman, the founder of Pure Cycles, using strategic keywords and high- quality content are also key for making paid advertising work for you.
“It was challenging to find the most efficient adwords when spending on Google,” Fishman shared. “It can be very expensive to buy keywords like ‘bike,’ so it took awhile for us to figure out which keywords made the most sense for us to use.”
“If we could go back in time, we would have switched to Facebook and Instagram sooner, and we would focus more on videos and lifestyle images instead of seamless images,” Fishman added.
As Fisman indicates, lifestyle brands have better returns with native and paid advertising. Mastering native advertising algorithms with sleek, shareable photo and video content will help you boost ad reach, build brand awareness, and drive sales – as long as your content is engaging, authentic, and adds value for your customers.
Lesson #8: Invest in Customer Research
Having trouble identifying new audiences or scaling your reach? Invest in customer research, starting with your own conversion data and web analytics, suggests Bonnie Chung, the founder of Miso Tasty.
“Invest in research to understand who your customers are and why they are buying, and why some customers are not returning customers,” Chung advised. “This is key to unlocking the channel and improving your products to stay competitive.”
Strong competitor research will also help you “reverse-engineer” the successes of your industry rivals, giving you greater insight into customer needs.
Over at the Kissmetrics blog, Brad Smith, the founder of Codeless, walks you through how to research your competitors’ past campaigns so you can leverage their data and returns for your own inbound marketing strategy.
Lesson #9: Start Small
Even if you have a small marketing team and a tinier budget, you can gain plenty of insight from a relatively targeted campaign.
To grow successfully, test over short periods of time – and test frequently, advises Lott.
“Most other business owners we have encountered spent too much money on one or two campaigns and then quickly gave up,” Lott explains.
“No one gets this right the first or even second campaign,” he suggests. “If that is your expectation, you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, start by spending $25 – $50 per campaign and keep running campaigns that incorporate what you have learned from the previous test.”
Lesson #10: Build a Stellar Attribution Model
In order to properly scale your customer acquisition model, you need to know where and how your leads are converting.
Be as specific as possible by mapping out the journey your customers can and should take before they take the plunge and buy your product. How many touchpoints did it take to close the sale?
The right attribution model will integrate data from across all of your platforms, argues digital marketing consultant Phillip Ohren, and it’ll be stronger if you don’t try to recreate the wheel.
“Avoid creating your own e-commerce system initially,” Ohren suggests. “Instead, go with an off-the-shelf e-commerce solution like Shopify. Then connect it up to your analytics with Segment as well as Google Analytics eCommerce. Segment is valuable here because it allows two-communication between systems; Google Tag Manager does not.
“Data doesn’t lie, and when you’re trying to work out which media activity is driving you the best return on investment, you need to be confident that your systems are fail-safe.”
New to building and scaling attribution models? This resource from Referral Sasquatch will have you tracking the leads and conversions from each of your channels like a pro.
If you haven’t yet taken the leap to scale your customer acquisition channels – well, then, what are you waiting for? It’s time to line up all your data, customer research, killer content, and flip the switch. With smart digital marketing strategies, strong brand ambassadors, and great follow-through, you’ll be on your way to building an e-commerce empire.