People tell me the weirdest stories. Some are tales of drunken escapades, brushes with law enforcement or photos inadvertently distributed on the internet. Others are more surprising: They star astonishingly sober folks hellbent on playing by their own business rules. One of my favorite themes of the second group: People who employ unconventional methods for connecting with new customers. Get ready to put their oddball antics to work for your business.
Make house calls.
Andy Dunn, founder and CEO of New York City-based Bonobos, wanted to sell a better brand of britches directly to men online, without stocking the product in stores. To build a customer base, he loaded up his car with samples and hosted private events in homes around New York. Gents could try the pants on and experience Bonobos' better fit and better service model, then have the product shipped directly to their homes. His customers became his evangelists, and Dunn's schedule filled up with in-home events. Bonobos reached its first $1 million in revenue without spending a dollar on customer acquisition (aside from the cost of gas). Today Bonobos boasts sales in the multimillions -- and it all started by going directly to the customer.
Offer unlimited service.
Domain registrar Name.com is known for its exceptional customer service -- and that's not business as usual in the domain-name game. But how many businesses do you know that actively provide service to noncustomers? In early 2011 that's exactly what Name.com did. Via Twitter, the team caught wind of a software developer whose domain name had been hijacked. (This can occur when your domain registrar mistakenly allows your name to be transferred without the proper authorization.) Name.com reached out to the noncustomer and subsequently tracked down the hijacker -- all the way to Ukraine. The company's outstanding efforts (and the good PR they generated) earned it a slew of domain transfers from other consumers.
Differentiate your direct mail.
Business consultant Ashley Ambirge is nothing if not unconventional. The mind behind The Middle Finger Project, which pushes people to "get your ass off the warm-up bench," Ambirge encourages clients to take unconventional and sometimes rocky paths to achieve hell, yeah status in their businesses. A copywriter by trade, Ambirge decided to create a very targeted direct-mail campaign aimed at companies she wanted as clients -- but she skipped out on traditional collateral materials. Instead, she went to a roofing supply company. Yes, a roofing supply company. She sent 30 companies (new home builders) a single roofing shingle inscribed with the words "My Company + Your Company = sales through the roof." The result? A 100 percent response rate, with nearly every one of the responders becoming a client over the following year.
The key to unconventional customer acquisition is to remember to keep it about the customers. Think about their needs. Go where they are. Make them laugh. Help them. And, once you have them, provide exceptional service so they stick around and help you bag new customers.
Don't worry if your competitors think you're all about using shenanigans to bring folks to your door. We know that it's all about your dedication to your current and future customers' needs.