Sorry, Client #1
I once heard a startup software CEO say, “You have to feel sorry for client #1.”
It’s true. That first customer gets the brunt of the growing pains of your startup.
Sure, they get all the initial customizations, and maybe a lot of attention, but little else.
They’re your beta – if they’re lucky. Most likely, they’re your alpha. But if you know how to get clients, any client, you’re off and running. Right?
The problem is, so many tech startups are dying to get client #1, that they end up taking just anyone. And that’s a mistake.
It turns out, knowing how to get clients isn’t enough. The wrong choice for client #1 – and any thereafter – can set your company on the wrong path – and it can be very difficult to recover from it.
Mark Nogaki, CEO of Cambio Technologies, a Fintech startup dedicated to customer analytics, talked about his experience with a previous software startup.
Our first paying customer was just wrong for us. Instead of helping us understand the needs of the market, they had us over-customize the software to their particular needs. We dumped UI components that turned out to be critical for other clients, and we spent a lot of time teaching them things that no one else cared about. It set us on a path we never truly recovered from.
The problem starts because most tech startups don’t really know what they want to be when they grow up, not because they don’t know how to get clients. They’ve taken the “Lean Startup” mentality a bit too far, throwing any idea to the wind to see if it will stick. And while it’s true that we need customer feedback to validate our ideas, we need to keep a rudder of who we are and what we want to become.
Once we know that, we need to overlay every potential partnership and client engagement against that yardstick to see if it’s an opportunity that will get us closer to our goal – or just distract us.
Let’s get over the mental block about “picking” the client. We absolutely choose who we work with. And if we take everyone and everybody….well, that’s a strategy too, I suppose.
This is where Rush comes in. From their song Freewill, we have the lyric:
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
So there. You can either have a strategy to pick the right clients for you, or you can choose to get distracted chasing everything and anything.
Now, let’s get down to learning how to get clients.
How to Get Clients: 3 Steps to the Perfect One (Then More)
There are 3 steps we can take to make sure we’re targeting the right client.
1. Identify your target market
This sounds obvious, but a target market may be more focused than you think. If your target market is “banks” or “grocery stores” or “people with money”, then you’re not focusing enough.
A target market should focus you down to the point where you have a group of people or organizations with generally the same problem. In addition, they should be similar enough that they “hang out” in about the same places.
The point of having a target market is that you can have “one-stop shopping” for clients. I mean, how would you know how to get clients with a description so broad like that? And besides, how would they know they’re the ones you’re targeting?
And it’s more than just knowing where they “hang out” online. It’s about explaining their needs and their desires in a way that’s consistent. “People with money” isn’t tight enough. Some of those people may not have enough money. Some have more than they can manage. Some don’t care.
You need to develop an “avatar” that describes your perfect client. What do they need? And when? What problem are they struggling with so severely that they would welcome you in to solve it for them?
Once you can talk about your perfect client in singular, you can expand to a group – but not before.
And after you’ve identified that group, you will know where to find them, and what to say to them. That’s a key component of how to get clients.
2. Identify your client’s “one big result”
If I were to ask you what your company’s business result is, would you give me a list? You may think that your software or your business produces many results, but in the mind of your client, it doesn’t. At least not at first, and certainly not as part of the sales and marketing process.
If you are looking to shake up your market, you need to have a story. And that story can only have one plot line.
Narrow down to the one big result you provide for your client. Is it more money? Is it less expense? Is it more time? Is it the chance to do more strategic work?
And before you hone in on just the financial benefits, think carefully about the intangibles. Often times, our clients actually get another big benefit from our work. Sometimes it’s less stress. Sometimes it’s more fulfillment. And while we’ll often still be asked to generate a return on investment calculation, don’t discount these “psychic” benefits. They’re just as real as the financial ones.
Find that one thing and make sure you have a good chance of generating it not just for client #1, but for each and every client thereafter. Another important piece of how to get clients is telling a story – the story of your client’s success.
Because if you can’t tell the story about your one big result, what story will you tell?
3. Identify what you’re trying to accomplish
One thing startup founders often don’t think about is what they’re trying to accomplish in their chosen market. It’s not all about the money and the exit. If it is, you’ll find it very difficult to press through the days where there is little money and no exit in sight.
You need a mission for your company. Are you trying to solve a problem? Make things better for people? Get rid of a bad process? Change the world?
Whatever that mission is, make sure your client will help you achieve that mission. Because if your client knows they fulfill this mission, and it’s important to them too, they’ll bite; it’s such an important piece of how you get clients.
If your mission is to equalize access to your technology, so it’s available on the cloud for everyone, don’t let your client force you to install on premise. Maybe you can make the occasional exception, but better if you don’t. Go find the clients that help you achieve your mission.
Making an exception today for short-term goals (like money) will just backfire in the end.
Many a founder will tell you horror stories of customers who killed their cash flow – or worse yet, killed their spirit – all the while knowing they weren’t the right customer for the business.
Grab the rudder and steer
Don’t let short-term goals distract you from your long-term mission. Not only will you know how to get clients by staying true to the clients you are meant to serve, but you’ll be more financially successful as well. The perfect client meets the perfect technology is a match made in heaven that produces benefits all around. The client knows they’re getting your best, and you, as a founder, are producing your best. And that energy will spill over into everything else you do.
So take the rudder of your startup and start steering, because paraphrasing the immortal words of Rush, if you’re not steering, you’re still going somewhere…you just have no idea where.