EP. 7: How to pick the best acquisition channels

by | Jun 11, 2020 | Marketing, Podcast, SaaS

Understanding your acquisition channels is key to growing your business, but convoluted terminology, different strategies, and numerous channels it can be hard to know where to focus your efforts.

In this episode of In Demand, Asia Orangio of DemandMaven breaks down the basics of acquisition channels, from overviewing different types of channels to a general and specific strategy for maximizing your use of acquisition channels to grow your business!

Extra Resources

  • none this time~


  • Let’s break down a channel really quick because it so often gets confused with a strategy or a medium or content-type.
    • A channel is how you gain access to a prospect (or how the prospect accesses you)
      • Online channels, for example, are often directly tied to the traffic they generate for you, so this is often paid search, direct traffic, organic search, paid social, email, social traffic, and referral traffic
      • Then there’s offline channels — conferences, billboards, direct mail, television (although some would argue these are online as well) and so on.
    • A medium, however, is usually what you’re offering to them. For example, a postcard that gets sent through the mail channel. Mail is the channel, but the postcard is the medium. Another example is the blog. The blog is really the medium, but it gets traffic through a number of online channels: your articles could rank for search, paid search, and so on.
    • Your acquisition strategy is usually some mix of both channels and mediums, and when you get really advanced, you’ll start layering on specific growth strategies over time (such as product marketing or community-building as a sub-strategy within an overarching strategy).
  • But let’s bring it back to channels:
    • The channels you choose are the channels that are most likely to attract and win your best paying customer.
    • I’m going to say that again: the channels you choose are the channels that are most likely to attract and win your best paying customer
    • The emphasis is on the customer, here.
    • How do you find out?
      • There’s three ways:
        • Ask your customers!
        • Map their journey!
        • Do your own research!
  • Channels to try despite what I just said:
    • Paid search — are people actively searching for a solution to their problem that you can pay for?
    • Paid social — can you get the attention of someone looking for a solution to a problem they already have, or don’t yet know they have?
    • Organic search — are people actively searching for a solution to their problem?
  • Aim for a balanced mix and diversification over time
    • You’ll double-down on what works — let’s say paid search for example is the first channel that works for you
    • Sometimes, a channel goes haywire and implodes. A great example is actually because for example, search could suddenly die because of some event that’s way outside of your control.


What’s up Founders. Welcome back to another episode of the in demand podcast, where we talk all about how to get to your very first 100 K and MRR. I’m your host Asia. And I’m over at DemandMaven where we work with early stage founders on reaching those exact very first growth milestones. Today. We’re going to chat all about how to choose the absolute best acquisition channels for your audience, for the target market, for your customers. This is really going to be the masterclass. This is we’re going to break down every single part of what a channel even is, how it actually tears up to an overarching strategy all the way down to, well, how do we just actually pick the best channels? Well, let’s break down a channel really quick because I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page.

It so often gets confused with strategy and with content mediums and content types in general, many people, whenever they talk about channels, they think of them as synonymously as strategy. So for example, we’re going to double down on paid search and sometimes that feels and sounds like a strategy. And in some cases it certainly could be. But I actually find that a strategy is really more of the overarching vision. In addition to the steps that you need to take to get you to the goal paid search is really just one part of the overall puzzle of the acquisition strategy, but let’s, let’s dig a little bit deeper into what I mean when I say channels specifically, a channel is really how you gain access to a prospect or how the prospect accesses you. So for example, there’s online channels and there’s offline channels online would be, it’s typically directly tied to some form of traffic.

That seems to be the unit, that most of the internet currently uses. We measure our online channels by how much traffic we’re able to generate, how much impressions or, um, visibility or awareness if you will. And then we get down into, well, how many conversions do we generate from the traffic that we got from a specific channel examples of online channels? Actually, I think Google’s breakdown is, is pretty synonymous with what we’re going to be chatting about today. And it’s extremely common. So I find that all of the big players, at least in the, just the online marketing space, they seem to use the same overarching buckets if you will, but they are paid search direct traffic, organic search, paid social emails, social traffic, referral traffic, and then there’s depending on the platform or product that you’re using. So for example, HubSpot, maybe versus Google analytics, there might be a few different in between then there’s offline channels, offline channels.

