5 actionable sales strategies to land your first 100 customers


Until you have your first customer, your startup isn’t a business. It’s an idea; an idea that needs validation. And how do you validate an idea?

Through sales. Until someone has paid for your product, you haven’t proven anyone actually wants it.

Many startups put off sales in favor of a marketing-centered approach, hoping that customers will come to them. Does that really work?

Sure—sometimes. But there’s a reason the startup failure rate is a staggering 90%.

Want a startup in the 10% success rate? Start selling.

Here are five powerful sales tactics to land your first 100 customers, and lay the groundwork for your next 100,000.

1. Create a hyper-simplistic website

You need an online presence, but your initial website doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Instead of spending three months making the “perfect” website, spend a day creating a simple landing page with these three elements:

1. A “subscribe” form
The goal of your site should be turning visitors into leads. Accomplish this with a simple form that allows visitors to submit their name, phone number, email address, and any relevant background info.

2. Social media links
Connect with your visitors outside your site by including a handful of relevant social profiles, but don’t go overboard. Pick two or three platforms you’re comfortable and proficient with and drive visitors there.

3. A blog
A blog is one of the quickest ways to gain credibility and presence within your market. Don’t worry if you’re not a great writer; people will be more interested in what value you provide than in how you provide it.

And that’s it. Drop in your logo, add a background, and get online. Don’t worry, you can always improve your site later.

2. Revamp your free trials

Free trials are an incredibly effective way to generate customers, but most startups don’t use them to their full potential.

Take control of your trial with these three tips to dramatically boost engagement and conversion rates.

1. Keep it short
Most trials are too long. Users know within the first couple days whether or not your product is a viable solution, so the extra padding only draws out the sales process.

Shorter trial periods raise engagement rates and lower customer acquisition costs, so aim to keep yours under 14 days.

2. Call new signups immediately
Most startups know they should call their trial users. What they don’t know is how important it is to call quickly.

According to research by Dr. James Oldroyd, you’re 100 times more likely to reach prospects when you call within the first five minutes of signup. This initial phone call isn’t sales-oriented; it’s all about connection. Not sure what to say? Try something like this:

“Hey, this is Steli with Close.io. I noticed you signed up for our trial and just wanted to reach out and say thanks. I know you haven’t had a chance to play around with our sales CRM yet, but I wanted to see if you had any questions or concerns I could address in advance.”

3. Run drip email campaigns
Create a drip email campaign specifically for trial users.

It doesn’t need to be anything complex or involved; just a series of 3-6 automated emails that guide users through the trial and conversion process.

Here are a few quick tips for an effective campaign:

  • Make it personal. No one wants marketing emails, so forget the professionally-designed HTML templates. Stick to plain text and send it from a personal email address.
  • Include clear calls-to-action. Your users should know exactly what you want them to do, and how to do it, by the end of each email.
  • Utilize activity-triggered emails. Create automated emails for common user actions, such as inactivity, feature activation, or trial expiration.

And don’t forget to auto-enroll users in a follow-up campaign after the trial, even (and especially) if they didn’t end up buying.

3. Create an ideal customer profile

Selling to the wrong customers will kill your startup, so it’s important to make sure you’re selling to the right ones.

The problem is, most startups don’t know who the “right” customers are. That’s where an ideal customer profile comes in.

This tool creates a benchmark for incoming leads by defining the characteristics of your most successful customers. Here’s how to create your profile in three steps.

1. Identify your ten best customers
Your best customers are those who need your product, and who receive significantly more value than they pay for.

2. Identify core characteristics
Create a mini-profile for each of these ten customers. These profiles should outline the customers’ defining characteristics, such as their:

  • Industry
  • Location
  • Annual revenue
  • Target market
  • Years in business

Those five attributes are a great place to start, but don’t stop there. The more detailed you are here, the more valuable your final profile will be.

3. Identify shared characteristics
Look at each profile side by side. What do your 10 most successful customers have in common?

If you spent enough time in step two, you’ll find a handful of traits that most (if not all) of your most successful customers have in common. Compile these traits into a single profile and you’re set.

Now you know what characteristics to look for in future prospects.

4. Create reliable sales documentation

The more you sell, the more you’ll notice trends.

You’ll find that the majority of your customers have the same questions, objections, and concerns. Likewise, many of them will also react in a similar manner to the same words, responses, and sales tactics.

By documenting these similarities, you create a set of proven pitches and responses to navigate future sales situations. Not sure where to start? Here are three pieces of sales documentation every startup needs.

1. Call scripts and email templates
Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you pick up the phone or write an email. Find out what pitches produce results and stick to them. Create scripts and templates for each sales situation, including cold, follow-up, and closing calls and emails.

2. Frequently asked questions
Because the majority of your prospects are probably within the same market, they’re going to have the same questions, comments, and concerns. Record these, along with an effective response for each.

3. An objection management document
An objection management document is a compilation of the most common sales objections in your market. Write down 15-20 common objections, along with a 1-5 sentence response for each.

Sales documentation should be a constantly-evolving process. As you experiment and find better solutions, update your scripts and templates. That way you always have a relevant, effective response to any situation.

5. Start hustling (or hiring)

There’s no way around it: If you want customers, you need to sell hard, and sell often. Here’s a three-step process to kickstart your sales campaign.

1. Sell within your network
Who do you personally know that would benefit from your product? Family? Friends? Co-workers? Even pre-existing customers, if you’re a part of another venture.

If you don’t know anyone who’d buy your product, someone you know probably does; don’t be afraid to ask for introductions and referrals.

2. Sell outside your network
Once you’ve exhausted your personal network, start a cold outreach campaign.

Pick up the phone, boot up the computer, or knock on doors; whatever sales looks like for you, do it.

And don’t worry if you’re not a “natural” salesperson. You don’t need to be high-pressure to sell well. Use the thousands of books, programs, and seminars available to find a sales process that’s comfortable and effective for you.

3. Hire a salesperson
Think you’d be better off letting someone else handle sales? Maybe it’s time to hire. Take a look at the three questions below. If you can answer “yes” to all three, you can justify your first sales hire.

  1. Is my average customer lifetime value at least $1,000?
  2. Are my larger trial users converting at a lower rate than my smaller trial users?
  3. Is there friction and complexity in the sales cycle of my larger prospects?

If you answered “yes” to all three, you’re ready to hire. But beware the most common sales hiring mistake: Hiring an experienced salesperson.

For startups, talent trumps experience. Instead of looking for a salesperson with an impressive resume, look for candidates with these three traits:

  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • Excellent communication skills
  • A high tolerance for rejection

If you can find someone with those characteristics, they don’t need experience. All they need is an opportunity; and you’ve got plenty of it.

Start selling today

If you don’t have your first 100 customers, you’ve waited long enough. It’s time to start selling (even if your product isn’t finished yet).

In the next 24 hours, pitch your product to at least 10 prospects. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they say; the important thing is that you train yourself to take action.

Need some motivation? Check out these 12 TED talks every salesperson should watch.

Then come back tomorrow and share your experience in the comments below. What’d you learn? What could you do better next time?

I’ll look forward to your stories. But you’ve got a busy 24 hours ahead of you, so get back out there and crush it.

Steli Efti is the co-founder & CEO of Close.io, an inside sales CRM that allows users to make & receive calls with one click, automatically tracks all your emails, and minimizes manual data-entry.

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