“Customer acquisition nightmare”
This is a phrase that sends chills down the spine of hundreds and hundreds of SaaS startups. SaaS providers put up hundreds of dollars and hours on end to come up with a stable, functional and helpful solution. However, getting it across to the real users is a challenge. From stagnating growth to a less-than-acceptable return on investment (ROI)on paid traffic spend, most startups have their plate full of eerie uncertainty and imminent losses. And, that happens very often.
Hacking an effective way of getting your first paying users, needs a sound strategy, planning, and intelligent execution. Selling your first SaaS product is one of the hardest challenges any SaaS startup has to beat. However, the idea of making a sale anytime, anywhere you are (even when you are asleep) gives the providers such a liberating feeling.
The question is, how can a SaaS startup make its first sales?
1.Focus on sales exploration
Start with your network. Tap into the network of the people you know. Your acquaintances, friends, friends of your friends, co-workers, alumni, past employees. Remember to ask for introductions before banging them with your product.
What is the objective of doing this?
You are not aiming to close a deal at this point (there is no pain if you close one too). The essence is to focus on early-stage sales exploration and sales engagement. Take your time to listen and understand your customers better. Make sure you get what their pain points are. What are their objections? Note their response to your solution. This is the moment to test different strategies, tactics or methods to make sales.
2.Figure out who your customer is and where to find them
Identifying your real customer is not an accident. Don’t just be a product or service guy. B2B selling is harder and a little bit complicated. Unlike B2C where you know where to find your customer, success in B2B requires you to find out who your real customers are and where to find them. Because nobody will buy your ‘I-know-what-I-do-philosophy”, B2B clients buy from the vendors who understand what they do. And, most of your customers-to-be cut across different industries and geographical locations. To get where they are you need to put on the right gear.
So where can you find the customers?
Look for forums where people are looking for your product. Here is a list of platforms where you can find your customers. You can also hit freelancing websites (Up work, Guru, etc) and look job postings that are relevant to your niche.Apply for the jobs and ask the client if they would rather pay a small subscription fee that gives them more flexibility, convenience and saves them time compared to spending over $2000 in developing a new SaaS product.
3.Leverage on targeted traffic.
We are talking about the power of advertising. The competition is stiff. Lots of noises out there.If you need to go through the clutter, you have to pay. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Adwords, Facebook or any other method of airing traffic that works. To be on the safe side, start off small and make sure you measure the progress of your campaign. Otherwise, you’ll lose a lot of money and achieve nothing out of it.
Put up a landing page and drive targeted traffic there:
Now that you have a good source of traffic. Put up a landing page. You can use a different domain name than the one your product is hosted on. Do a great sales copy, not a vague one-liner. Make the copy a bit long and describe in details all of the benefits and the features. Most importantly, the pain points it seeks to resolve. If you don’t have an exact pricing, mention that would be a premium product. Otherwise, let the readers know what your pricing plan is. Provide email opt-in form at the end to get in on the launch and secure a spot in the free beta.
4.What to do with the list (Email ids)
Personally, email each one of them and schedule phone calls to dig into exactly how they expect your solution to help them. During the first 2-3 months of using the free software in beta, send your list about 3-4 emails and simply update them on the progress of your team and let them say what they need. Let them know that by joining the free beta, they will enjoy a lifetime 10%, 20%, 30 % discount later when you launch publicly with paid plans.
After 2-3 months, send an email to your beta users and give them a 30-day window to log in and upgrade to a paid plan, with certain percentage discount locked in for life.
Why this option works.
- It is open and up-front about where we were at every step of the way.
- The customers will have sufficient time to fully evaluate your customer support, the product, and the rest.
- Personalized service and over-delivered every step of the way.
- A lifetime discount to take advantage of it is a good incentive to make those first sign ups happen.
5.Cold emailing and calling.
Check if you have a mailing list? Use it to get paid users. Craft a winning cold email and sent it to your list. Do not expect lots of positive response from the emails you send. Sometimes you have to send more follow up emails to get them responding. Prospects’ behavior tracking tool would be a booster for your sales team. Schedule a call, if possible. Personally, I have seen many startups close deals with calling. If done well, you can’t fail to close several sales.
Many SaaS providers get their customers from referrals. If you have paying users, you can request them to refer their friends or acquaintances to your software. You can give them a link and let know what percentage they will earn once they refer new users to your site. Your first 4-6 users can bring in another 4-6 users and you’ll be looking at around 18-12 users. However, not all users go for such arrangements. If you are not sure how to do it, you can use something like referralsnip.comto help you get it out there quickly.
7.Capitalize on 3rd Party Integrations
It is difficult for startups to make a mark on the noise-filled, mass-appeal marketplace like the Google Apps store. To beat that challenge, most upcoming applications have resorted to creating their own ecosystem play. Now they are coming with their own APIs and directories of integration partners. As a SaaS start up, invest your time and resources on where you can be discovered: that means integrating with other smaller apps than with Google App store. Some companies, for instance, integrate Evernote via its API and use it a platform to advertise with. Below is a list of other apps you may be interested in integrating with.
- Constant Contact
You can dig up for more.
8.Media, Blog mentions & Expert “Endorsements”
This is about getting expert social proof, a very effective way of getting your 11 paying customers. Blog mentions by industry leaders or expert “endorsements’ can generate the trust customers need to take up your product. As a result of the trust, many targeted users will come looking for your site.
What you need to do:
- Offer a case study for industry top analysts.
- Be awesome and get on mixedenergy.com. This applies mostly to founders.
- Guest post on KISSMetrics
- Connect with industry insiders, be awesome and get mentioned or featured on industry rags.
For more information about expert endorsements, you can take a look at this post.
9.Give out freebies
Before you ask for anything from your customers, be on the first line of giving. You don’t have to give ‘just anything’. Give out VALUE that people will want to use or share. Mirasee.com does this beautifully with their, 10 Rules of the VISIONARY BUSINESS e-book. You’ll see a call to action box on their first page. They update it regularly and it’s one of best free e-books on list building. The Benefit is not to convert their first-time visitors into paid subscribers. Their target is getting the brand out to many people
Freebies accomplish several goals.
- Deliver value and demonstrate knowledge on what you are doing.
- Freebies build trust in your brand or product.
- If the freebies are good, they are shared across different networks, giving your product more exposure.
Give out these freebies if you want to reach out to many people.
- Beginner’s Guides,
- Free consultations,
- Blog Posts
- White Papers
[Tweet “Did you know giving your #SaaS product free for use at the beta stage is also a strategic freebie?”]
Start with your launch with a private beta which is free. This is a common strategy adopted by many SaaS startups. And, it is very effective. Launch your product in private and offer it free for use to select few who you are targeting for use.Another way is offering free sign up for up to 3 months. This gives ample of time for brands to interact with your software solution and the support team before letting them upgrade to paid subscriptions.
Simply developing an awesome SaaS product is not enough. You need to put up solid strategies to make it stand out and close the first few sales. However, this is not a cheap task. It requires meticulous planning, crafting killer cold emails, making cold calls and aggressively looking for expert endorsements. Where possible, you may come up with a referral program that can help bring on more and more user to your product.
Now, over to you…
What strategies have you used (you are using) to get the first few paid users?