These are the more traditional marketing channels. I think that we’re all pretty familiar with, but those include conferences, billboards, direct mail television. Although some people would actually argue that television is now more online and then than anything. And if you would consider YouTube to be television, then YouTube is technically online. So now we’re kind of crossing the, the barriers already. So those are some examples of some channels, but oftentimes I find that a lot of people actually confuse them or at least blend them with the medium upon which you’re actually distributing information or, uh, doing the marketing. So for example, a medium, it’s really what you’re offering to the audience. Typically another word for this as content. But I actually think that content can feel a little bit confusing, especially when you don’t directly identify content as content. So I find that medium, I think does a pretty good job of explaining, well, this is what we’re actually pushing or pulling through these channels.

For example, a postcard that gets sent through the mail. Well, the mail is really the channel. That’s, that’s the actual access point upon which you’re, you’re pushing something through. But the thing that you’re pushing through is, is the actual postcard. The postcard is the medium in this case. So mail is the channel, but the postcard is the medium. Another example that gets, it definitely gets, uh, uh, it blends pretty quickly, pretty fast. Uh, but the blog is another interesting example. So the blog is actually a medium, many people would actually consider the blog to be the channel, but actually completely disagree. It’s it’s really the traffic that you get to the blog. That’s really where channels come into play. But the blog itself, it’s, it’s the content, it’s the medium. You could technically get traffic in through many other different means other than a blog.

It just so happens that the blog is one of the most effective mediums for the channels that you actually want to acquire traffic through, but you could technically promote your blog through paid social. You could, uh, potentially do paid search and ideally, most everyone wants this, but everyone really wants to rank organically for the content that they produce, but organic searches the channel here, and the blog is really the medium. When it comes to your acquisition strategy, you’re really looking at a mix of both channels and mediums. It’s actually really hard to invest in a channel without also thinking or contemplating about the content or the media that you’re actually going to push through the particular channel. And when you get really advanced, you’ll start layering on specific growth strategies over time. So for example, you might have an overarching acquisition strategy, but within your strategy, you actually might decide to leverage product marketing as part of your strategy or content marketing or inbound as part of your strategy.

This also includes things like community building. It could really a, I hate to say run the gamut, but when it comes to building an overarching acquisition strategy, many of us start pretty basic. We start really by just focusing on channels. And then we start layering on even more strategic, uh, uh, growth practices or strategies over time that really encompass many different channels, but let’s bring it back to the actual channels. The channels that you choose are the channels that are most likely to attract and win your best customer. I’m going to say that one more time for those in the back, the channels that you choose are the channels that are most likely to attract and win your best paying customer. The emphasis is on the customer here. We’re not necessarily going to choose channels that don’t have a very good chance of driving actual paying customers for us, even more specifically, the paying customer part.

What we don’t even really want to do is just generate a bunch of leads that have no intent to buy. Aren’t going to stay, are likely going to churn. These would be channels that we would likely want to avoid. And even more specifically, the mediums and those channels are really the things that we want to avoid, but that’s not to say however, that all channels are always available to us. And at the same exact time, we should only focus on really specific ones. It’s just really much more depending on where you’re at in your journey, which channels or what kinds of channels are just most likely to net a positive outcome for you. In that case, it would be the best paying customer, but we’re also just not going to waste our time with channels that will literally never do that for us. It just would not make sense.

It would be like burning cash in the front yard, right. That part might seem kind of obvious. So how do you find out how do you figure out what are the absolute best acquisition channels for you at your stage at this time, there’s actually really three ways to figure out your absolute best acquisition channels. So the first way is to actually just ask your customers. Now the misconception here is that, uh, you’re just going walk up to your customer and say like, Hey, what channel did you use to find my product? And that would not necessarily be the best way, unless of course you were talking to marketers, in which case most marketers would be able to tell you exactly what channels they used. But if you are not marketing to marketer, then you’re likely going to ask questions about how they discovered you, how they heard out, how they heard about you, and if it’s really more of a self fulfilling prophecy.

