You’ve built a winning B2B product and an excellent team behind it; what’s next?
Your business is only started once you’ve finally secured your first customer—and even better—gained a steady stream of customers.
Without customers, any business cannot survive, and acquiring new customers is always the best way to achieve growth. In short, customer acquisition is critical.
The thing is, even if you are already familiar with customer acquisition, developing a customer acquisition strategy for a B2B business is often challenging due to the fact that in every B2B transaction, there are typically multiple stakeholders involved—resulting in longer and more complex acquisition processes.
In this guide, we will learn the A to Z of B2B customer acquisition, and here’s what we’ll cover on this guide:
- What is customer acquisition
- Unique challenges to B2B customer acquisition and how to tackle them
- Develop a B2B customer acquisition strategy
- Effective B2B customer acquisition channels and their examples
- How to evaluate customer acquisition performance and improve your strategy
Let us begin this guide from the basics: what is customer acquisition?
What is customer acquisition?
As the name suggests, customer acquisition refers to the process of convincing a random person until they purchase your product or service. Once the transaction happens, you’ve “acquired” a new customer.
In developing a customer acquisition strategy, it’s critical to understand that customer acquisition is typically not a one-step process.
Most, if not all of us, have been a customer before, and by evaluating these past experiences, we can understand that in most cases, we don’t make the purchase instantly, but rather we follow what we call the buyer’s journey, which follows three basic steps:
- Awareness: the prospect realizes (is now aware) they have a problem, and they start looking for more information about this problem.
- Consideration: the prospect is now aware that they need a solution to solve the problem and is now comparing and considering potential solutions.
- Decision: pretty self-explanatory; here, the prospect finally makes the purchase and is now converted into a customer.
Thus, an effective customer acquisition strategy must also cover these three stages accordingly:
- Attract: attracting potential customers and building awareness. In this step, your focus is to showcase how your product or service can solve their problem, tapping into their awareness. Here the objective is to capture a random person’s (i.e., a website visitor’s) contact information, converting them into leads.
- Nurture: most leads aren’t ready to make the purchase right away, and they’ll compare different solutions (i.e., your products and your competitors’) and do their research. Your focus here should be to communicate your product/service’s benefits and convince them that yours is the best solution for them.
- Convert: at this stage, the prospect has already made their decision that your product/service is the one they are most interested in, and they only need a little push. Your focus here is to give these leads the final nudge. For example, by showing testimonials and reviews. Another key task in this step is to optimize the transaction process to make sure it’s as easy as possible for them to convert.
B2B buyer’s journey
This basic customer acquisition strategy in relation to the buyer’s journey should apply to all kinds of businesses—both B2B and B2C. However, the B2B buyer’s journey is unique in the fact that there can be multiple stakeholders involved in each step of the buyer’s journey, often complicating each stage.
A typical journey for a B2B buyer is as follows:
Someone in a company starts becoming aware of a specific problem they are facing at work. For example, a chef in a restaurant realizes that the beef supply they get from the current supplier isn’t up to standard after several batches.
In this case, the chef may present this problem to purchasing/procurement department, and the procurement department may start investigating the problem. The procurement department may start looking for another vendor and may ask for a budget increase from the finance department.
Alternatively, the chef may search for a new vendor on their own (i.e., by asking other chefs.)
As we can see, even in the awareness stage, there can already be several stakeholders involved with various different scenarios.
In this stage, one or more stakeholders may do their research to find the best possible solution for the problem. Using the same example, the chef, procurement, and finance may evaluate different vendors. Multiple vendors may approach the restaurant and present their samples for evaluation.
The stakeholder may have decided on a potential solution, but they may need approval from higher-ups before they can finalize the purchase. For example, the chef may have decided on a vendor, but the finance manager decided that this vendor is too expensive and cannot offer flexible payment options.
Thus, the solution may not be approved by the higher-ups, and another round of consideration stage may be needed.
Developing a B2B customer acquisition strategy: a step-by-step guide
Most businesses must deal with limited time and resources when it comes to marketing and customer acquisition.
