In the modern IT jungle of today, when the startup market is almost oversaturated, it is very difficult operating as one, especially if it is a B2B startup.
You are tasked with finding a way to convince multiple decision-makers within a company that your product is the superior solution to a pain point they may have.
There are numerous sales strategies that one can apply to their business to do this.
Read about the strategies we suggest you implement to get your first customer, and then your 10th, 100th and 1000th customer as a B2B startup.
But, have in mind that the scale of activities will vary depending on your niche, and whether you are targeting SMB, MM or Enterprise. Getting your 20th enterprise client could actually require the same resources as getting your 1000th SMB customer.
You will start figuring out the best direction to take for your individual situation once you start selling your product or services.
Take note of the fact that I say “you”. One of the biggest sales mistakes startups make is hiring a professional salesperson right away.
At first, you should do sales yourself.
It is your product, no one knows it as well as you do, and no one is motivated to sell it as you are. If you can’t sell it to anyone, I doubt anyone can.
In addition, having sold your product yourself means that you can set realistic targets for the salespeople you hire later and manage them effectively.
Now, the sales process gets easier as you move along different stages, but in the beginning, figuring out which direction to head in is quite challenging.
Table of Contents
When is a startup ready to start selling?
The answer is: as soon as you have certain things ready. Before you start selling, make sure that you have prepared the following.
Ideal customer profile and buying persona
1. Craft your messaging
Before you do anything regarding your sales and marketing, make sure you know who you are and which companies should be buying from you.
We mentioned this several times before in our blogs, but this is such an important first step that can make or break your sales and marketing efforts.
Don’t think any company would buy from you and don’t try to sell to everyone.
Think about their daily responsibilities and how you can help them do a better job than they’re doing now.
Then, craft your email thread (introduction email and follow up emails) that will present your solution as an answer to their troubles.
For example, you have a software that can automate sales – tell them how you can save their money and time with the easy-to-learn and manage solution.
Don’t talk about the features of your product!
Focus on the benefits that your potential customer would have if they decide to purchase.
Try to be as concise as possible and try to implement that message into the very first sentence or subject line of your email, call or a meeting. Ok maybe say „Hello, how are you?“ before that.
2. Create your ideal customer profile and buying persona
When determining your Ideal Customer Profile you should look into the revenue of the company, the number of employees, type of product or service they’re selling and a goal that they have, that your solution can help them achieve.
If you are completely out of ideas about what these companies might be, look at the customer profile of your competitors. Which companies are buying from them? Can you target those companies as well and offer a better price or a service?
If there are no competitors and your product is innovative, search for companies that could use your solution and that could achieve their goals quicker and faster with your solution at hand.
Then determine your Buying Persona i.e. job title and description whose opinion is the most relevant in the purchasing process.
Do some research on the web (social media and websites like Reddit and Quora) to see what the biggest pain points and goals of those companies and decision makers are.
Be careful, as there are going to be several of them in bigger companies.
Find the decision maker(s) inside that company that you should reach out to and explain why your solution is good for them.
However, not all C-level people and VPs benefit from your product or service, so make sure you know who is the right person. Also, not all companies have the same organizational structure so you should definitely do a little research about whether the manager is the decision maker, as well.
Do you have any contacts working in companies that may buy your product? Check if they are the decision makers. If not, ask your contacts to introduce you to a decision maker or two inside that company.
Truth be told, this might be the most probable way for your first B2B customer acquisition as well as your 100th. Make sure you maintain your old AND new relationships.
3. Create your website, blog & social media
These three significantly increase your credibility and trustworthiness, although they are not essential when just starting out your sales considering where your first customer will come from.
Although the first couple of your customers will probably come to you through referrals, having these three up and running will help them with coming to the decision to work with you.
In your later sales, these three are essential for your lead generation efforts. When you start targeting paying customers, make sure that you have your landing and pricing pages ready.
Publishing valuable content on your blog will reap many benefits.
