July 11, 2020

Think small to get BIG results: How to get your first 1,000 customers

Ron Stein | 6/8/2020

Sometime today one or more businesses will launch new products and services. A handful will gain a significant audience and achieve a trajectory that can’t be stopped. Yet, most will not get much traction with buyers and fail to meet their plan – if they had one. 

This story plays out across every industry, product or service – from startups to big corporations. It turns out that the hardest part of getting a new offering out the door and into the hands of eager buyers isn't creating the product or service; the difficult part is finding a market for your product and getting people to buy it.

When you play in a crowded and competitive sandbox, it’s only more challenging. 

For instance, in the exploding software as a service (SaaS) market, there are more than 950 companies according to Computer World. This abundance of SaaS companies operates across 80 application, industry, and technology areas.

It’s not possible for all of these companies to thrive. So, how do you get your first 1000 customers with all of this competitive noise?

There are four phases to a great launch plan: survey the market and test your assumptions with early adopters, create a rollout plan and start pre-launch activities, launch, and post-launch actions. What you do in phase one, months before launch day is critical.

The first phase covers four go-to principles. Get these right and you’ll be rewarded by attracting a growing and loyal customer base during and after the launch. It’s the difference between success and failure.

Think small to go big. Here’s what happens when most new products hit the market – it takes longer to launch than anticipated because the offering is stuffed with too many features, which only puzzles the target market since the positioning and message isn’t crisp and clear; disappointment quickly sets in as the anticipation of a gazillion buyers doesn’t materialize. Instead, focus on bite-size objectives. How? With your initial product the mission is to solve a very specific problem that a highly defined market is begging for. And although a goal of acquiring 1,000 customers in the first six months seems like a modest enough target, it’s too big for now. Start by surveying your suspect market and test your assumptions with 50 early adopters. You’ll learn what’s needed from the potential buyer’s perspective and design a product and a repeatable business model that scales big. Lay a solid foundation now at the start of your planned roadmap for huge gains latter. 

Acquire 50 early adopters. Of course, you should have a big audacious goal. Yet, to get there plan out many smaller interim objectives, before and during the launch. Think of it as a rolling launch plan to ensure product/market fit, and success! After all, the best way to capture the attention of the market and sell your offering is to have a compelling product that fits your target market like a glove. In this phase you are testing market viability. Start with targeting likely early adopters and set up phone conversations and meetings – not sales pitches – to ask questions, lots of questions; problems that keep them up at night, how the issue is now ‘solved’ and what they don’t or do like about that, what their customers want from them, what kinds of blogs they read and the thought leaders they follow, even what they do for fun. You will get valuable feedback and possibly change something in your offering as a result. Then you pop the big question: are they willing to take a free, no obligation pre-release subscription or use a beta version of your product to provide feedback. If so, place them on your email list market as early adopters and say you’ll contact them when ready. But, how do you find these people to begin with? 

You can never begin marketing too early. Reaching your first 1000 paying customers and eventually 1 million depends on finding the “right” first fifty people willing to raise their hand. As part of this you’ll need to build anticipation with pre-marketing to draw in enthusiastic testers and future customers. Be a bit careful on how much you reveal in public forums by teasing effectively and screening potential early adopters well. No doubt you’ll have contacts you can approach that may fit the profile you built using Principle Two. Yet, the most important action you can take is to build credibility early in the market you plan to go after. Create a blog as well as a landing page on your website about the issues and approaches your new product or service will solve, but NOT about the product or service. Include a downloadable lead magnet to get people to provide contact information. Tease the offering on social media and point to your blog and landing page. Crowd testing platforms like Beta List, betabound, and Beta Family are a good source. Also, post on sites with a high level of engagement such as Quora and LinkedIn. Don’t forget the trade shows of your target audience.

Develop your message and story. Sure, you’re learning about the strength of your offering’s market acceptance. But it’s also an opportunity to test and refine your market positioning, messaging, and the stories you’ll tell. It’s important to have your brand ready to go during the pre-launch sequence and this phase is the perfect time to start crafting a powerful statement. As you speak to your early adopters, drill down on pain points and desired emotional outcomes. Probe for valuable audience insights and ideas that will eventually help clearly communicate what it is that your offer and why it’s so valuable. Start a journal of sorts where words, phrases, and concepts you hear during interviews of the first 50 suspects. It takes a while to create great positioning, messaging, and stories, so do it now – don’t wait until you’re almost ready to launch. This will help enormously when promoting your rollout. By the way, now is the time to reach out to bloggers, journalists, and industry influencers to let them know what’s going on and get commitments to preview your offering, along with a signed embargo document. Get a head start and prepare long before the launch. 

Now you have valuable audience insights, tweaked your product or service for maximum market acceptance, and have developed your product messaging. This will get your company to the finish line and ahead of the pack.

The key is to start early. Don’t expect editors to write about you when you want.

You have your first 1000 customers in your sights and they’ll be buying before you know it! It’s now time to move on to phase two – creating a rollout plan and starting pre-launch activities.

Read earlier columns from Florida Trend's sales and marketing coach, Ron Stein.
Ron is the founder of FastPath Marketing and More Customers Academy. He works with tech-enabled companies, helping them find the fastest path to revenue with executive advising, business development coaching and consulting, as well as marketing and selling training. As an accomplished tech industry business leader and entrepreneur, Ron has served in top-level sales, marketing and business development roles ranging from emerging companies to global tech giants, including as the CEO of a venture-backed wireless startup. Ron is on the advisory board of the University of Florida’s two internationally recognized tech business incubators and writes a popular column on how to grow revenue in the award-winning Florida Trend business magazine. Learn more at www.FastPathMarketing.com. Ron can be reached at 727-642-4246 or by email.

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