(Part 1 of 2)
Do you know the difference between a startup idea and a startup company?
I’m not talking about the .1% of startups out there like Facebook or Instagram that raise millions of dollars in venture funds and build up a user base of millions of people before they need to make any money. I’m talking about the 99% of companies that bootstrap, raise 500K or less in investment dollars and have to figure out how to generate revenue in order to stay in business.
These early adopters are a very special breed and they are EVERYTHING to your business. They don’t need testimonials. They understand that errors will happen. They are patient, interested in your success, and most importantly, willing to pay you for your product or service. The number of early adopters you need may vary. If you sell a 100K product or service, you may only need one or two. If you sell something for $1, you may need hundreds or thousands to prove that the marketplace is interested in your product.
Early adopters are more commonly known as your first customers.
These are the five things you need to do to find your first customers:
1. Use every relationship you have
It’s hard enough to make cold calls, but it’s extremely difficult to sell new and innovative products and services through cold calls. You need to meet with people that have some connection to you, no matter how small.
When I started my first company, my clients were supposed to be businesses. I sat down and made a list of everyone I knew who owned a business and there were only five names on the list. This was very discouraging. But I decided to grow my list through existing relationships, so I met with almost everyone I knew who might have ties to the business community and I asked each of them to introduce me to five business owners. I was surprised at how willing people were to help. I quickly grew my list of prospects and even snagged a few early customers.
2. Stalk and Awe
There are always going to be potential customers that are totally out of your reach but would make an incredible early adopter. This is where I like to employ my signature “Stalk and Awe” campaign. First, I stalk them. Not the kind of stalking that’s an unwanted, obsessive intrusion on someone’s personal space that can get you arrested. I’m talking about a kind of stalking where you find multiple points of contact and references for your meeting. Find anyone and everyone who might have a connection to the person you want to meet and ask them for an introductory email or a warm up call. The harder this person is to reach, the more recommendations you will need. Next, send a letter of introduction and follow up with a call. Finally, find opportunities to attend events where they will be so that you can “run” into them. Networking and business events only. I’m not suggesting you crash a wedding or join their gym.
If the first part of the campaign works, and you actually get a meeting, you now have to Awe them. Do a lot of research on the potential problems in their business. Spend the first half of the meeting just asking them questions about potential pain points, and try to offer something of value completely independent of your business. If you bring enough value to the table, and awe them, they will be a lot more interested in you and your company.
3. Accentuate the Positive
When you are talking to potential customers, they might have all sorts of questions that don’t have great answers. How many other customers do you have? How long have you been in business?
Try to answer their questions by accentuating the positive about your company. How many other customers do I have? That number isn’t as important as the fact that of everyone that’s tried our product or service, 95% would recommend it to their friends.
How long have I been in business? I have years of experience in this market segment, but I recently chose the opportunity to bring the same quality service that I offered through such and such big company at a much lower rate.
4. Create Partnerships for Credibility
No one has ever heard of your startup. You have zero brand credibility. So why not use the credibility of an existing trusted brand to get your first customers? Find a group or a person that your target customers trust. This could be someone that is already providing them with services or just a well-known name. Offer this potential partner a percentage of certain kinds of revenue. Offer them a sponsorship agreement. Offer to let them be a customer for a significantly discounted rate in exchange for a public endorsement.
5. Become an expert
When you don’t have a track record of happy customers the next best thing is expertise in your chosen domain. If you can get your early customers to trust you as a knowledgeable resource in your subject area, they will buy from you. The key here is not to fake it – before you start proving your expertise, you have to actually develop it.
Once you’ve developed your expertise, you can express it through any media resource. You can tweet, facebook, blog, guest blog, etc, to get your message out. You can write a white paper and email it to your target clients. You can put together a “lunch and learn” seminar and invite your prospects to learn about your subject area.
There are many ways to prove expertise in a particular area, but it is very important to fight the urge to spend all of your communications trying to sell your company. Use your platforms to try to help people and your first customers will follow.
First customers breathe life into your startup. Now that you know the five things you must do to find them, I’ll caution you against doing anything and everything to please them. In fact, in my next post I’ll cover the three things you should never do to sign up your first customers.