Finding customers, especially the first 100, seems like a daunting task.
But, with a six step roadmap, getting to 100 customers is closer than you may think.
1. Tap Your Network
Friends and Family
Start with the most accessible customers: friends and family. You have already established trust with them.
Even if your friends and family aren’t your target customer, they are a great place to practice your pitch and test your product or service. They may also know someone who would be an ideal match for what you’re selling.
Don’t overlook this easy target when finding your first customers.
Your existing business network is a key place to get customers.
No introductions are needed to your network contacts, and your network is more likely to consider your pitch over those with whom they have no relationship.
The purpose of a network is to facilitate business and business connections. Customer development is an expected element of a business network relationship.
Secondary Network Connections
You know your network contacts, but they know people you don’t currently know. This is the secondary network.
Often, your secondary network has potential customers that don’t exist in your primary business network. Ask professionals you know for introductions to target customers.
If your primary network can facilitate a relationship between you and a new customer whose problem your product can solve, the network strengthens. That’s a win-win for all parties involved.
2. Participate in Your Community
Industry groups bring an element to your search for customers that doesn’t necessarily exist in your network: passion for your product or service.
Industry groups exist to bring companies together around a common interest or need. They host events, hold monthly calls, publish newsletters, and create committees all to build up their industry.
If your product or service is successful, it will move your industry forward. So, participate in the industry groups that exist to do the same thing. Industry group participation can attract customers because customers often start with them when looking for a product or service in your industry.
What if your industry doesn’t have a group? Or, what if your industry group is too large for you to have an impact? Find your customers in an online community.
For instance, if you run a small auto repair shop, you may not have much of a voice in enormous auto industry groups. But, there are endless message boards on the Internet where people post car related-problems, and participants list answers.
You could easily join this community and offer your expertise. Positive participation can attract customers local to you. Build trust and find customers by solving a need where customers already look for answers.
Local Business Community
While the online community offers an endless supply of customers, it is crowded. Participating in your local business community gives you the ability to gain one-on-one facetime with customers geographically close to you.
Participate in local business events hosted by groups like chambers of commerce, notary clubs, small business administrations, and others.
Sponsor local teams and events where you can make a name for yourself in your community. Offer promotions and reward local customers for participating in giveaways, demonstrations, or other activities.
Local customers provide you the opportunity to connect at the personal level. Don’t forget your own backyard when looking for customers.
Market research is no longer limited to large companies with deep pockets. You can conduct quality market research without hiring a firm and over investing your startup capital .
Surveys are cheap. Survey tools like SurveyMonkey allow you to test demand for your product or service with potential customers, and test whether your target demographic will buy your product or service.
Survey target customers before you launch your product, alongside product launch, and after customers have tried your product. Never stop getting feedback from customers and potential customers.
Surveys let your customers know that you care about their feedback. This allows you to improve your product, and build rapport with your customers.
Internet and Social Media
There’s no shortage of customers to find across the web and social media. The trick is getting their attention.
Whether you are using an app like (Quora, Yahoo Answers, Answers.com, etc.) or a social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), your approach should be the same. Find customers with problems your product solves.
Assume you run a local computer repair store that sells and repairs PCs. It doesn’t take much Internet searching to find people with computer problems. Use keywords like computer problems, computer help, computer slow, and relevant hashtags, to identify potential customers that you can help.
This method locates customers pretty quickly. Engage customers who have problems. Offer some help. Then, pitch your product or service. By attracting customers by solving their problems you develop trust.
Product Testing Sites
Sites like Betalist, Product Hunt, Erlibird offer online platforms for finding beta testers and early customers.
Betalist concentrates mostly on startups. Product Hunt’s niche is tech products where tech enthusiasts can try out new products and provide feedback. Erlibird provides remote testing services for web and mobile apps.
Product testing sites typically focus on web and tech-based products and services. If you offer a more traditional product or service (e.g. pest control, house cleaning, HVAC, security services, etc.), you can find product testers on sites like Fiverr or Craigslist.
