How to Get Your First Customers, Step by Step — The Flowla Story

Elen Udovichenko
February 13, 2024
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how to get your first customers

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So you are a startup founder. You have a company. You have a product. You've poured your heart and soul into building all of that and can’t wait for the world to see it and fall in love with it.

But the reality of entrepreneurship is far from a fairy tale. You may have a remarkable product, but the road to customer acquisition is often filled with challenges and uncertainties (thus the daunting statistics of startup success rates).

We at Flowla have been there and done all of that. We know that selling a product requires consistent effort, but you need a strategy first. So we want to share our story and some tips on how to get your first customers in this guide.

How to get your first clients? 4 steps to get started

Getting your first 20 customers as a startup is a milestone that marks the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey.

But every journey begins with a single step. Here are the 4 key steps that helped us start growing our user base as an early-stage startup.

1. Start narrow and go deep

As a starting point, you should narrow your targeting. To find the first customers, a business owner needs to start making meaningful connections. But before you start making connections, you must refine your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and create clear messaging for buyer communications.

In sales, like in the study of fluid dynamics, we observe that flow accelerates within narrow channels. Jacco van der Kooij captures this principle, “Narrow the river flows faster.” We all have an urge to cater to everyone. Despite the temptation to cater to a broad audience, success often lies in your focus.

Choose a specific industry, investment stage, and niche. You must also take the time to understand these target customers' unique challenges and needs. Knowing what they struggle with and what motivates them will help you create messages and solutions that connect with them. This will allow you to better tailor your strategies and marketing materials to your prospect's unique needs and preferences.

By narrowing your focus and targeting a defined audience, you can tailor your messaging, nail personalization, optimize your buyer journey, and accelerate your progress along the path to success. As Robert Kaminski puts it, "Find the tip of your spear," urging us to identify and focus our efforts on the most impactful aspects of our business and specifically marketing strategy.

🎯Here’s a real-life example: As we saw the teams using our product scale from a few representatives to over 10, we extended and adjusted our offering to cater to the Head of Sales, VPs of Revenue, and C-suite overall, not just the AEs or Enablement Managers.

As keep going, you will discover a deeper way to connect with prospective clients across other use cases, markets, and audiences.

Where to find your first customers?

  • Start from your network

Start looking for potential customers among your current connections. They are your most powerful weapon and your greatest opportunity. This is one of the reasons to start building out your online presence, personal brand, and network on LinkedIn or join communities where your ICPs hang out.

By starting with informal conversations in a social media setting, you will build real relationships for possible future collaboration and support. Avoid the temptation to turn this into a sales process and pressure them into buying your product right away. Instead, focus on building relationships and understanding their needs.

💡Pro tip: Role-play pitching and objection handling with friends, fellow business owners, or founders. You can brainstorm strategies to overcome these challenges and refine your sales skills by simulating different scenarios and objections.

  • Ask for referrals

When asking for referrals, one effective strategy is to leverage your existing connections for introductions. You can tap into a valuable source of potential leads by approaching your VC network and asking for introductions to relevant contacts within their network.

💡Pro tip: Minimize the other party's effort to create referral connections. Since no one wants to do extra work, provide a pre-written email to send to the target contacts/companies. Ensure the email outlines your value proposition and the benefits of working with your company (or even better — send a detailed flow to show everything related to the offer).

2. Build allies and true fans

Making real friends and building strong alliances can boost your success in every stage of your life. When you have allies genuinely excited about helping you, they can offer valuable support and open up new opportunities. Similarly, true fans — people who love your brand — will happily spread the word about your products or services without you even asking.

How do you do that? Strive for mutually beneficial conversations in which you offer insights or support that truly add value to the other person. You can easily understand their perspective and needs when you put yourself in the other person's shoes. By demonstrating empathy and actively listening to others, you can cultivate deeper connections and foster a sense of trust and reciprocity in your relationships.

Yet, just like choosing a partner in life, picking the right business connections is hard. You need people who will walk with you on your path, not a one-off collab. You must also realize that not everyone is obligated to support your endeavors. But there will be some people out there who will be happy, too. So find them.

Build a strong partner support network that aligns with your values and goals. It can be individuals or organizations. But be sure to differentiate between those who can add tangible value to your business and those who may not be as beneficial.