This is why, instead of randomly executing various tactics across different customer acquisition channels and hoping for the best, it’s critical to have a clear game plan so that we don’t waste time and money in the process.
With that being said, here’s how to develop your B2B customer acquisition strategy and choose the right acquisition tactics.
Step 1: Identify and gather information about your target customers
If you don’t know who your target audience is, your customer acquisition strategy—no matter how well-thought-of—won’t be effective, period.
This is why the first and the most important step in developing your customer acquisition strategy is to identify who your target customers are.
If you’ve done your market research homework and developed your buyer personas, then this step should be a breeze, but if you haven’t, here we’ll share a few pointers:
Identifying and segmenting your target companies
Again, a critical thing to remember when discussing B2B target customers is the fact that although you are essentially targeting other businesses, there can be multiple stakeholders with different roles In each target company.
Meaning, you may need to develop multiple buyer personas to address these different roles for each target company.
However, we should first start by identifying companies you can target as potential customers, and here are the steps how:
- Gather data
Gather as much information as you can about potential customers, ideally via comprehensive market research.
If you already have an existing customer base, then this step might be a bit easier: you can start by segmenting existing customers based on industry/niche, location, company size, and more. If you are a brand-new business without any existing customers, then you can try identifying your closest competitors’ target customers.
Once you’ve created a list of potential customers, start filtering them out. Discard companies that aren’t the right fit for your business, and keep the ideal ones before moving to the next step.
By now, you should have a shortlist of potential customers, and the next step is to prioritize them by dividing them into tiers: tier 1 is your most important customers, tier 2 the less important ones, and so on.
By prioritizing your customers, you can maximize your time and resources on target customers that generate the most money and matter the most for your growth. This way, you can maximize your ROI and lower your customer acquisition cost (CAC.)
3. Segment according to needs
Now that you’ve prioritized the target businesses into multiple tiers, the next step is to divide them according to their needs.
Different types of businesses and different niches/industries may translate into different needs, so you may need to use different tactics to cater to these needs and attract them.
Determine their needs by what might drive these target customers to your business. For example, if you are selling SaaS accounting software, identify whether a specific target customer may need more advanced features from their existing software or whether they simply need a cheaper solution. You may need to create new offerings based on the needs you’ve discovered.
4. Segment according to purchase behavior
In many cases, segmenting target customers according to their purchase behavior is the most useful.
For example, some of your target companies may be more price-sensitive and will always move to the next vendor offering the best deal, while some others may prefer long-term relationships with a single vendor. Some others may look to make an upgrade as soon as new products are released or if there’s any feature update.
Knowing your target customers’ behaviors and segmenting them accordingly will give you a clearer insight into how you should shape your offerings to meet your prospects’ preferences.
5. Segment according to the sophistication levels
Different target businesses may have different levels of sophistication and/or development which may affect whether your product/service is a good fit for your business. Or, if you are offering multiple products/services or different tiers of offerings, you may push different offers accordingly depending on the levels of satisfaction.
If you offer products that are too advanced/expensive than their current level of development/sophistication, you may lose them as prospective customers. Vice versa, if you are offering products that are too basic for the target customer’s current needs, you will also lose their interest.
Developing B2B buyer personas
Now that you’ve created a shortlist of potential target companies and segmented them accordingly, you can start developing target personas for different roles in these prospective companies.
Start creating B2B buyer personas that include the following information:
- Their role in the target company
- Demographics data (gender, age, occupation, education level, etc.)
- Decision-making capacity in the company
- Their key decision-making factors when choosing vendors/suppliers
- Pain points
- Requirements for a product/service
- Brands they may already be using
- Interaction preferences (email, phone, face-to-face, chat, etc.)
Aim to develop at least one target persona per segment, but also consider the different roles of stakeholders that may be involved in the decision-making process. Thus, ideally, you’ll need to create groups of multiple buyer personas per segment.
Take your time to develop comprehensive buyer personas and continuously fine-tune them. Well-defined target personas can provide clearer insights into which customer acquisition tactics you should leverage in the different stages of the buyer’s journey: from when they know nothing about your brand until they are ready to become buyers.