So for example, maybe you prospected the customer, not. So they found you and they’re just going to say, well, you reached out to me then another way to approach it would actually be to ask questions about how they would search for a product that did something similar to what you do, or what would their first step be. Another way to think about this would be well, if they’re online, what channels are they currently leveraging? For? What reasons are they learning more about their industry in any kind of way? Where are they going? Do they like Facebook groups? Are they Facebook people, are they Instagram? People are, they live on LinkedIn? These are all different channels that you can ask just about just generally, but then also you can ask them about their own behavior. And from there reverse engineer with the channels might, could be if they were looking for a solution, the second way is, is really tied to the customer research part, but it’s also about mapping their customer journey.

So the second way to figure out what the best channels would also be to actually map out their journey, especially if it was not a sales journey. So if, if you acquired paying customers through non sales channels, what you could do is you could actually interview those customers and actually ask them, what was your process? How did you even figure out that you needed something like this and you might actually hear different kinds of stories like, well, I was really struggling with this problem. I did my research on it. Okay. Well, what kind of like, how did you do your research? Well, I Googled it. Okay, awesome. What did you Google? Do you remember what you searched for? You’ll be surprised and amazed at what the actual journey is. Whenever you pry a little bit deeper, you dig a little bit deeper and you ask them specific questions about how they even figured out that they had a problem, but usually the customer journey is a great way.

Speaker 1: (10:21)
Not only to see or to suss out like what those potential channels would be, but also what kinds of content or mediums, if you will, what kinds of content would you need to produce and put in front of them as you’re nurturing them along the cycle? Okay. The third way to figure out the best acquisition channels would actually be to do your own research. Now, this is something that I do like to combine with actual customer research, meaning I’m talking to the customer, I’m asking them questions, but then we can also technically do our own research outside of the customer. Meaning we really go and we look at well, what is the market saying as a whole about either this problem or what are some places that are talking about this problem? Or maybe people who might be together, who we think are good paying customers, but maybe they are coming together in a way that we just need to find first.

So communities are a great example of this. Uh, another way I like to do research is actually to go and figure out, like, what are the top books on that particular industry market sub topic theme? Let’s say you are in the recruiting space, who are the thought leaders in the recruiting space. And even more specifically in specific kinds of recruiting, um, who like, what are the best books about headhunting? Who’s talking about this, where are some potential places that these people could be just congregating in general, whether online or offline, this could also be associations. That’s going to be conferences. It really just depends on your product and the market that you’re in, but this is where we can start to do our own research. And we can kind of figure out, who’s talking about something similar. Who’s talking about maybe the same problems or similar problems.

And also are there influencers in the space? Are there people who we can really look to? So doing your own research is a third way that you can find your acquisition channels. But what I find is that with research, you’re still kind of in a vacuum, you’re still kind of in a bubble just a little bit. Sometimes you can totally nail this and everything that you hear from customers is pretty synonymous with the work and the effort that you already put into it. But what I find is it’s best when it’s combined, because sometimes you can do your own research and you really follow your own biases and your own instinct on things, which is usually pretty correct. What I find is you also just might naturally go down a rabbit hole that has very little to do with what your customer’s actually doing, which is extremely possible, and definitely combine the two you want ideas for, for sure.

And you want places to be able to tap whenever you run out of ideas from just what your customers say, but you also just want to make sure that you confirm what you found with actual real customer evidence, because the customer is, is truly going to be your best source of where to find more of them. But some of you are out there kind of thinking, okay, that’s cool. Maybe we’ve done the customer research, but are there just any channels that we should just absolutely be thinking about no matter what, and this is where usually nine times out of 10, I would say, yes, there’s absolutely three channels that I can think of that you are going to want to test, regardless of whether or not you, uh, think that these are viable channels. The biggest differentiator, however, is some of these channels are going to be cost effective.