It will attract potential customers to your website, enable you to foster relationships with them, enable you to become a thought leader and increase your online presence overall.
Your blog content, distributed on your social media and other channels will drive traffic to your website where interested parties will be able to fill in a contact from thus becoming your leads.
Can I start selling if my product isn’t completely done?
Yes. Create your minimum viable product (MVP), and offer it for pre-order.
The worst that could happen is no one wants it, but hey, at least you haven’t spent money on perfecting it, and this leaves room for modifying your hypothesis.
How to get your first customer?
When trying to get your first clients, don’t focus on money.
Try to get as many early adopters onboard as possible, even if that meant offering your product for free, or at a reduced rate.
Place yourself in their shoes. Would you want to buy something from an unknown company with no track record?
Having them onboard as early adopters means that they expect your product to have errors which, in turn, means that they can greatly help with the development in addition to helping with your sales efforts later on.
Reach out to your immediate network
Think about your existing connections. Who are the people you know? Who are the people you used to work with? Would any of them be your target customers?
If you have an investor, tap into their network. As someone in business, they most likely have a lot of connections, some of which would fit your ideal customer profile.
Network, network, network. Attend industry events such as conferences or meetups. Visit local incubators.
All these places could provide you with valuable connections, some of which you could convert to your early adopters.
Use your crafted messaging when contacting them to let them know about the benefits your product could provide them with. Inform them of the current state of your product.
When coming up with the price, you could either ask them to name their own, offer the product at a reduced rate or even for free.
How to get first 10 customers for my startup?
The easiest ways to acquire first paying customers are through your network and referrals, after you exhaust those you should focus on prospecting and lead generation.
Although, it should be said that at any stage in your startup, there are numerous ways of acquiring customers including chance encounters. These are simply the easiest at the beginning.
Your ideal customer profile or buyer persona has been created, and you have crafted appropriate messaging (although, you should have in mind that you might have to adjust these as time goes by).
This might be the easiest way for you to get your first paying customer.
As we’ve discussed before, your early adopters are most likely personally invested in your product and are ready to provide you with a few referrals.
Since the potential customer will be hearing about your product from them instead of you directly, there is a higher chance of them being genuinely interested in your product.
2. Prospecting & cold email outreach
With you ideal customer profile in mind, identify companies that you think could actually benefit from your product and convert to customer.
After you identify the companies, you should locate the decision makers to whom you are going to send your offer.
To find their email addresses, you can use some of the numerous email finding websites (Findthat.email, FindThatLead, etc), Account Based Selling tools or try your luck on LinkedIn.
It’s what salespeople call prospecting.
If you don’t have time to do it yourself, you can always find specialized prospecting freelancers online since it is probably too costly at this point to hire an agency.
Once you’ve received your contact list it’s time to reach out to them with those perfectly tailored emails and provide content that will relate to their problems and goals.
If your target market is in the EU make sure that your cold emails are GDPR compliant!
Track the behavior of your potential buyers and check whether they open your email, click on your link or reply to your message. The more they engage – the more interested they are.
3. Lead generation
Regularly update your blog and make sure that whenever you write a post it is something of value with expert insight.
You might not have the time or resources to focus on this while chasing your first ten customers, but if you do find some time for it, it will reap many benefits.
These blogs can often make or break a deal. By sharing your extensive knowledge in your blog posts, you will seem trustworthy and your visitors will be more likely to convert.
Work on eBooks, white papers, educations videos, distribute all of these across your social media channels, and attract potential customers.
All of these sales masterpieces will help you gather new leads and push your existing contacts a bit further down the sales funnel.
4. Get feedback, improve product
Having these people on the journey with you will heighten your chances of success significantly.
After all, they are your target customers and will be able to make sure that you take product development in the right direction.
More importantly, having them use your product and participate in its development means that you can validate your product in your target market.
How to get your first 100 customers?
You have worked with early adopters, developed the product further according to your target market’s insight, and acquired brand advocates and testimonials.
What now? Now, it’s time to start selling.