Once you’ve created your set of buyer personas, you can continue to the next step.
Step 2: Mapping the buyer’s journey
Another key consideration when developing B2B customer acquisition strategy is the fact that due to the potential presence of multiple buyer personas, the buyer’s journey is also often more complex and can be non-linear in nature.
Quite often, a buyer would need to take a back-and-forth, multi-channel, and even cyclical journey, which can be challenging to comprehend.
This is why mapping your business’s buyer’s journey is crucial to help you choose the most effective tactics for each stage.
A buyer’s journey map is a visual representation of your buyer’s experience as they interact with your company, and an accurate buyer’s journey map should include the following elements:
- The buying process stages: awareness, consideration, and decision, but you can add more stages according to how your business operates and the path you intend your customers to take. List the stages horizontally on the map.
- User actions: what the customer does in each stage listed above. Explore the different options available: whether they read online reviews when comparing different options, whether they signed up for a free trial, their preferred payment method, etc.
- Emotions: your customers may feel a different range of emotions at different stages of the buying process. Identifying and mapping these options can help you anticipate negative emotions and take the necessary steps to mitigate them so the negative emotions won’t linger too long to hurt the customer’s experience.
- Pain points: identify the pain points related to the negative options you’ve identified previously. Accurately identifying pain points can help you identify which stage in the buying process your customer is experiencing negative emotions, why they feel this way, and especially how you can improve their emotion by tackling their pain points.
- Optimizations: Identifying potential ways to optimize the buying process, so your customers encounter fewer pain points, experience fewer negative emotions, and have a more positive experience as they interact with your business to encourage conversions.
You can start mapping your buyer’s journey by following these steps:
Step 1: Prioritize which persona(s) to map
A common challenge when mapping the B2B buyer’s journey is the number of different personas that can potentially interact with your business. While ideally, you should map all of them, it’s best to start by focusing on just one or two of them. Try to be as specific as possible when segmenting different personas. If you group too many personas into a single buyer’s journey, it may compromise its accuracy.
You can start by picking the most common buyer persona (one that interacts most frequently with your business), or one you consider most important.
What about the others you’ve left out? Don’t worry, you can always go back to them and map their journey later. It’s best to focus and fine-tune one or two maps rather than having too many diagrams that aren’t very representative.
Step 2: List out touchpoints
“Touchpoints” refer to all the interaction points where your customers can interact with your business: different elements on your website, social channels, advertising, reviews or testimonials for your products, etc.
As you map your buyer’s journey, consider:
- Customer actions: List out all actions performed by this buyer persona as they interact with your business. From clicking an ad about your product to signing up for your email newsletter, and so on. Be as detailed as you can. You may end up with a long list of actions, and that’s perfectly okay.
- Emotions: Again, remember that every action taken by your customers is motivated by an underlying emotion. Anticipate these emotions and list them along with the actions. This will help you in pushing the right content at the right time according to our customer’s emotional journey.
- Pain points: The emotional driver behind your customer’s actions is usually caused by a problem or pain point. Identify potential obstacles that prevent your customers from taking their desired actions, so you can identify the right solutions to mitigate these pain points.
Step 3: Confirm its accuracy
Once you’ve mapped the buyer’s journey while considering the different elements above, analyze the resulting map and confirm its accuracy.
The best way to confirm your map’s accuracy is to try out the buyer’s journey yourself. Follow the buyer’s journey you’ve mapped and take notes of your experience. Be objective and stay humble. If you identified any flaw or negative experience, admit it and add it to your notes.
Identify potential bottlenecks and think of how you can optimize the experience.
Step 4: Identify required resources
You’ll need resources (whether the ones you currently have or the ones you’ll need to procure) in order to optimize your buyer’s journey. Thus, identify these resources according to the mapped customer journey.
For instance, if your buyer’s journey map identified user experience issues on your website, then you can advise management to revamp the website or at least fix the issue. By using the buyer’s journey map, you can also pinpoint how new investments would impact your customer acquisition campaigns and justify their values, which can help in convincing decision-makers and higher-ups.