And some of them are not going to be as cost effective for you. And many times more often than not actually find that these three channels that I will absolutely discuss in just a second. But these three channels I find their performance really depends on your understanding of the customer. What I typically find with early stage businesses is they might not be as dialed into the customer journey and the problem that their product is solving for that customer. It’s actually very common in terms of you’ve got this product. It does a wonderful job of a very specific thing, but you might not fully understand what the real pain is that your product is solving for your customers. And on top of that, sometimes you might not even know who the best customers are. I find that when you’re in that situation, certain channels just aren’t going to be effective period.

And especially these three, but if you have a pretty good understanding of the journey, if you have a pretty strong understanding of the pain that you’re solving for your customers, and you have a very strong indicator of exactly what kinds of customers you’re hoping to attract, then these channels are absolutely viable places to start after that. It really comes down to your pricing model actually, because not all of these channels are going to be super cost effective and some are going to be slower than others, but let’s dig into the three. The first is paid search. This is more commonly known as AdWords, but basically it’s any platform that you can pay to show up as a result for anyone who is searching for something. Another example that’s very commonly, used at least in the early days are solutions like Capterra, G2 crowd, basically any directory or place where someone is searching for a solution to something you can pay to surface as a result.

Another example in some people kind of consider Quora to be in this and to be in this bucket. But Quora kind of fits this as well, especially for people looking at asking questions and looking for solutions, but paid search. I would say AdWords is probably the most common and the most popular. It can also, depending on your business and of course your pricing model, it could be one of the most lucrative just depending on the market that you’re in, because anyone who is actively searching for a solution or a solution to their pain, they want to fix their problem. And your product does that. You can just pay to just, you know, obviously like be the top result, depending on how much your product is currently charging. However, so depending on your pricing model, this may or may not be the best. It just completely depends again, on what that pricing model is.

And then even more importantly with the customer lifetime value is because if it costs more to generate leads, then longterm probably not the best solution, but in the short term, it will absolutely, uh, be a way to test ideas, to be a way to test what kinds of queries are currently out there. This will also give you an early indicator of what kind of organic search traffic you can possibly rank for. But the thing about paid is that if it doesn’t scale, it’s probably okay in the beginning, as long as you learn as much as possible. And if it does scale then awesome, double down on it, put that egg in your basket and keep it moving. And paid searches is amazing. It’s almost always where we test ideas and if it nets out, it is something that is very lucrative for the business. And of course, it’s a channel that we continue to expand. So we continue to optimize on and we continue to test on

After paid search is organic search actually mentioned organic search earlier, but you know, this is the more typical channel that is, instead of paying to be at the top result, you just rank for it organically. So someone goes into Google, they’re typing in. I want to see the top project management software in, you know, whatever the world I don’t know. Um, but show me the top 10 project management systems out there that do this, this and this, or for small businesses or whatever, you could absolutely pay money to be that number one search result. And it would probably be pretty expensive. It might be like, I don’t know, $20, $30 a click maybe, which is incredibly expensive, but let’s say you actually ranked for that instead. Well, that’s free traffic. In theory, you might have spent money to create the content, but if you were to think about how much traffic you would get after that, how many leads you’d potentially get out of that your cost per lead actually drives down significantly compared to doing something like a paid search.

The big question, however, is are people actually searching for queries or things directly related to the problem or the pain that you’re solving for people? It’s more specifically that your product is solving for people? What I find is with organic search, you really have to balance very bottom of the funnel or high intent keywords, meaning this is something pretty closely related to what your product actually does versus maybe a more top of the funnel. Overall general awareness kinds of content or general awareness kinds of keywords, the other consideration. And this is a very common one, but what I find is doubling down on a channel like organic search, it does imply that people are actively searching for something related to what you’re solving for people, or it just is what you’re solving for people. But the other part is that it usually is a longer term strategy.

You can absolutely get short term results. I think a great example of this is what a Benji and Devesh are doing over at Grow and Convert. They are able to help generate traffic organically search wise, even within like the first two to three months of producing content. But what I find is it’s actually really rare for businesses to double down on that so early, because of how longterm that strategy is not to say that it’s bad. I actually think it’s hands down. One of the best channels you can possibly invest in because not only do the results compound over time, and if you understand how investments work search, it’s one of those things that compounds over time, you get enough articles over time ranking, uh, just for traffic in general, on Google top page, whatever top 10 results. Those are things that will carry you for sometimes years and help you get to traffic amounts that most businesses take like five to 10 years to get to period.