Moving on from your first 10 to your first 100 customers means that you will have to scale and diversify the strategies that we have discussed previously.
To start with, it would be the best to revise and update your ideal customer profile. You can do this by making a distinction between your happy customers and your successful customers.
Your happy customers are customers who believe in your product and your company. This is usually an individual within a business who for one reason or another advocates for your product, although significant results as a consequence of using it is yet to come.
The problem with happy customers is that if the one advocate leaves said business, your contract with the business is most likely to be terminated. You actually want successful customers.
Successful customers are customers to whom your product is valuable. As a consequence of using your product, their company has got ROI and they have grown.
This means that even if your advocate leaves the successful customer business, they will most likely keep doing business with you after they calculate the actual results of your collaboration.
Identify who has grown the most as a direct result of using your product. This may be tricky, but try to look at companies that have grown the most, the companies that interact with your more often and the ones that do not shy away from positively reviewing your product.
Find their specificites related to the industry, revenue, number of employees, the ways in which they use your product, and then update your ICP accordingly.
Now that you are aiming for a bigger target, the more specific your ICP is, the better.
All the strategies that we have discussed earlier will have to be scaled this time around. You will have to increase your online presence and authority greatly.
To meet your target of a 100 customers, you have to be able to produce many prospects.
It will be tempting, but avoid buying pre-packaged sales lists. Although they will be filled with contacts from your industry, the companies will rarely fit your ICP.
Moreover, most of these lists often have a problem with data quality and accuracy. When you buy a list, you simply don’t want a bounce rate greater than 10%.
Whereas previously you could have hired a freelancer, they will not have the resources to produce a large amount of quality data for you. You could hire more freelancers, but you would soon find out that managing them is not efficient.
Now it is time to significantly scale this process. A freelancer can’t support your big goal.
However, an agency has more resources and is able to deliver much larger amounts of quality data. In addition, you will be saving up time that you would have used on educating and managing your freelancers.
If you don’t have time to do this yourself, hire a professional prospect list building agency to do it for you.
2. Hire a salesperson
At this point in time, it would be wise to hire two or three salespeople, mostly because their different approaches will allow you to determine the approach that is the most effective for your business.
If you should hire two or three sales reps depends on your cash reserves, but it is vital so that you don’t lose sight of product development as a consequence of focusing on sales.
The good news is that having sold your product yourself and gained market insight, you will now be able to set appropriate targets and train your salespeople.
Appropriate incentives are what drives sales!
However, before hiring one, make sure that you learn what the traits to look for in salespeople are, how to find and recruit them and how to interview them.
3. Hire a sales manager
Once your sales rep team has grown, it is time to hire a sales manager. Note that this doesn’t have to take place right after you hire the first sales reps, but at some point in getting your first 100 customers.
This person will be in charge of organizing and fine-tuning your sales process, as well as growing and managing the team of sales reps.
A junior sales manager should be perfectly fine since they won’t have to build your process from scratch, but just structure it in an organized and effective manner.
Hiring a sales manager from a company that is in a position that you want to be in in the next few years might be a good idea.
4. Paid advertising
It is time to start investing in paid advertising online. Inbound marketing takes time which is why you usually start advertising first.
Two methods that you should utilize side by side are social media advertising and Google advertising.
Social media advertising can help you in various ways, depending on the campaign goal that you set. Whichever you choose, make sure that your targeting is done right so that you end up with leads that you can actually try to sell to.
There may be keywords that you are having trouble ranking for, and this is where Google advertising comes in. Listing first on the results page, and then having the opportunity to retarget will contribute to your lead generation efforts.
Note that there are some very expensive keywords depending on your niche, so it may be more beneficial to invest in inbound straight away.
5. Start with inbound – SEO & website copy
You will have to perfect your website because ultimately you want customers coming to you, instead of having to cold email them.
Basic SEO is not that hard to learn as there are plenty of resources on the web. If you got this far with your business you probably have the smarts to understand it, but I guess you don’t have the time.
