The truth is, if you don’t have customers, you won’t have a company. So you have to have a solid customer acquisition plan. End of story.
When it’s all boiled down to the basics, the key to maintaining a successful, profitable business is serving successful, profitable customers.
Not only does a strong and engaged customer base feed recurring revenue, but it inspires feedback that can inform your business and product development. Customers supply your business, and the most successful customers-- the ones who can see a return from investing in your SaaS-- are the best sales people for your product.
So customers are important. Having them paints a beautiful image of a truly reciprocal relationship-- a perfect exchange of value between provider and consumer.
Sounds nice, right? Imagine this: you made a SaaS business that delivers something so worthwhile to its customers that they’ll share your products with their own networks (often without persuasion or reward) and, ultimately, those votes of confidence will exponentially grow your product’s exposure and user base...
When that happens, it’s a miracle. But it happens very naturally if you have the right customers.
Yes, if… IF you acquire and serve the right customers.
I know what you’re thinking… “How in the blazes do I do that?!”
And you’re not alone. If imagining throngs of successful, evangelizing customers elicits a feeling of bittersweetness and maybe even overwhelm, you’re in the majority. Many SaaS founders and business developers feel that same pang of uncertainty because, the fact is, customers are hard to get. Especially your first ones.
So where do you start? How do you get the first wave of customers for your SaaS business?
Well, I’ll tell you…
Customer Acquisition for Your SaaS Business
Often, gaining customers happens in milestones. You get 1 paying customer, then 10, then 100, then 1,000 and so forth. But, naturally, the process of attaining each of these milestones is a bit different.
Although I want to start at the start (getting your first 10 customers), I want to focus more on helping you hit the next target. So I’ll explain how to get your first few SaaS customers (the nutshell version) and then I’ll dig deeper into getting your first 100.
Earliest Stage SaaS Customer Acquisition
In the earliest stages of SaaS growth, your personal touch goes a long way. Remember that as you implement each of these strategies. People will like you better when they’re dealing with YOU.
Create an MVP (minimum viable product)
Give your users something they can use now, something that solves their problem now. But not a crappy thing. Minimum doesn’t mean lesser, it just means less. Release less features, sell a smaller product, then use market feedback to prioritize enhancements. The below pyramid graphs should illustrate that point.
(Tip: Also create a minimum viable landing page -- something clean and engaging, but don’t waste time building a huge or perfect website; just make a satisfying one. All you need to start is a web presence and, like an MVP, you can enhance as you go forward.)
Deliver Value Only
Think like a customer and you will know “value only” that means (i.e. offer a smooth onboarding process, create support resources, talk to people, respond to people, reachout to people, be responsive). Put yourself in your users’ shoes and customer acquisition will be profoundly easier.
Talk to Everyone (especially your own (personal) network)
You have to start somewhere, and your network of people, friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances and connections is a solid jumping off point. Someone in your network needs your product, so sell it to them and then ask everyone for referrals and introductions.
Remember-- at this stage, even if your product is life-changing, unless you do some constructive encouragement, only the most fanatic users are going to talk about it. So don’t be afraid to ask successful users to endorse your product. It’s good for you, and you can show your network that you value their feedback/influence.
The easiest way to build authority is to start a blog and fill it with good, engaging, relevant content. This gives you a platform to prove that you know your stuff and that you’re worth a shot. It also gives you an additional space to form relationships with your community. (Tip: start using good SEO tactics as soon as you start your blog. It will help you forever.)
Cold Call / Sell
I know you’ve been leaning on your network, but those connections can only get you so far, so get out and sell! Seal the deal while your prospects are hot and, if they’re not, find out why. (Tip: Selling can also serve as a great way to validate your product. Ask what people like, what they don’t like, and what other features might compel them to pay for your product.)
Discipline yourself to, in some way, pitch your product to everyone. Don’t yammer at people into tuning you out, but get comfortable selling your SaaS constantly.
And don’t forget your personal touch! This means be yourself and, as often as you can, put yourself in front of people. Whether it’s with an email, a letter, a lunch, a gift basket, a survey-- whatever the heck it is, put yourself and your product in front of your prospects.
...and now that you’ve got 10 customers, it’s time to adjust your customer acquisition strategy and move on to the next 90! Here’s how to do that...
Gaining Customers for your SaaS Business (Customer Acquisition Beyond the First 10 Customers)
Surprise! It’s a lot of the same things. But with with a few KEY differences. Here’s what you need to do to take customer acquisition up a notch.
Target Your Ideal User
Instead of reaching everywhere for everyone, you need start targeting your ideal customer. Learn everything you can about your most successful users, and use that information to find more users just like them.
So-- identify the people who are getting the most from your product, those who will keep using it indefinitely because it solves a profound need for them. Identify the users that believe your product is worth more to them than they pay for it, and learn everything you can about those users. Everything! Then channel your acquisition efforts into getting more users whose needs you can profoundly meet.
It’s important to understand that, almost no matter what, there is going to be competition in/for your market. The SaaS business who understands the most about the consumers in that market are going to dominate it. End of story.
That’s significant, so let me repeat myself… The SaaS who knows the most about the market, will be the SaaS that serves that market.
So, knowledge is power. If you want some more of it, you can use metrics to guide your customer acquisition and growth strategies. Do that, and your needle will always be pointed toward success. Find out which metrics are most important for SaaS growth.
Get Cozy With Your Channel
You have to market yourself, and social media is gives you a special ability to do that differently. But for marketing to work, you have to be in the right place and you have to talk to people the right way.
Once you’ve learned everything about your ideal consumer, you’ll know where they “hang out” online and how they like to interact online; so go there. Be where your prospects are, be present, be responsive, and give them what they like.
