As a startup prepares for launch, the question on every founder’s mind (and investor’s lips) is “Where am I going to get the first few customers who will actually pay for this product?” Even with an innovative business concept, solid marketing plan, and abundant PR and advertising activity, the task of winning those first customers can be daunting. Your early customers are critical to the ultimate success of your business because they validate your offering and the market need, provide valuable feedback to help improve your product, and supply real testimonials that prove invaluable in PR and marketing campaigns.

In my experience with startups local.ch, Memonic and now Squirro, I’ve found that there are three key steps to laying the groundwork for those first sales.

1. Get off the bandwagon.

While creating a completely new market is too time-consuming and expensive for a startup, you need to find the gaps in the current market and take one step to the left or right, based on what you do well. That way, instead of being slightly differentiated in a crowded market, you can dominate with a specific niche or expertise. After launching Memonic in 2009, we met head on with a now popular note-taking app. Outfunded but not outclassed, our team decided to take on a different focus with our new app, Squirro, the world’s first “digital research assistant,” designed specifically for business users. This enterprise focus is one that our previous competitor has expressly passed on, leaving a market segment that’s ripe for the picking.

2. Think outside of the box when it comes to resources.

A startup experience is a roller-coaster ride of failure and success, of feelings and passion, a mix of persistence and perseverance. It’s fun, it’s tough, it’s rough, it’s highly rewarding. Who do you want to have with you on that journey? The people who will be ready, passionate and knowledgeable enough to truly support you.  Recruiting and hiring the right people is, of course, essential, but you also need to build the right network. Outsourcing certain responsibilities can offer deeper experience with less risk and time. A strong network often translates to referrals for hires, honest feedback about product and strategy, advice for business plans, and introductions to potential service and solution partners.

3. Know your prospects before you’ve even met them.

Successful startups must be ready to connect with prospective customers at any time, via any channel, and always prepared to address their ever-changing needs.  In Aberdeen Group’s recently published “Sales Intelligence: What B2B Sellers Need to Know Before the Call” research study, Peter Ostrow details how Best-in-Class sales intelligence users are able to improve their overall sales team attainment of quota by 12.3%, retain 88% of customers and increase their average deal size by 8% year-over-year. By ensuring you have the latest news about contacts and prospects, you can transform those first “cold calls” into meaningful conversations, increasing the likelihood of a sale.

While there is no magic bullet to gaining those first few vital sales, carefully considering your market focus, resources and sales intelligence strategy can accelerate the process dramatically and improve overall outcomes.

Dr. Dorian Selz is the CEO and co-founder of Squirro, world’s first digital research app designed for business. He and his team began development of Squirro following Memonic, the award-winning, online note-taking app. Before that, he co-founded the Swiss search platform local.ch and was its CEO until December 2008. Squirro for sales and marketing is currently in beta phase. If you are interested in testing it out for your organization, visit http://squirro.com/ or contact Dorian directly at dorian@squirro.com.

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