From the outside looking in, most people think think startup sales is all about hustle. To be fair they are right, but more often than not no one talks about the strategy of selling a new product/idea to the market.
To me, finding customers for your new product is a lot like dating. You’re going to go around and talk to lots of prospects and the two of you then mutually decide to begin a relationship.
Because lets be honest being an early customer is not always fun. Lots of bugs, changes in strategy and sometimes less than stellar support can make it tough. Still, if the idea is worth it and the entrepreneur is impressive, there are always those people that like to be involved early. Usually so they can say,
“Yeah I knew those guys a long time ago, we were one of their first customers”
So how are those early conversations are similar to dating? Both parties are quickly trying to understand the ideas and opportunities within each group and wether the two of them should go on a 2nd date, spend lots of time together, and maybe someday get married ( ie. buying decision).
It even goes further with those first few customers. They are expected to be a reference client for other new prospects and be an evangelist for the new company, all while helping them make critical product decisions about new features. It can really be a thankless job for that internal champion, which is why most organizations are so reluctant to get involved early with startup ideas. They’re putting their budgets and in some cases their reputations on the line.
Here are a couple other things to keep in mind when selling to early customers:
- Top notch communication is critical – If this customer is helping you realize your dreams as an entrepreneur, give them support they need and don’t make them wait for anything.
- Be flexible on pricing if the prospect moves on a fast timeline – Some kind of revenue is important, but getting them using your product and giving you feedback is more important early on.
- Don’t be afraid to say no – Sometimes in the early stages there are reasons to tell customers no. Maybe its a product feature you don’t think fits on the roadmap, or even in rare cases you find the customer is not a good fit for your company direction and you have to pass on the opportunity for their business. Rackspace turned down a huge $100,000 deal very early on.
As you can imagine with any type of relationship, be it a professional or personal one, there are breakups, makeups, arguments and other problems. At the end of the day some people enjoy to see new products that change things for the better. Thats why picking your first few customers is not only a difficult sale, but also a critical decision for your company.