Early user feedback is a great way to improve your product while finding customers. People who have the chance to test your product are more likely to become customers and tell other customers about your product.
4. Drive Demand
Advertising is the traditional method to drive demand and get your first customers. But, your customers are bombarded with more advertising than ever before. Consider advertising alternatives when finding for your first customers.
Introduce yourself, build trust, and eventually ask for a sale through a tiered email approach. Remember the acronym EPIC (educate, product/problem, initiate, close). Send four emails over a few weeks using the EPIC methodology. Each email should tackle a different letter of EPIC.
First, educate your potential customers on two things. Tell them about yourself, and how you are knowledgeable in your product area. Let your target customers know that you are building a product in your area of expertise. Don’t ask for business at this point. Build a reputation.
Second, expand on your education with a problem that your product will solve. At this point, the audience has either bought into your expertise, or labeled you as spam. For those whose attention you have, clearly introduce the problem, and demonstrate how your product solves the problem.
Third, announce the launch of your product. Whether you offer them a free trial, exclusive access at an early price, or some other incentive, initiate the launch of your product.
Finally, close the sale. You’ve built your reputation, clearly demonstrated the problem, and informed them that your product is ready to solve the problem. Now, unapologetically ask for the sale
Offer risk free access to your product through free trials. If the tester likes the product, you’ve found a new customer. There’s no downside for the tester.
A free trial gives you the opportunity to hook a customer on your product at no cost to the them. If your customer becomes reliant on your product during the free trial, your sale is a no-brainer at the end of the trial period.
Blogging is a great way to drive traffic to your site and improve your search rankings. In addition to traffic, your blog should build your reputation as an expert in your field. It should demonstrate your product’s value proposition.
Your blog gives you an opportunity to educate customers. You can expand on the problems that exist in your industry, and how your product or service uniquely solves that problem.
Zapier’s blog is a great example of how to use to blog to find customers. Zapier’s blog has become popular resource for business hacks, tactics, and tools for streamlining your business.
Some Zapier blog posts highlight their technology, but not all of them. Mainly, Zapier’s blog builds the company’s reputation as an expert in business automation. In turn, customers trust that Zapier’s products are dedicated to solving the same problem.
5. Sell, Sell, Sell
You can network, engage your community, research, and drive demand to find customers. But, don’t forget to be a salesperson.
In the Drive Demand section, a tiered approach to email was introduced. When it comes to selling your product, you need to be a little more direct.
When sending a cold email to a target customer, you must ask for the sale. An effective cold email includes four elements:
- Value Proposition
- Call to Action
We are all bombarded with spammy emails trying to sell us stuff. The longer it is, the less likely we are to read. Keep it short.
Add a personal touch by demonstrating that you know or have researched your reader. Reference an achievement they have made, and area of expertise they possess, or something else that makes them feel good about themselves.
Next, get to your value proposition quickly. Describe a problem they have and how your product or service will solve it. This is an email version of your elevator pitch.
Finally, don’t leave the email open ended. Ask for the sale, or the trial sign up, or some other call to action. Be direct.
Leverage other people’s platforms
Similar to breaking into your secondary networks, leverage other people’s platforms to find customers.
Assume you have no direct network connection to your target customers. But, you know a sales rep whose client base includes your target customers. The sales rep sells products and services to your targets all the time. Leverage those relationships.
Create an affiliate program where the sales reps gets a commission for every lead that converts to a sale of your product. Offer a finder’s fee for customers the sales rep brings to your business. Get creative, but incentivize third parties to act as your sales rep.
When you don’t have existing relationships with your target customers, leverage your targets’ existing relationships.
Tiered pricing model
With more and more products and services moving to an online, as a service model, the freemium pricing structure has become a popular way to attract new customers.
Freemium models give away the product for free with limited functionality. This allows you to find customers at no expense to the customer. If the customer becomes interested, and eventually reliant in your product or service, the customer is more likely to buy into an upsell opportunity at a later date.
Landing your first 100 customers is not easy. On the path to 100, you will face rejections. When that happens, persevere. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move on to the next potential customer.