Getting Customers for your SaaS Business
There’s one clear hurdle you are going to have to jump if you want to get a nascent SaaS business off the ground. You are going to have to find paying customers. If nobody will pay you then you don’t have a business – you have a great machine for burning through funding. But it’s much easier said than done and many startup founders regard those first few customers as especially critical.
Once your business is up and running, finding new customers is an output of your sales and marketing efforts. We’ll get to that later in this article. But your first customers, the ones that are going to demonstrate to your investors and your market that you are a viable contender, are going to come from a very different set of efforts that are scrappier and more personal. For that reason, we’ve divided this set of advice on acquiring SaaS customers into two parts: your first viable customers that are going to get you to real revenue; and all the ones that come later.
Early stage SaaS customer acquisition
To introduce the topic, ChartMogul has a simple straightforward blog post that outlines a set of steps that you can take to attract your very first customers. It includes making use of online sites that are intended to showcase new SaaS products like BetaList, Product Hunt and Hacker News. It also highlights some ways to use your personal network to find very early stage customers. All sound advice for your first customer acquisition steps.
In a more direct blog post, Alex Turnbull at Groove writes about how Groove got its first 1,000 beta users through five significant early steps. Those steps included a smart PR and social media strategy, using viral marketing tactics even during the customer sign up stage, and building out a content marketing strategy. But the key was a sharp focus on product design and user experience – in other words, producing the best product and user experience that they could.
Switching gears to the aforementioned Product Hunt, they have a blog post about building an early customer base for a startup business. They did this by talking with a range of their existing users about their experiences finding their first customers. Issues covered include product fit, mining your community, focusing on the right customer targets, providing the best user experience, and continuing to evolve your approach to be successful.
The Inner Trend blog took a look at how four different SaaS experts found their first customers. They make the point that early customers in particular should be prioritized towards those that can give you useful feedback about your products and services. They also emphasize a focus on milking your existing network for every good contact you can.
Taking a very practical approach, the Chargify blog took a look at 8 actionable ways to get to 100 customers for a startup business. They highlight a range of approaches, including some already mentioned like using your network but also bring up free trials, cold calling and using social media from early customers to prove success to new customers. Although they don’t specifically call it out, this post highlights the very real proposition that the best way to get your first customers is ‘any way that you can.’
Mature Customer Acquisition
Once you’ve acquired those critical first customers it is important to transition out of that ‘first customer’ mode and into a more long term, strategic marketing and sales approach to acquiring customers.
This Kissmetrics video provides seven surprising practical tips to setting up your customer acquisition channels. It would be fair to say that many of these tips are things to avoid, such as not giving your product away for free but instead looking at free trials.
Moving on to a technical and powerful look at the customer acquisition framework, the stimulead blog provides a customer acquisition 101 blog post that lays out just such a framework. It covers many of the facets of sales and marketing we’ve covered elsewhere in this SaaS series such as matching your value prop to your product reality.
At sixteen ventures, Lincoln Murphy covers how to get in front of your ideal customers, clearly the best way to convert your efforts to real sales. He believes the keys are your distribution channels and optimizing them wisely.
Sticking with the concept of distribution channels, the kissmetrics blog takes a look at five hacks that B2B SaaS businesses can employ to help you find more customers. There are some really clever ideas in here like partnering with much bigger SaaS businesses around integrations to piggyback on their success.
Finally, Pierre Lechelle’s SaaS Marketing and Growth site has a great piece looking in depth at understanding customer acquisition. This is a solid article from a business and technical standpoint and argues for building a clear path to acquisition and a framework for getting to that path.
Putting these pieces together should help you with your customer acquisition from the very beginning to maturity in your SaaS business.