Turning Your First 5 Customers Into 50 [Video]

Highlights from a talk at the Digital Freedom Festival in Riga, Latvia

I just got back from Riga, Latvia, where I met and spoke in front of an amazing group of founders about growing their startups.  

I’m always super appreciative when I’m invited to speak at a conference like this, as startup founders are some of my favorite people in the world.  They’re driven, passionate and working really hard to get their businesses rolling.  

One of my goals is to help founders by equipping them with the tools they need to grow.  I don't mean helping handing them sales productivity software, either.  While sales software is great for larger companies, most founders just aren’t there yet.  Instead, what founders need to start growing their customers is to really understand who their customers are.  They need to figure out what their customers want, how they buy things and how to reach them.  Eventually, they need to build a team of people that can sell to that buyer profile.  Until you truly understand your customer and your sales process, after all, sales software isn’t going to be very helpful for you. 



Here are a few thoughts from my talk linked above:

Pinpoint Your Buyer

Most people think they know their customer, but do you have your ideal customer profile written down?  If not, do it!

Jot down the characteristics of all of your top customers.  Where are they located?  How many employees do they have?  How much money do they spend on software?  

As you start to see similarities in your buyers, you’ll start to get a better idea of who you need to go after.  For example, if you’re selling to a handful of small tech companies around Riga, you could move through Eastern Europe city-by-city, selling to similar-sized businesses.


Interview Your Buyer

You’ve probably done a handful of product interviews to figure out what your users need.  However, the same process doesn’t translate to a buyer interview.  

In addition to figuring out how your users use products, you want to understand how your buyers buy products.  

Ask as many questions as you can.  If you find out that your customer recently bought CRM, ask them:

  • Who was responsible for that purchase?

  • How many people were involved?

  • How did that deal come together?

The more information you can get from your buyer, the better off you’re going to be.


Build Your Process Around Theirs

You might have a sales process in place already, but comparing it to your buyer’s process will probably show you that the steps don’t align.  I’ve seen a number of security startups, for example, that are used to validating their software right before closing the deal.  

While this might work fine if you’re selling to other small companies, this process probably won’t translate to larger, Series-A companies.  Big companies usually want to validate the technology as soon as they can to make sure they don’t waste any time.  If you plan to sell to big companies, then, you’ll need to re-align your process to keep deals moving down the funnel. 


Make Sure Your Customers Love You

Bad customer experience kills startups.  If your buyers aren’t happy, they’re obviously not going to grow their budget with you. 

Your first five customers should be your best friends.  You want to make sure that they’re using the product to its full potential and that everyone in the company understands the value you bring.  Bring cookies to the office, teach everyone how to use it and take notes on how you can improve the product before renewal time comes.  


Master the Sales Process Before You Hire

If you don’t have fifty customers yet, don’t go out and hire today.  Instead, start trying to identify the type of people you’ll need on-board.  Once you know your customer’s buying process, you start to get an idea for the type of person you need to hire.  They should understand (or have the ability to learn) the process that your buyer goes through.  

If technical validation is a step, for example, you’re going to need a team that understands that role.  You’ll want someone with a background in tech that is confident moving through that step of the buying process.  

Again, don’t hire anybody until you have a really strong grasp on what happens during the buying process.  The more experience you have selling the product yourself, the better off you’ll be when hiring someone to sell for you.


If It Doesn’t Fit, Move On

It can be super tempting for startups to get in on bad deals with huge companies just because you want their logo on your website.  After all, who doesn’t want to tell their parents that they just sold software to Coca-Cola.  If Coke doesn’t fit your ideal customer profile, though, you might end up doing more harm than good to your company.  They might be too big, leaving you with a boatload of technical problems to deal with.  They may also just have the wrong use-case or process, putting you in a position where you’re striving to meet the needs of a customer that isn’t even using your product as intended.

In order to grow from five customers to fifty, you have to be able to distinguish the right buyers from the wrong ones.  There are people out there right now looking for your product, and hammering down on finding them will put your startup in a more sustainable place.  

Ryan Williams