So I love organic search. I think it’s great. But sometimes though, when you need faster results, I find organic search is one of those things that it’s a, it’s a longterm investment and you should treat it that way. You should think about it that way. It’s definitely not something that can turn over your net free trial volume overnight. It’s definitely something to invest in. It’s definitely something to take your time, uh, and to, and to really put some effort into it. It’s just not something that is a fleeting. Uh, and if you treat it that way, it will perform that way. That’s another thing as well. And that’s true for pretty much every single channel, but should you be creating some kind of content or be thinking about organic search in some kind of way? Yes, there’s, it’s just so rare that I find a business that doesn’t have to think about this.

So normally I would say, you know, let’s make sure that it’s something that our customers are thinking about, but nine times out of 10, probably honestly, 10 times out of 10, you’re going to be thinking about organic search and some kind of way. It might not be something that you focus on right now. It might be something that you invest in later, but I find that when founders do invest in it early on, and they’re pretty confident about the level of product market fit that they have. That’s usually when organic search overall the investment, it really pays off in like the next year or two. And that’s something that I find most founders pretty much never regret. It’s very, very rare for a founder to regret investing in organic search when they do have very strong product market fit. And it is very clear at least what the journey is when it’s not clear when the product market fit is not very strong.

When people aren’t even really thinking about the problem, they don’t really care about it. That’s kind of when it takes much longer time or getting searched, probably isn’t something that’s going to happen or produce positive results soon and obviously we, we hear a different story. Okay. The third channel it’s paid social. Actually. I never thought that I would ever say this, but paid social is actually something that I find can actually generate some pretty incredible results if, and only if you have a very strong understanding of the customer journey and also you’ve got to, you’ve got a pretty dialed in understanding of what’s the right kind of content to promote. And also maybe what’s the right kind of offer when I say paid social. I mean, leveraging things like Facebook ads, Instagram ads, even technically LinkedIn, uh, those are the top three. Oh, I guess Twitter as well.

That’s funny. I never think about Twitter, but anyway, not, not in the paid way. At least I find organic Twitter is usually far better, but paid social is actually something that I would recommend testing, but purely because you get to test different parts of your funnel and you also get to leverage some of Facebook’s just incredibly creepy, but also pretty accurate algorithms paid social is tricky because even if you’re B to B, like yes, you can absolutely see the results from paid social. In fact, I actually find that, you know, between B2B and B to C, I find e-commerce and BDC overall, it tends to be faster. You tend to be more dialed into a very specific conversion rate because we’re assuming you’re not selling sass, but if you’re B2B and you’re selling SAAS, you can absolutely see results from paid social. It’s just much more likely though that you’re either looking at a direct acquisition cost, which is probably pretty comparable to what you’re currently paying for paid search.

But the other part is that you’re, it’s easier to test content ideas actually, and in content ideally should be mapped to different parts of your funnel. So I actually find that in testing different content ideas, you can also test different parts of your funnel. Sometimes a lot of businesses get hung up on, well, should we be doing webinars? Should we be writing articles? What kind of articles should they be interviewed? Should they be this blah, blah, blah. You can, well, one leverage customer research to figure all that out, honestly. But the second part is when you do have an idea or a set of ideas that you want to test, you can use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, wherever you think your people are most likely to be. Although I would, I would error on the side of almost everyone is on Facebook and if they’re not on Facebook there, they might be on Instagram.

And even then, those are probably your top two period, LinkedIn and Twitter. And I think it depends, but at least for a, from a Facebook perspective, I find most businesses are testing that out in some kind of capacity. And I think it’s still worth testing in general. Most of the world is on it for one but two. I just find that you’re able to learn pretty quickly, not just targeting, but you’re able to test different parts of your funnel pretty fast. And the same thing is true for if you wanted to promote a webinar versus maybe say, um, uh, like maybe you wanted to promote your community or what have you. You’re able to figure that out pretty quickly on Facebook. I find the only times where I find Facebook is just not a great idea is when you are looking at enterprise kind of deal sizes, um, in which case sales is always going to be your best channel in your best effort anyway, but then also the other, the other case would where Facebook probably wouldn’t make the most sense would be for those who expect freemium now direct acquisition, Facebook ads.