  • Influencers are the people who are happy to do intros and referrals and talk about you.
  • Evangelists are paying users who love your product and, more importantly, like what you are doing, so they want to talk about you.
  • Samurais are your partners — people in the same industry or with a similar ideal client profile. You can collaborate with them, go to market with them, or build business partnerships with them.
  • Samurais plus are experts and influential people willing to help and established in their field so that they can open doors for you.

3. Create social proof

Trust is key in sales. Just as in everyday life, where we often look to the actions of others to guide our own decisions, social proof holds enormous power in business. But what exactly is it?

Social proof is a psychological concept that people are influenced in their decision-making by others, forcing them to act within societal norms or expectations. Remember those influencers you follow on Instagram? It's them.

So, use this to your own benefit. Create a social proof for your product or service with those allies and true fans you’ve built before.

This can be through a formal affiliate marketing program where you reward the people for spreading the word about your product or by simply asking your happy users to leave reviews on platforms like G2 or Capterra.

🎯One thing that helped us generate A LOT of buzz and social proof is our launch on Product Hunt. Although it happened long after we crossed the 20 clients mark, it brought a huge uptick in freemium users, demos, and overall word of mouth.

You should also invest in creating proper case studies around your product to highlight the use cases and success stories of other companies using it.

💡Pro tip: Be very specific about testimonials and case studies. With 89% of consumers looking for reviews before they make a purchase, this has become the norm and part of the B2B buying process too. Testimonials and case studies should be used to showcase the happy customers and demonstrate the difference your product or service can make. Show this satisfaction using trigger points such as real moments in your user's daily life because people can easily tell what is fake.

4. Connect with your potential customers

Now, let’s talk about some tactics for creating a real connection with your prospective customers. Remember, success lies not only in the acquisition but also in the relationships you cultivate along the way. You need to be generous and authentic about your experiences. When you share them, use specific examples, statistics, and step-by-step methods. Everyone is looking for simple, concise, and actionable insights. There is no need to fill the experience with many unnecessary words.

💡Pro tip: Differentiate between high and low-intent buyers. You should understand that you should divide your potential customers into two categories: high-intent and low-intent.

  • High-intent buyers are actively searching for a product or service and are likely to purchase relatively soon, driven by a clear need or desire for your offer. You should implement the Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) tactics because they use specific keywords related to the product in their searches.
  • Low-intent prospects may not be actively searching for your product or service or may not fully recognize their need for it. They will require more nurturing and persuasion to move toward a purchase decision.

While both types of customers still have potential as customers, they require a different approach to engage and convert. For a more solid example, a founder who just received funding and aims to scale a sales team from 3 to 10 people fits the profile of a high-intent customer for Flowla's professional pricing level. Therefore, we try to ensure our offerings are discoverable and attractive to them.

High-intent customers are looking for visibility from companies. They need to see you.

  • Be accessible on your social profiles, review sites, Slack forums, Quora, and more.
  • Observe competitors' users and businesses without being disruptive and seek advice when appropriate.
  • Engage in LinkedIn groups and communities to connect with early adopters. Join conversations and participate authentically.
  • Consider spending on online advertising to attract users. Use A/B testing to test different messages to see what resonates the most.

Low-intent customers are looking for depth from companies. They need to see the reason behind the product.

  • Identify prospective clients using LinkedIn or resources like Crunchbase (if you're targeting software companies). Look for signals of potential interest, such as recent hires, activity in the last 90 days, etc.
  • Increase visibility on available platforms. Mass following and monitoring results is a great tactic for this group.
  • Once your message is refined and effective, use cold emailing or other form of outreach.
  • Ask for feedback from potential buyers. Tell them that you are here to improve your product to solve their problem smoothly.
  • Create authentic, high-quality content based on real problems. Content creation shows your work in detail.

Final word

In summary, the journey to growing your customer base as a startup can be tough, but it's certainly doable. Our experience and the advice provided in this guide offer a clear roadmap for success.

By focusing on a specific target audience, tapping into personal networks, utilizing referrals, building genuine relationships, establishing social proof, and tailoring approaches for different types of buyers, startups can effectively attract their initial clients.

And remember, success isn't just about getting customers; it's also about building meaningful connections. With determination, flexibility, and a commitment to delivering value, startups can confidently embark on their entrepreneurial journey, knowing that their first customers are within reach.

Good luck with getting your first 20 customers and here’s to many more! 🥂

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