How do you find your first customers?
Who they are, and where do they find them?
The first customer is a majestic beast. Finding that first customer will fill you up with joy, make you want to understand them, understand how and why he came to you, make you want to know all about them, cherish them. (And just like that I am now thinking of Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, and yeah — that’s how you feel. “My preciousssss”)
Whether you call them your first customers or your early adopters — they are critical for your business. Without them, the passion dies down real fast, and the lack of finding your first customers could mean one of two things: either you are building something there is no demand for, or you don’t know how to reach out to your audience. Now, if it is the former, then that is a grave question, and you would need to go back to the drawing board and rethink your whole business, even go as far as figuring out why is it that you started with something that nobody wants. But, before you throw in the towel, you need to make sure that you have tried selling your concept to your target audience, and that is what this story is all about.
FIRST, EARLY ADOPTERS ≠ FIRST CUSTOMERS
Well, they are similar in some aspects, but they are not the same.
Having the early adopters to try out your product and services may be an easier task to accomplish, but it is the first customers that are the real litmus test.
They both play a crucial role in shaping up the early days and stages of the business, so you do need to focus on them both.
Early adopters are typically people who are on the constant lookout for systems and products that can help improve their day-to-day experience. They don’t mind trying out new products just to explore if it fits a need. They would be more forgiving with the shortcomings of your product, would not mind that the product is not yet 100% ready to be made available for public usage, and would engage with different features of your product. Most importantly, they will actively give feedback that could help you improve the product usage and impart a better experience to your audience.
You absolutely need early adopters if you a real shot at finding customers. If you have a product you can’t even find early adopters for, trust me — you won’t be able to build a business!
WHAT ABOUT THE FIRST CUSTOMERS?
Well, a lot of the reasons why your business needs to focus on first customers would overlap with why it needs early adopters, but there would be some key differences.
First, making a sale to a ‘first customer’ would always be more challenging. As I said, early adopters are always actively looking out for new solutions and tools that can add value to their lives. An average consumer isn’t, and as such, you would actually need to put your back in it if you are looking at making a sale. It will be an effort, and given the fact that you are just starting up and have next to no credibility, overall, it will be a difficult task.
Second, while early adopters take it upon themselves to get involved in the overall product development process, thereby actively reach out to give you feedback and opinion on how to fix the shortcomings in your business, an average customer would not be making that effort. So, the product feedback you will be taking here will need to be subtle and based on how they are engaging with your product, which aspects of the product are they engaging with, and understanding what is it that is making them engage with those aspects. This will help you understand which are the most crucial components of your product, and what is the motivation your target audience would be having to use your product. It helps you prioritize items in your product development lifecycle, establish a sales process that could actually work and deliver better results, and put in place a winning marketing strategy.
SO WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR FIRST CUSTOMERS?
In this day and age dominated by Google search and Facebook usage, it is all but intuitive that you need to invest in digital marketing, but I am here to tell you that it need not start that way.
When you are just starting up, you are not looking at reaching tens of thousands of customers on the first day or in the first week itself, and that is the primary strength or value that digital marketing imparts to the life of an entrepreneur. At this stage, you are looking for the first ten, hundred and five hundred customers. And they could be huddling up at the most unlikely places. So start with tapping into those first of all.
I will give you a small example. For one of my businesses, the lowest hanging fruit was youth between the age of 20 to 25, staying with friends, and in the early stages of their professional careers. So, the natural question was — Where could I potentially find them? (Without having to go out to physical locations)
The first answer that popped up was Facebook groups that see a good chunk of this audience-base. Groups that are centered around finding roommates, rental properties, and to some extent, used household items. None of these three specific usecases had anything to do with my business, not even remotely. But our audience base was intersecting on a massive level. So that is exactly what I did. And we ended up with almost 400 transactions within a week, with practically zero ad dollars spent.
THIS IS NOTHING NEW. BUSINESSES HAVE BEEN DOING IT FOR AGES
I am not giving you some hidden secret here, businesses have been employing these techniques for years now. I am just underscoring the importance of going through these processes and helping you understand the key aspects you should be mindful of.
In one of the most famous examples, Airbnb used craigslist to find its first set of customers. As a matter of fact, this whole hack made so much noise that “unbundling of craigslist” ended up becoming a very real thing.
A. Understand both the difference and the importance of early adopters and first customers. Don’t ignore one for the other, but don’t confuse one for the other as well. Focus on them both, but do it for the right reasons.
B. Start making your customer persona. What does your ideal customer look like? What age group is he/she from? What does his/her daily life, routine, and activities look like? Different segments will be different personas. You may end up with 5 different customer personas, and that is fine. Now, pick one of those, the one that you feel you will have the highest conversion rate with. Having a well-defined customer persona helps you streamline your sales pitch and marketing communication. It also helps you prioritize things in the product-feature list.
C. You would always be able to find your potential first customers at your direct/indirect competitors. How you attract them would be the question. Maybe someone is discontent with their services and you could help them get a better experience, while also solving their problem areas.
D. You should look beyond the most obvious — competitors. You already have defined the customer archetype/persona. Now figure out where else could you be finding out such people? Go put yourself out there.
E. Rinse and repeat. As many times as required!
Remember, there are countless customers facing problems in their daily lives. You start building your business with JUST ONE. So go out there and see where that first customer of yours is hiding! And once you have done that, it is all a matter of scaling this up from one to ten to hundred to five hundred….to a million paying customers!