This is kind of where it really just depends on your model, your market, all of those wonderful go to market things. But overall though, pretty much everyone can do retargeting on Facebook. I think that even then, that’s probably still a pretty safe bet. Those are the three channels. So we’re looking at paid search, organic search and paid social. Those are the top three channels. Now the fourth channel, and this is really something that everyone experiences, I would be shocked if you didn’t, it would mean that you wouldn’t be online, but direct traffic in general. It’s one of those channels. That’s like, okay. Yeah. Like we expect to get direct traffic, but it is something to be measuring as well. The increase in direct traffic is usually an indicator of an increase in word of mouth. That is not always the case. In fact, there’s a lot of debate about how to actually measure word of mouth, but direct traffic is typically an indicator of people literally typing in your website, address into the search bar or into the address bar and directly go into your website from there.

So we can assume that if people know your brand well enough to know your website or to know your domain name or what have you, then, then we can count that as word of mouth. Now, of course, we can’t always count that as word of mouth. Cause some, you know, channels kind of get convoluted a little bit. Some people see your ad on Facebook, see the domain and then go to a new tab and then directly type it in. And like, how do you attribute that? Can you, yeah, that’s kind of where it gets into, um, you know, like fuzzy gray area. But what we can say is the fourth channel that should definitely be ideally increasing over time is of course direct traffic. But the way that we increase that is of course, through doing any kind of awareness, building marketing or acquisition. And then of course building relationships, networking, those are all things that contribute.

I’m going to leave you with this last little tidbit. Your goal is to aim for a balanced mix and diversification of your channels over time. One thing that you will hear a lot, especially in the early days is to find what works and double down on it. And I completely agree. I don’t, I don’t want to, um, uh, I don’t disagree with that actually at all. But what I will say is you do want to diversify your portfolio over time. Diversification is important, not just in investment is it’s important in marketing too, because something that is also very true about markets in general and the world is that certain channels can fluctuate over time. And I think, especially in the case of like, you know, COVID-19, depending on the market that you were in, you might have seen your search traffic completely tank, you end up seeing your traffic tank in general and others explode.

And this is kind of why it’s so important to say like, well, yes, like we figured out what worked in the beginning, we’ve diversified over time. We’ve expanded our channels over time. So that way, if any, one of them goes down for reasons beyond our control, maybe a competitor does a very big thing in the market or maybe something happens. The market in general, GDPR is another example of this, like GDPR heavily impacted certain industries. I mean, there are all kinds of things that can happen to your industry, to your market, to your product. Even it’s important to have different ways of acquiring customers. And that’s exactly why, because one can just suddenly die. It seems like overnight sometimes. And I think in the case of the pandemic, that was definitely true. And then other channels can skyrocket over time. Referral traffic is something that I didn’t talk about today, but that’s a channel that depending on your industry or your market could actually be one of your absolute best ones.

It just depends on, uh, obviously like what you’re building and what you’re doing. But over time you want to diversify your channels. And also, I mean, paid search and paid social things like that. Um, those really overarching categories, there’s all kinds of channels in each of those categories. And not that your attention deserves all of them, but it’s still important to test different ones over time, especially as your market shifts and as they change, as they expand, you’ll find that you acquire different kinds of customers who are also great customers, figuring out what their acquisition strategies should be or what their channels are. You’ll be amazed at what you learn or just discover over time. Anyway, I hope that was helpful. Thank you so much for listening today. Let me know if you learn to think today, let me know how this helped. I always love hearing from you guys and also let me know what questions you have, what didn’t I cover? What would you like to dig deeper into next? Don’t hesitate to reach out, via email or leave Twitter, always, uh, you know, just excited to hear feedback overall. Thank you so much again, have an awesome day.