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Sealing the Deal: Expert Strategies for Landing Your Startup’s First Customer

You’ve formed a company. You’ve built your product. You’ve validated the market and there has been early interest from a small number of potential clients.  

So what are the next steps? Sales in the startup. That’s the next step. It’s that time when you need to start selling. Now it’s the time to start getting customers. Your first paying customer.  

So let’s take a typical startup (I know..  there’s no such thing.. but bear with me):

  • You have a vague idea of how much you should charge for your product. In fact, if you have a firm idea, or you have spent hours on Excel working on varying permutations and pricing models – drop it, and keep an open mind.
  • Your core staff is working on developing the product and looking after early stage users.
  • Your leadership team has done a great job evangelising and promoting your business. Investors and perhaps government agencies have chipped in to fund the venture.  

Anything missing from the list?  Well, this is what we usually miss at this stage:

  • An actual product that could be used by paying customers (but that’s ok, we can sell products that provide enough, instead of everything).
  • Someone in the team who will be fully focussed on sales (which means not all the team can be working on product building, for a change).
  • The most basic marketing materials (because your website and wonderful CEO are enough.. nope).
  • A sales deck, a proposal template, or even some contract paperwork.

So how do you land your first customer? So let’s keep this simple(ish).  How do you start selling? Where do you start?

  • Don’t hire anyone to do sales yet. Founders and their teams should try to make the first sale(s) yourself. Founders should make the first sales before they bring in someone to do it (unless you have the good fortune of having a co-founder who has a background in sales, in which case — you are very lucky). You don’t have to be experienced in sales to get the ball rolling on your company’s first few sales, but give it a go.
  • Don’t distract yourself with tools and gadgets. You don’t need a CRM just yet, or marketing automation, or …anything. Don’t worry about that stuff for the moment. When you need it, address it. What’s that old saying about the cart before the horse). How many startups waste time and money getting all the processes and tools in place first.  Don’t get distracted.
  • Know who you are selling to, and what problems your product solves. (Well at this stage, I would hope that you are past this stage). But ask, how will they buy, what problem does your product solve, and what are the probable prices for your product.   These things can change as you start to gain traction, but you can’t start selling if you don’t have a particular kind of prospect in mind, and how it will help them. Again, this should go without saying.
  • Ask for referrals. Use your network. Tell your friends, family, associates, and colleagues. Tell everyone you know, professionally and otherwise, about your product. You can ask them to buy if you want to, but it may be better to just ask for referrals. Tell people about your product, what problems it solves, who is for, and ask if they know anyone that it might be a fit.

Your momma isn’t your test market, but you will probably know someone – who knows someone.

You might get a referral or two – and you will get practice selling to people. As long as you are selling – which is more about listening and asking questions, that it is telling.

  • Build a short list of ideal customers. Do you know who they are?  Create a list. You don’t need a CRM just yet, a spreadsheet will do. Email them, call them, visit them. Meet them and talk, and listen.  Because the more you interact with them, you will slowly realise that your ideal list will become a simple list of prospects.  Nothing ideal about them at all – simply entities who may or may not purchase your product.   
  • Do whatever it takes to win your first customer. There is nothing better than the feeling of bagging your first client, whether you have met them and clinched a deal or they visit your website and make a purchase. Be flexible with your first customers and do what it takes to win the deal. You need them more than they need you. Remember, they are also taking a risk on a new product in the market, so reduce the risks wherever you can to give them peace of mind, and your team sees the relationship work, and revenue roll in.  Remember, these early-stage customers are going to give you feedback, they are going to tell you that it isn’t quite perfect. So listen. Likewise, some early-stage customers will not contact you and tell you the problems they are experiencing. Some early clients will not find the time to tell you what is wrong – so keep in touch with them.  Contact them, and ask them how they are getting on.  

We’re not trying to oversimplify sales.

Sales is an art, and it’s a science, it requires tremendous skill and importantly resilience. As a salesperson, you will have to accept failures, no interest, criticism, and vulnerability. Far from the cocooned world of the startup in the stages of product development and fundraising.   

If you need help assessing your current sales scenario then contact us today.

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