Everyone knows that getting your first 100 customers, especially for your SaaS company can make or break your startup. So in today’s article, I’m going to be sharing the two tactics that I use to get my first 100 customers back in the day exactly what I did, what I would have done differently, and then give you some takeaways that you can keep in mind as you start to scale out your business.
Digging right in the two tactics that I found most effective in getting my first 100 customers was outbound email marketing paired with content marketing. This is why this channel is all about digital marketing, sales, and entrepreneurship because it was my own experience in that I use these tactics to get the first few thousand customers of ours.
Tactic #1: Outbound email marketing
What I found was that the cost of acquisition for outbound email marketing was so much lower than any other channel that we experimented with. In the early days when you have little to no traction, it’s really important that you keep things super lean and that you’re validating and getting data points from people that you’re talking to.
And the best way that we’ve found to do that was simply by emailing a lot of people and pitching them. So if you want to follow along with me real quick, essentially what the flywheel on the outbound email marketing side of things look like was every single week, my team of Upworkers would essentially dig through a couple of hundred contacts and then from there we would start feeding those contacts into three to five stage email campaigns that would share more about us as well as share helpful content.
Tactic #2: Content marketing
But essentially from there, there would be a certain percentage of people that would get interested in learning more with us and then we’d hop on calls with those people and then start to put them into our CRM and our prospecting pipeline for potential business.
This system at that time was super simple. It was built on Basecamp CRM, which I don’t even know if it still exists today, but essentially anytime anybody was interested, we would create them as an opportunity in our CRM as a potential lead, and then continue to keep nurturing those individuals throughout our pipeline.
On the other side of things, what we were doing is we were building out a lot of content marketing. So we didn’t have a ton of money to our company at that point in time. And so what we found was that one of the cheapest ways that we could get people’s attention was by creating really great informational content around different things that they might be interested in.
In other words, if we created helpful guides and resources for our prospects, then they would eventually get interested in learning more about what we did as a business. So the tactic that we deployed in our first few years is we would create these ultimate lists of tips around these different things that our prospects cared about.
And then in our actual outbound email campaigns, we would share those content marketing pieces to help build up the authority and trust level of the prospect towards our business. And then naturally over time, as we began to get more and more recognized for the quality of our tips, it would leave more people into our funnel in addition to people being generally more aware of us when we actually outbound prospect to them.
So by combining these two channels, we found it to be super effective in terms of getting our first 100 customers. It certainly wasn’t easy and it required a lot more contact points than actually the 100 customers we actually got. It probably took us several thousand people to reach out to, but it was one of the most cost-effective ways for us to do so at those early days, when we were super lean as company.
What I would have done differently?
The first thing I do is I would check out a site like BuiltWith, and the reason why is because BuiltWith tells you what websites are built with, and it’ll give you some insight into potential sites of your competitors and the customers of your competitors.
So in this situation, for example, if you were building a competing CRM to pipe drive, you might search pipedrive into BuiltWith. And then from there, what you could do is you could take a look at the different websites that are using Pipedrive for their CRM. These are all potentially companies that essentially are potentially using a Pipedrive or very likely to be using Pipedrive for their company.
And so what you could do is you could then hire a set of scrapers on Upwork to find public information about these contacts at these companies, and then prospect them in through outbound email.
By taking this sort of hyper-focused approach, as opposed to the approach that we used, which was pretty much just a very bulk wide net approach, you could hyper personalize your campaigns. If you’ve been watching my videos for a while, you know the importance of hyper personalizing your campaigns, especially in today’s day and age. Hyper-personalization is the way that you stand out, especially when you’re going to use cold email as a business development strategy.
Another thing that I would have done differently is I would have hosted regular live events for my prospects. Something that we didn’t really take advantage of at that time was creating weekly events where our prospects could learn more about us as well as our expertise. And so I would’ve created some sort of menu of events in which these prospects that were interested in learning more about us could attend these free workshops of ours, learn valuable content, see us in our element in terms of being authorities in our space, and then gain more information about us as a business in these opportunities.
