Creating customer traction requires deliberate effort that can really pay off.
Building a customer base doesn't usually happen overnight, but you can gain traction by implementing certain strategies. — Getty Images/lisegagne

In the startup world, customer traction serves as proof of a business's success. It shows you have a solid base of paying customers and are making sales, and it's important for any new company— especially one that's looking for funding.

Generally speaking, investors are looking for startups that will provide a return on investment. By showing potential backers that your business has customer traction, you're providing a stronger guarantee that their investment will be worthwhile. As a result, you're more likely to obtain the funding you need to take your business to the next level.

[Read: 10-Point Checklist to Use Before Pitching Investors]

Common challenges in gaining customer traction

Gaining traction is often easier said than done, particularly in the early stages of your business. Many startups face these common challenges when trying to earn a steady stream of sales:

Listening to customer wants and needs

Simply identifying your target customer isn't enough; you also need to understand their motivations, struggles and goals. Stephen Kohler, CEO and founder of Audira Labs, recommends that business owners challenge their assumptions by checking in with their potential and existing customers.

"One of the most common pitfalls that a business falls into is building a product or service in search of an audience— this is backwards," said Kohler. "Listening allows you to deliver a solution that matches your product or service, its delivery and your communication to the needs of your target customer base."

Building trust

If you want someone to buy from you, that person needs to trust your brand. But authentic, lasting trust "cannot be built with a Facebook ad or a 30-second commercial," said Adam Jackson, founder of 360 Privacy.

"Trust comes from spending real time with potential customers or referral sources and demonstrating how your product will improve their lives," he added.

Jackson noted that finding the time to do this was challenging for his company, but it was critical to establishing traction.

[Read: Gaining Customer Traction: 5 Steps to Customer Growth]

Gaining exposure and spreading the word

While many startups tout the value of word-of-mouth, you actually need to get the word out first before you can start gaining traction from referrals.

"No matter how innovative your product is, customers can't buy it unless they know about it," explained Megan Pierson, senior vice president of business development at POLYWOOD.

Small businesses must make the most of limited resources to successfully market their product or service, Pierson added.

No matter how innovative your product is, customers can't buy it unless they know about it.

Megan Pierson, senior vice president of business development at POLYWOOD

How to build traction for your new product or service

If you're launching a new product or service, focus on these four strategies to maximize your customer traction.

Create and test engaging social media content

Developing social media content that resonates with your target audience is a great way to gain customer traction. William Gaunitz, WTS and founder of Advanced Trichology, recommends creating free informational content, such as YouTube videos, that can be shared with your target audience.

Rather than taking a scattershot approach, Gaunitz said it's best to commit to a particular message and test it socially until it gets traction.

"Trial-and-error testing in small batches is key to quickly getting customers," said Gaunitz. "For example, if you have a Facebook ad that requires you to collect an email or get someone to click a link, you can run small tests and calculate conversion rates with different ads until you connect with the click-through rate or acquisition rate that you’re looking for. Once you achieve that, you can scale from there."

Go where your customers are 'hanging out'

The best marketing campaign won't gain traction if your customers don't spend time on that platform. To make the most of your efforts, Pierson recommends figuring out where and how your ideal customer likes to shop, giving you the best chance of getting your product or service in front of them.

Get feedback from your existing customers

In addition to potential customers, talking to current customers can provide valuable feedback regarding your product or service. Online surveys, Zoom meetings and even observations can help you better understand your customers' needs, said Kohler. Once you've received this feedback, analyze the results and adjust your offerings accordingly.

"It is always obvious to customers which businesses do their homework and keep doing it," added Kohler.

[Read: How to Conduct Customer Interviews and Focus Groups]

Focus on customer retention and referrals

According to Pierson, "a happy customer is the best source of advertising." Not only are they more likely to buy from you again and remain loyal, but they are also more likely to recommend your product or service to others. This word-of-mouth marketing can be a powerful tool for building traction for your company.

"The best and most successful companies are the ones that their customers like to do business with," Kohler added. "Superior brand experience will help you to develop brand advocates."

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