The Myth of Customer Acquisition

How did you “acquire” that customer? Did they make one or more purchases? Did they sign up to your service? Did they give you their email address?

Sorry, but that isn’t worth a lot. They will buy the next thing somewhere else. They are already signing up to another service. If your email doesn’t automatically get sent to the junk folder, they will ignore it.

You don’t acquire a customer. You get access to their attention for a short period of time. You compete with many other things for each of these periods. The number of things competing for each period is getting larger all the time. The number of things doing exactly what you do, or selling exactly what you sell, is probably increasing too. And the periods themselves are getting shorter.

All is not lost. There are two things you can do.

First, you can compete for one quantum of attention. One visit from search, via an article that mentions you, from a social media share, or your viral video. Or much more valuable, via word of mouth. When you win that elusive quantum of attention, be sure to use it well. Present a way to solve a pressing problem. Be useful. Elicit joy.

Second, you can build trust. Every quantum of attention you win is an opportunity to play the long game. To build, with each small contact, an enduring relationship. The more trust there is, the more likely it is that you will get future attention. That your product will be heard above the cacophony. That your email will be read. That you will get more chances to transact, and to earn even more trust.

There are no “new” customers you can acquire, and you don’t have any existing customers to retain. There are people that trust you and people that don’t. You have to compete to win their attention either way. So throw away your models of customer acquisition and retention. Compete like crazy for each quantum of attention. And focus on using every one that you win to fulfill needs and build trust.