By creating these sorts of workshops, there would be a ton of wins across the board because not only would we be engaging with these prospects at scale, but we would also be creating content that we can then redistribute on a company, YouTube channel, or even redistribute into future campaigns and nurturing the prospects that didn’t attend that workshop.
So by creating these sorts of content flywheels, we really could have created a lot more than just those ultimate lists of tips that we had come up with at that time.
The last thing that I would have done differently, if I were to do it all over again, is I would have considered making a free version of our site a lot earlier. At that point in time, the industry that we were in was very much focused on freemium products and we didn’t have a true freemium offering. A great freemium offering as something in which you are a free user, but you’re compelled to want to upgrade because it directly ties to your increased usage of the site, in which as you become an intermediate or advanced user, you want to upgrade naturally.
And that’s something that our site didn’t really have. We had a general free and paid version but it wasn’t a true freemium experience. And so it became really difficult to acquire new users because the free version was so limiting that it didn’t actually compel people to want to pay for the product. And as a result, we would have a ton of prospects that would just fall off at the top half of the funnel, because they didn’t really want to learn all that much more about what we had behind the table.
So, whether you’re building your own side hustle or a company, these are things to think about. You want to think about exactly how you can entice people and give them value of front in a disproportionate manner so that they get so interested in what you have to say, that they’ll then want to hear your pitch. And it’s by naturally sparking this sort of curiosity with folks that you will then be able to really get those first 100 customers.
What you can take away from my experience?
1. The first thing that I’d say is make sure that you’re shooting your shot. The first thing that you’ve noticed from the two methods that I used here is that every single week I was making sure that I was talking to new people, especially in those early days, when you have no other logos to really advertise. It’s all about increasing the number of touch points and feedback loops that you can get from prospective customers.
Because even if you don’t resonate with your first 1000 prospects that you pitch, the next 1000 are going to be even closer to be getting sold because of all that feedback that you adapted your offering to from the first thousand that talk to you.
2. The second thing that I’d tell you to take away from my experience is to make sure that you get your flywheels in motion. Once we had our outbound email flow in motion, it was just a matter of hiring up more Upworkers to get us more contacts and then continue to send out more emails. And then on the other side of things with content marketing, it was just all about getting a few core writers in place to create valuable content and then start to spin other topics that people would be interested in.
Once we got that momentum in place, it really became the foundation to a lot of our sales approach from not only going from zero to 100, but also from 100 to a thousand customers. And then the third takeaway that I’d share with you from my experience is to make sure that you keep testing your messaging. Especially when it comes to outbound emails, it’s all about making sure that you actually have a performing message.
Sometimes it’ll take you 15 to 20 different versions of your outbound email to really get to the point where you’re getting 10 to 20% reply rates on your campaigns. And so until you get to that point where you’re getting 40% plus open rates and 10 to 20% reply rates, you should keep iterating on the different messaging that you are sending out to prospects.
This will naturally take time. In fact, for work this year, when I was building out outbound email, once more, it took me about five or six weeks and 20 different versions of email campaigns to get to a point where I was consistently seeing 15 to 20% response rates, however, it really paid off because once we had that magic system, we essentially were able to scale that system over and over again, and then start to see clear results from that outbound process.
Now there’s a ton of different ways that you could potentially get your first 100 customers. For example, you could go on sites like Product Hunt and try to do a launch, or you could do some influencer marketing and whatnot, but I truly believe that in the earliest of days, it is best to just outbound people in terms of getting that initial interest.
The reason why is because these are the people that are going to be the cold audiences that you’re going to need to get used to pitching anyways, as opposed to the case where potentially you go through a Product Hunt and people that are on Product Hunt are a little bit more interested in trying new things than just cold traffic.
Learning how to engage and nurture cold traffic is one of the hardest skills out there, especially for an early stage startup. And so what I’ve consistently found over the years of talking to different founders is that cold email almost always becomes one of the most performance channels for companies that are pre 1 million in ARR.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week. I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning the tactics that will help you get your first 100 customers.