Your First Customers Are the Key to Growing Your Startup Business
You spent many hours and weeks refining your thirty-five page business plan, paying particular attention to developing a focus on your target customers. You know their demographics, problems, desires for a solution and the best methods for marketing to them. Then you launched your business and within a short time, you are celebrating the successful engagement of five new customers. These customers needed the services you provide and they willingly paid you for it. After these initial sales, business has slowed a little, giving you time to reflect on the launch and sales of your new business.
Use the opportunity to analyze each customer engagement looking at both the sales process and the service performance. Assess every event in the process of acquiring and serving each customer looking for processes to improve in the future. This focus on continuous improvement helps to develop and produce the highest quality of product and/or services to your customers. You will also learn the most effective ways to convert prospects into customers by examining what actually worked.
In the sales process, document everything from how the first contact was made (e.g., it could have been a cold-call or a referral), to the decision maker and title and the specific benefits or service capabilities that were instrumental in making the buying decision. After such a short time and only five customers, you may learn that none of your customers seems to have anything in common with each other. Each operates in a separate vertical market and the sales engagement process was unique for each of them. Only one customer seems to resemble the carefully crafted description of your target customer in your business plan.
While you may feel a little discouraged at the random nature of your initial business success, you have a great opportunity to build on this success by finding commonalities. Recognize that all of the customers purchased the same basic set of services from you. That means your core value proposition is hitting the mark. It also means your value proposition has broader appeal than the original focused target customer segment you defined. Further analysis might reveal that they all share the same business outcomes from using your services. What you learn from this discovery process helps you to refine and modify your marketing and sales approach to all new prospects.
The power of this process to improve new sales conversion prospects comes from messages and a sales approach based on the success of existing customer engagements. Convincing these customers to act as a reference adds tremendous credibility to your efforts, including using their business name as a reference in the context of selling, agreeing to talk to a prospect by phone or being featured in a brief video testimonial on your web site.
Some businesses in a narrow vertical space will only talk to service providers with experience in their industry. A hospital management company, for example, may have difficulty seeing the relevance of your financial services customers. You can move forward in one of two ways; you can choose to return to the specific target customers in your business plan, or you can choose to modify the definition of your target customers and rebuild your assumptions and sales approach. Whichever you choose, make sure you develop your messages and programs on the strong starting point of your first paying customers, who took the risk of using your services after you had just launched your business.