At the beginning, all you have is a vision and a PowerPoint presentation (or Keynote if you’re a Mac user like me). How can you possibly sell the product if it’s under development?
I feel that many startups make the mistake of pretending to be big. Sure, big companies have an advantage because they have the advertising dollars, the case studies, and the proven track record. But here’s the thing – you don’t have these things!
What you do have are the advantages that all startups have: we’re lean, fast-moving, and can offer a real personal treatment to our customers.
And here’s the key: first-movers absolutely LOVE that you’re lean, fast-moving, and can create a perfect product just for them.
Who should read this post: founders that are looking to get customers before their product is finished
What you will learn: how to get clients through the right positioning and pitching
RewardMe (enterprise) launched in the Fall of 2011 with 3 customers. Keep in mind, these customers were franchise-level customers, not mom-and-pop shops from around the corner. Below is how we did it.
1. Create your set of research questions
A key principle from the very beginning is to understand that you’re NOT selling; you’re building a relationship with your potential customer. And one of the best ways to build a relationship is to ask questions and make your target customer feel smart, important, and special.
Actually, we shouldn’t even call them “target customers”. Instead, lets call them “target relationships.”
Here are the questions that I usually ask:
- Do you currently struggle with customer loyalty?
- If so, in what areas to you struggle most?
- If not, do you see customer loyalty as a strength?
- How much money are you losing because of a lack of customer loyalty?
- What solutions do you currently use for customer loyalty?
- How much do you pay for this current solution?
- What is missing from this current solution?
2. Find and reach out to your target relationships
This is where you can use your startup-status to your advantage.
I went to LinkedIn and searched for “franchise professionals”, “franchise executives”, and a myriad of other searches to find upper management at restaurant franchises. I then sent them the below message:
Subject: Hi Name – I’m an entrepreneur seeking advice
Hi Name, my name is Jun and I’m an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. I’m reaching out to you today because I’d like to pick your brain about your expertise in the franchise industry. I need feedback from experienced professionals like you so that I know that my product solves the right needs.
I’m available the following days and times to chat on the phone for 15 minutes:
Thank you very much for your time.
I also leveraged my personal network to find professionals in the franchise or retail industries. Whenever I could get an introduction, I sent a similar email as the one above.
3. Conduct your research call
Easy step. Conduct your call and ask the questions from step 1. I highly recommend recording the call and playing it back for your technical co-founder. Actually, it would be even better for your technical co-founder to be on the call.
4. Follow up to maintain the relationship
The follow up is key. Create a free email list via Mail Chimp and subscribe your relationship targets. Every month, send your target relationships an email with your progress.
Here is an example of an email that I’ve sent (note: this one is very personalized, but you can send more generic ones as well).
How is everything going? We’re hard at work on the RewardMe side and the product is coming along great!
Remember when you told us that you really wanted feature X? Well, it’s made it into our product road-map for launch! This means that we’re going to launch with the feature that you recommended.
I’d also like to let you know that companies Y and Z have also signed up to launch with us.
Have a great week and please let me know if you have any further feedback.
You MUST stay on top of mind.
5. Close the deal for launch
When you’re ready for launch, give your target relationships a call. Let them know about the progress you’ve made and that you’ve built the solution that they’re looking for.
It’s extremely difficult to get them to pay for the product outright without a free trial. Companies know that you’re a small startup, and will at times try to take advantage of that.
A free trial is fine as long as the following criteria is met:
- They sign a contract that clearly states when the free trial ends
- Set milestones that determine what constitutes a successful pilot
- Make sure that they pay for all up-front costs: example, our product works on iPads so our clients paid for the iPad
It’s a long process, but it’s a proven way to launch a product with customers.
If you have any questions or comments, make sure to put them in the comments section.