Startups begin with the idea of a product or service that should be appealing and useful for customers, but without a customer acquisition strategy, your startup won’t get far. Potential customers go through a general purchasing process of awareness, consideration, and decision, and you want to make that process as easy as possible for them.
When you are trying to acquire your first customers, consider how easy it is for potential customers to follow this process. You need to first know who your most likely customers are—this is your target market. Next, figure out how to reach them—which marketing channels will be most effective to reach your target demographic? What can you do to help customers become aware of your company as a solution to the need your product fills? With a new company, you will have to work harder than established brands to make your first customers aware of your product.
Once customers are aware of your product through effective communication channels, you have to help them see what the product will do for them through targeted marketing. You can use beta testing and product iterations to incorporate customer feedback into continual product improvements. Finally, make it as simple as possible for customers to make a decision and actually purchase your product. In this blog post, we’re going to break down a few tips for how to accomplish these goals.
1. Ask yourself these questions to target the best market segments
Everyone in the world isn’t a potential customer—you need to narrow down your target market (the people who want or need your product) and then segment by demographic within that market. You can start sorting out your target market by asking yourself basic questions about the product:
- What does your product do and how could it benefit the user? What “pain points” does it address?
- What is your price point? Is this an everyday staple, an affordable one-time purchase, a luxury item, a subscription product or service, etc.?
- Who are your competitors and what is your unique value proposition compared to them?
You can start with broad categories and then narrow down into more specific segments. For example, with the first question, you will readily identify obvious potential customers and weed out non-potential customers. To take a simple example, if you’re selling a vegan hair conditioner for long hair, women with long hair will be a main demographic and then you can segment to focus even more specifically on those who have a vegan lifestyle. Bald men would not be a target market. You can also look for the smaller basic segments as well—men with long hair, parents of children who have long hair, etc. Once you’ve made obvious distinctions, you should continue to fine-tune your target market to make your outreach and messaging effective.
2. Start close to home
When you’re starting out and finding your very first customers, start close to home. Talk to your family and friends, ask them to try your product and give you feedback, and ask them to recommend the product to any of their family and friends who might be interested. Networking is essential when you’re getting your startup off the ground and finding your first customers.
Beyond family and friends, don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising that your first customers can provide. You may not need to drop a large budget on early marketing. If you have a good product and good customer service, you should be generating positive word-of-mouth marketing. The key is to then capitalize on this. Consider developing a referral program that rewards customers who have successfully brought in new customers for your product. These programs can be as simple as providing referral codes that customers can share with the offer of a percent off the new customer’s first purchase and the referring customer’s next purchase.
3. Be where your potential customers are
Get engaged in relevant Facebook groups, Twitter conversations, Quora Q&A’s—anywhere online that the pain point is being discussed and you can offer relevant content and your product as the solution. Check your tone to make sure you don’t come across as spam, but if you thoughtfully engage with relevant groups, you may find potential customers in niche areas of the internet and social media.
Other effective tools for generating awareness by being where your potential customers are include having a presence at relevant events, tradeshows, conferences, fairs, etc., or the virtual alternatives of these events during COVID-19 times.
4. Make it easy for customers to come to you
When you’re trying to get those first customers, you need to have somewhere they can find more information and make a purchase (or pre-order). Create a website or even just a simple landing page. Start a social media presence—it doesn’t take too much effort to start a Facebook page, and post at least once a week.
As you build out your online presence, you’ll want to make it easy for customers who don’t know about you to find you. Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to strategy for how to make your website come up near the top of search engine returns for keywords relevant to your startup and product. One of the simplest first things to consider is identification of keywords that people are using in search engines and use those in your website’s content, meta description, tags, etc. Local keywords (for example, the location you’re based in) and long-tail keywords can help you rank higher faster since they’re less likely to be used as frequently by competitors. A long-tail keyword is specific—for example “vegan hair conditioner for dyed hair” instead of “hair conditioner.” Many big-name brands will rank higher than your website for “hair conditioner,” but not as many brands will have “vegan hair conditioner for dyed hair.”
5. Lower purchasing barriers
Another strategy to gain your first customers is to lower any perceived barriers to purchase. One common barrier is that products that are new to the market are relatively untested in the eyes of consumers. Offering giveaways and samples that allow customers to try a product before committing to a full purchase can help overcome this barrier, especially for products that have a higher price point.
Similarly, satisfaction guarantees for products or trial memberships can also make it easier for potential customers to try your product with low commitment. If you deliver a good product, those customers should be easier to convert to repeat paying customers.
6. Adapt to feedback
While you might (and should) think your product is amazing, it’s important to remain open to customer feedback. You might launch with a beta version or minimum viable product (MVP) and then proactively incorporate user/customer feedback into product iterations. However, if you’re launching a fully developed product, it’s also still important to continue to solicit and listen to feedback. Use customers’ reviews and customer service calls and messages to identify how you can improve your product, and then consider including messaging that highlights these customer-driven improvements once you’ve adopted those changes.
As you work to pull in your first customers, use these six tips and other relevant strategies to make the right people aware of your product, target your marketing messaging to help potential customers see why they need your product, and then work to lower any perceived purchasing barriers to boost the conversion between awareness to purchase.
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The information presented here is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed or used as, comprehensive offering documentation for any security, investment, tax or legal advice, a recommendation, or an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, an interest, directly or indirectly, in any company. Investing in both early-stage and later-stage companies carries a high degree of risk. A loss of an investor’s entire investment is possible, and no profit may be realized. Investors should be aware that these types of investments are illiquid and should anticipate holding until an exit occurs.