Step 5: Optimize
The last but not least step, optimize the buyer’s journey map to reduce pain points and encourage conversions.
Your buyer’s journey map should be constantly reviewed and updated, at least on a quarterly basis but ideally on a monthly basis. Regularly collect customer feedback and analyze your campaigns’ performances so you can identify bottlenecks and address them accordingly.
Step 3: Set your goals
Having clear goals will provide you with a clear roadmap for your customer acquisition strategy to work.
it’s best to follow the SMART goal principles:
- Specific: goals should be clear and specific, and they should clearly state the desired objective.
- Measurable: you should be able to track your customer acquisition campaign’s progress against these goals.
- Achievable: goals should be realistic and attainable, or else they will be counterproductive and hurt your team’s morale. Break down big goals into smaller milestones if necessary.
- Relevant: your customer acquisition objectives should align with your business’s overall goals.
- Time-bound: you should be able to attach a clear time frame to these goals.
Here are some customer acquisition goal examples that are aligned with this SMART principle:
- Increase email newsletter sign-up by 10% in the next six months
- Convert 20% more of the users who signed up for your free trial into paid subscribers in 12 months
Ideally, you should define goals for each stage of the buyer’s journey, as discussed above, but due to the limited time and resources, this might not be possible, and you may need to prioritize. We’d recommend focusing on the buyer’s journey stage or stages in which you are currently lacking.
For example, you may have a good percentage of your website visitors signing up for your email newsletters (consideration stage), but the number of these newsletter subscribers that have converted into paying customers (decision) is fairly low. You can also benefit from having more website visitors (awareness.)
In this scenario, you might want to set goals for the awareness and decision (conversion) stages first and leave the consideration stage for later.
The better you assess your current condition and identify your problem areas, the more likely you can set productive goals for your customer acquisition campaign.
Step 4: Choosing your customer acquisition tactics
Once you’ve identified your goals, the next step is to choose customer acquisition tactics and channels that will be the most effective in helping you achieve these goals.
While there are numerous channels and tactics to choose from, here are some of the most popular ones you can consider:
- Content marketing + SEO
Content marketing is, simply put, publishing high-quality and relevant content to attract and retain customers. We support content marketing with SEO so your content ranks higher on the search engine’s organic results pages.
Content marketing and SEO are effective in all stages of the buyer’s journey:
- Someone in your target customer company realizes they have a problem and do a Google search. They ended up clicking on your content on the search result, visiting your website, and are now aware of your brand and solution (awareness stage.)
- A stakeholder in the target company was comparing different solutions and stumbled upon your content (consideration stage.)
- A potential decision maker that’s already interested in your solution finally became convinced after reading a case study about your product (decision stage.)
A key benefit of content marketing, together with SEO as a customer acquisition tactic, is that they are cost-effective. Not only that, but they can produce a sustainable and compounding effect: you’ll still get organic traffic from high-performing content even after you’ve stopped putting money into it.
However, developing high-quality and relevant content can be easier said than done, and ranking high on search engines can take time. This is why despite its effectiveness, content marketing should be supported by other channels.
Advertising (offline/traditional and online/digital) is the process of paying media, publications (i.e., magazines, TV stations), websites, or other platforms to broadcast messages about your brand and product/service.
A key highlight of advertising is that it is very effective in generating fast results. Just set up an ad, get it published, and most likely, you’ll get an increase in traffic right away.
However, advertising can be very expensive, and you may end up losing money even if the campaign seems effective at the surface.
The key is to make sure your advertising campaign is targeted at the right audience and managed well. It may take time (and money) to figure out what kind of advertising works for your specific B2B business, but don’t be afraid to make calculated trial and error.
3. Social media and influencer marketing
In the past, social media was a customer acquisition channel that was more aligned with B2C marketing, but that’s no longer the case nowadays. Various studies have suggested that social media now also heavily influences B2B stakeholders when making their purchase decisions, so it would only make sense to also incorporate social media marketing in your B2B customer acquisition strategy.