Social media can have a huge impact on your business. It’s outreach is incomparable, but it can also spread you thin. If you let that happen, it won’t work. It’s the “too much of a good thing” fallacy, and if you try to network in too many channels, you won’t be successful in any of them.
Instead, choose the most effective channel, get proficient, get comfortable, and be all over it (but, like, in a nice way; people should like seeing you, and you should always be giving them something they perceive as valuable).
(Tip: Facebook is cool and all, but you can also use forums, directories and Q/A sites like Quora to spread your value. Find your community and share captivating, informative stuff with people interested in your industry.)
Never stop listening to your consumers, and remember that both good and bad feedback can help you build a more fulfilling product. So, although not every response will help you shape a new version of your software or change your business plan, you must listen to everything.
If you keep listening, you’ll keep learning. And if you keep learning, you’ll keep helping your market succeed.
While your customer acquisition strategy will evolve as you reach different growth milestones, validation MUST remain part of your approach forever. If not, you could have infinite qualified leads and and the most skilled sales team to reel them in, and still go nowhere. Because even if you have the perfect customer, an imperfect product will still fail.
As you’re gaining your first real chuck of customers, offering free trials can be a great way to gain users and validate your existing offerings. It will show you how people use your product, where it succeeds and fails, which users are ready to actually pay for your SaaS when the trial expires, and which steps will take you forward the fastest.
Giving your ideal user a chance to experience you product with no strings attached is a powerful way to gain trust and exposure. Plus, most people really like free stuff.
(Tip: Many SaaS companies have tiered services. Consider building a free option so new or skeptical users can get a feel for who you are and how awesome your software is. This is a great way to build leads and upsell successful users.)
Build a Great Blog and a Strong Brand
Having a deep and relevant blog will show authority and create trust. As if that isn’t enough, it also earns recognition from search engines which leads to awareness in more and more consumers.
If you do your blog right, Google will put your SaaS business in front of people who are already asking for what you’re offering. Like, literally asking for it right now. That’s a position you want to be in and you get there by using thoughtful and good SEO strategies. Meaning, don’t be quick and shady. Google ain’t dumb, so use smart, long-term tactics.
A note on that: there’s always speculation about what Google likes best, the reality is, Google is serving the searcher and it’s going to deliver that searcher to the most relevant information. So don’t publish fluff. Consumers don’t like it and search engines see through it.
Instead, give value to your audience and google will reciprocate. Maybe not immediately, but in a long-term, repeatable, reliable way.
Back to the blog: People love stories. And a blog is the ultimate place the share the stories of your product and your niche. Which is also what establishes your brand.
Stories evoke emotion, which creates demand and urgency. Stories show authenticity which creates interest and loyalty. Stories build community and enrich relationships. All of these things are part of your brand, and your brand is what can make your SaaS business take-off and keep growing.
To oversimplify the relationship, blogs drive brand and brand drives business.
So, if you want a stable SaaS business that’s fed traffic, leads, referrals, revenue and so forth, you need a value-rich blog. (Tip: Guest blogging for reputable publications is also a super effective way to establish authority and niche leadership.)
(Warm and Cold) Email Marketing
Stories work well in email marketing too, even the cold kind.
The trouble is, writing a compelling email (especially the cold kind) is really hard. Attention spans are not what they used to be and if your message loses the interest of your audience for even a half-second, that’s pretty much it. You’ve lost ‘em.
But finding your audience’s email sweet spot can be like winning the jackpot. It’s hard to do, but the payoff is awesome. Plus, it’s a scalable customer acquisition strategy that you can keep using and enhancing as your business grows. (Tip: Email marketing isn’t limited to customer acquisition, you can cold email to connect with investors, partners, press, influencers, etc.)
When you’re writing marketing emails, just remember the ones you’ve received in your own inbox. Recall the ones you’ve put straight in the trash, ones you forgot about instantly or bounced out of after a glance.
And recall the ones that actually compelled you to open and read. Even act. That’s the kind of email you need to write. One that’s persuasive.
I know; that sounds hard. Writing is hard. But, before you send anything, just ask yourself: is this truly worthwhile? Is this exciting or new? Does this actually appeal to me (or your audience)? Would I open this? Would I read this? Would I do the thing this email is asking me to do (because your emails should always include some call to action)? Do I feel like I’m being sold?
You know the right answers to those questions. And when your email satisfies those answers, you will have a good email that will produce good leads. And if you nurture good leads, you’re going to gain more customers and healthier customer relationships.
(Tip: Maybe it’s cheesy to remind you that you should be yourself in your writing, but you really, really should. Use your own voice and your own sense of humor in everything you write. When you do, that realness translates to your audience much better than something canned.)
Consider Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is basically like an outside sales or marketing team that gets paid on commission. In a nutshell, some third party markets your product on their site, in their podcast, on their social networks or etc, and when one of their leads converts into a paying customer for you, you pay that third party a commission for that conversion.
If you’re selective about which affiliates you work with, this strategy can also improve SEO (and strong SEO is money in the bank). Do some research about affiliate marketing programs to determine if you’re into it.
Never Stop Trying
If one customer acquisition strategy doesn’t work, try another one. Because something will work and your diligence will pay off. So, don’t ever give up!
In summary, do these things:
learn everything about your market and your most successful customers, then target ideal users based on that research
get personal with your audience in the most relevant social platforms
validate your product (and keep doing that forever and ever)
build a blog and an unmistakable brand
send compelling emails
establish an affiliate marketing program
and work your tail off; never stop looking for the most effective acquisition plan
If you can do that (and you can), you’ll be on the fast-track to big ol’ hunk of successful customers and a healthy, stable SaaS business.