You can have a good product idea, a great team, and even sufficient funding for your startup. But the most important ingredient for your startup’s success is sales. “If there are no sales happening in your startup, then your company is practically static,” said Kesava Reddy at the Sales For Startups event that took place on June 2, 2018, at NSCREL, IIM Bangalore.
If you are having trouble finding customers for your new startup, don’t get demotivated. Remember it’s not only about what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it as well. Just because you are not getting traction after a few sales pitches and creating a bit of content doesn’t mean your company is doomed to sink. Be smart. Figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t is a long journey. Mapping out the what, who, and how of your product, customer segment, and sale strategy takes time and effort. Here are five ways you can get a head start on finding your first 10 customers:
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Just because you’re the founder/CMO doesn’t mean you’re exempted from sales. This is especially applicable during the initial stages of your startup when you’re trying to reel in customers. First, you might not have any resources for marketing and a sales team. It’ll most likely be up to you to do all the selling. Second, it is crucial that you, as a founder, should sell. Why? Well, your startup is your baby, and who better to advocate for it than you? Only you can convey how much your startup means to you, and relate how much is at stake.
Third, remember that all buyers want is a fair deal. They don’t want you to rip them off. The only risk they are worried about is, “What if you shut down?” The only way you’ll get them to think otherwise is if they believe that your only lifeboat is your company. Only a Co-founder or a CTO can communicate these things to the buyer. So you better get to work! Simply put, there are no exceptions for co-founders to not be a part of the selling process.
You always need to keep in mind that you are a human selling to another human. Like any other human interaction, it all comes down to forming emotional connections. Sales are not just about selling, it’s about forming bonds. The ‘no sales mantra’ is one of the best ways for you to find long-term customers. Lalit Bhise, CEO, Mobisy Technologies Pvt Ltd, says, “It is not enough to have a product applicable to a customer, forming emotional connections is just as important.”
You always, always need to put your customers first. They are of the utmost priority, and your startup is primarily dependant on them. Give the customer what they want, not what you want to give them.
Listening skill: It is extremely essential to listen to your customers. Listening is not just hearing what the customer is saying, but also the ability to read between the lines. Get to know your customer’s nuances, from what they want to how much they can spend. Lalit Bhise warns that as an entrepreneur, you need to be extremely careful of listening bias. Throw away all your assumptions before meeting potential customers. A foolproof way to deal with listening bias is to take another listener along with you to the client meeting.
It’s all about solving customer problems: It might be a good strategy to not think of sales as ‘selling’, but as ‘problem solving’. Subramanyam Kasibhat, CEO, Vegam Solutions, says that the way his company deals with customers is at a strategy level, where it’s more about solutions than sales.
Marry your first customers: Your first customers are going to be your biggest learning experience. They are going to be the most important ones, and will ultimately decide your company’s fate. You need to be 100 percent committed to them. Remember, your first customer is like your partner-in-crime. They are as invested in your startup as you are. You both are in this together. So don’t just work for them, but work with them, says Deepesh Agarwal, Co-founder and CEO, MoveInSync. Also, be open to innovative feedback from customers. See what it feels like to walk in their shoes, suggests Sri Maneru, Co-Founder and CEO, Almabase.
Earn customer trust: You need to give your all and be ready to completely dive into the deep waters with your customers. This involves selling not just the product, but yourself to the client. This is the only way you can earn trust from your customers. Once they start to trust you, they’ll start referencing you to others, and you know the magic of reference in a B2B sector.
Be at your customer’s beck and call: A good sales strategy comes along with high-quality customer service. A 24/7 customer service will go a long way. Make sure to invest in good customer support, especially if you’re dealing with international sales. Make use of the Indian cost advantage and the fact that manpower is much cheaper here.
Customer-market fit: It is absolutely vital to find the right customer and the right market. You shouldn’t be looking for customers, but the right product-market fit. Choosing your first customer has to be a well-thought-out decision. Your goal should be to find a first customer who’ll financially support you and help you survive for the next three to four years. Focusing on the wrong market can cost you big time. Before thinking about how to get your first 10 customers, think about where to get your first 10 customers, comments Sri Maneru. He further expresses that as an entrepreneur, you need to understand your market as well as your customers more closely. From personal experience, he believes that it’s all worth it and pays off in the end.
Product-market fit: It’s also about finding the right product that’ll help you acquire many customers. It’s as simple as this – don’t chase customers, but find a product that will solve the problem of a large number of customers, and the clients will come running to you. This may be completely different from traditional sales, but it works, says Niraj Ranjan Rout, the Founder of Hiver.
Are you finding it difficult to find customers? It’s time to get rid of your binoculars and look at the people sitting next to you. Who can you count on to be your first customers? The answer is simple: your inner circle. You’ll more than likely get your first 10 customers through friends, network connections, contacts, and alumni. You can depend on them for their mentorship and trust. They believe in your passion and are willing to take a chance on you. Don’t be apprehensive to reach out to anyone and everyone in your network. You’d be surprised at the outcome. Even a receptionist or a data entry operator may be your way into a company client you are having trouble getting in touch with. Haven’t you heard, “If the door doesn’t open, try getting in through the window?”
Speaking of apprehension, don’t sell yourself short. After all, what can be the harm in trying to reel in the big companies? Who knows? It might just happen.
In retrospect, take charge as a founder when it comes to sales; create emotional connections with prospective customers; always think of your customers first; find the right product-customer-market fit; and, reach out to your network. It’s all about trial and error. Try out these sales hacks for yourself and let us know if they worked out for you.
Alisha Fathima is a content writing intern at NSRCEL IIM-B, the leading technology startup hub centre at IIM Bangalore.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)