When it comes to leveraging social media as your customer acquisition channel, we can consider three different tactics:
- Organic: building your own following on social media and pushing your content to build awareness and drive traffic to your website. As with content marketing (and SEO), this is the most cost-effective option, but building your social media follower can be time-consuming and challenging.
- Paid: referring to leveraging paid marketing options offered by various social media networks (i.e., Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, LinkedIn Ads, etc.) Similar to advertising, paid social media marketing can generate results quickly, but you’ll need to be careful, or else it will go very expensive very fast.
- Influencer: working with influencers—those with sizable and active followers on social media—so they can help promote your brand or product/service. It can be very effective in improving awareness and generating direct sales, but there are no guaranteed returns.
4. Email marketing
Even with all the newer marketing channels and technologies, don’t underestimate the potential effectiveness of email marketing, especially in nurturing leads, until they are ready for purchase in the consideration stage.
Email marketing is easy to measure and can be highly segmented and personalized according to your target customer’s needs. Thus, it is a highly versatile and effective customer acquisition channel that’s definitely worth your consideration.
However, with newer marketing legislations like GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and so on, you’ll need to be extra careful when broadcasting your emails not to break these regulations. Also, keep in mind that organically building an email list can be time-consuming and difficult.
You may need to invest your time and/or resources (i.e., buying an email database) initially before you can start your email marketing campaign, but it will be worth it in the long run.
B2B customer acquisition FAQ
Isn’t customer acquisition the same as marketing?
Both marketing and customer acquisition are aimed at building awareness.
However, customer acquisition has a narrower focus on driving customer action, encouraging them to move through the buyer’s journey (sales funnel.) Customer acquisition’s focus is to use specific, repeatable techniques in order to get potential customers to take action.
When you run an Instagram ad aimed at a specific target audience, it is marketing. You can track how many people have viewed this ad (impression), the number of clicks, and so on.
Customer acquisition, however, has more to do about what happens after a prospective customer clicks on this advertisement and signs up to receive your emails until they are finally ready for purchase.
Why is customer acquisition important for B2B businesses?
Customer acquisition is important for any business because, simply put, without new customers, businesses can’t generate more revenue, so they can’t survive and let alone grow.
Acquiring new customers allows businesses of any size, type, and age to:
- Generate revenue. All businesses strive to make money so they can pay the bills and reinvest the money for growth. Effective customer acquisition will allow the business to further improve its future acquisition process, allowing it to grow even more.
- Prove its value. Effective customer acquisition and steady growth of customers would show the company’s value to other parties. For example, convincing partners and securing investors.
The ability to attract, nurture, and convert new customers is essential to keep the business growing, and its investors satisfied.
How do you calculate your customer acquisition cost?
Customer acquisition cost (CAC, in short), is the average amount of money spent by a business in order to acquire one customer.
We can calculate CAC by dividing all recorded expenses related to customer acquisition by the number of acquired customers within the same timeframe. Thus:
CAC= total amount spent on customer acquisition/number of new customers acquired
For instance, if within six months, you’ve spent $10,000 on marketing and sales, and you’ve acquired 100 new customers, then your CAC would be $10,000/100, or $100.
When it comes to calculating customer acquisition cost, it’s crucial not to strive solely to lower your CAC but rather strive to be more effective in CAC utilization.
Rather than focusing on paying as little as possible, it’s best to focus on improving the effectiveness of your marketing and sales campaigns. To do this, it’s best to compare your CAC with your customer lifetime value (CLV)
Customer lifetime value is essentially how much money a customer will generate over the course of their relationship with your business.
While there are many ways to calculate CLV based on your business model, the basic way to calculate CLV is:
CLV= average order value x average frequency of purchase in a year x average customer lifespan
As long as your CAC is still higher than your CLV, then you can say that your customer acquisition is effective.
If you want to consistently and sustainably acquire new customers for your B2B business, you’ll need both an effective strategy and careful execution.
By following the step-by-step guide we’ve shared above, by now, you should have a solid foundation to build your own B2B customer acquisition strategy that drive your business’s growth.