The best thing is to you can do is to hire a freelancer online, a specialized digital marketing agency, or someone inhouse to do this for you.
However, don’t get bamboozled with technical terms being thrown left and right. You could learn a thing or two before hiring someone or ask a friend who does SEO for help with hiring.
Ranking high in Google search results means that customers will find you even if they didn’t know they were looking for you business specifically, and the fact that your business is ranked high will only add to your authority.
6. Case studies and testimonials
Nothing ensures a potential customer of your product’s value as much as case studies and testimonials from your successful customers do.
When a potential customer comes by your website through organic Google search, having your case studies and testimonials in front of them will make sure that they become a lead.
Once they do, devise a smart strategy to close the deal.
7. Guest blogging & conferences
Guest blogging is a great way to build relationships, and ultimately increase your online presence. It is also a great way to increase the authority of your website because Google love backlinks (despite what the big G says about guest blogging).
In addition, when sharing your knowledge and expertise on different websites, you position yourself as a thought leader in the industry.
People who find your website through your guest blogs, and actually have interest in your product are more likely to convert into qualified leads.
8. Use your brand advocates for scaling your sales through referrals
Since they have adopted your product early, gave insight and influenced its development, your first customers are very likely to get personally invested in your product.
These influential people can become your brand advocates, and as such, having offered them your product at a lower price will certainly pay off.
Not only have they significantly helped the development of your product, but they can help significantly boost your sales.
You will now have references and testimonials on your website, validating your product and proving that there is a market for it.
In addition, through referrals in their big networks, they can help close sales which otherwise might not have happened.
How to get your first 1000 customers?
Once again, to get your first 1000 customers you will be using the previously discussed methods, only scaled and more in depth.
1. Scale your sales team – hire a VP of sales
As the workload increases, you will see that you now need someone to oversee your sales managers. Start looking for a VP of sales.
Again, when hiring one, try to find someone who was able to grow a certain company that you would like to be similar to in a few years.
Find someone who can develop valid strategies, work on scaling, reorganizing, closing larger deals and mentoring the managers
When you get to this point, you are no longer a startup. Congrats!
2. SEO & content marketing
By now, you are probably ranking high for quite a few search queries. However, if there is still room for improvement, this might be the stage for you to hire a professional.
In scaling your sales process this much, lead generation will become of huge importance.
You should make sure your content production team scales their process as well for the same reason.
Blog posts are awesome, but it is time to diversify your content production.
Make infographics, produce videos, eBooks, checklists, etc. All of these can be used as lead magnets which should increase the number of your leads exponentially.
3. Social media & influencer marketing
Great content means nothing if no one sees it, distribution is vital and it is time to invest more in distribution efforts.
Take advantage of social media advertising to target your ICP and rake in more leads.
At this point in time, it would pay off trying influencer marketing, a method that is blowing up in the digital marketing world.
Find an authoritative brand in your target industry and give them your product for free. If they like it, ask them to collaborate with you as an influencer.
People trust influencers more than they would trust your ad on Facebook which is why this method is so effective.
4. Align sales & marketing and divide prospecting
The most important step to take would be aligning your sales and marketing departments. This way, you will be able to move your leads through the sales funnel effectively.
If enterprise level companies are your targets, make sure to learn and take advantage of account based selling because it should significantly impact your sales growth.
Adapt your ICP and cold email copy each time you are starting a new campaign.
Make sure they are highly personalized and talk about benefits your product could provide your prospective client with.
The best strategies would be to either have your sales development reps do the prospecting while sales reps close the deals.
To increase efficiency even more invest in a tailor-made prospect list so your SDRs don’t waste time searching for account data. This will leave them more time to perfect their sales pitch.
These are the first steps that will help you acquire new customers if you do everything right and make good calculations.
The important thing is to start as soon as possible, maybe even before your product is complete. This way you will test the market and know your strengths and weaknesses right away.
Should you have any more questions and doubts – feel free to contact us. We’ve been helping startups deal with those issues for years.