Early Startup Customers and Scalable Lead Generation Strategies

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Once the minimum viable product (or minimum respectable product if you don’t subscribe to the “you should be embarrassed with your first release” approach) is in place there’s typically a parallel strategy that takes place: acquire the first 10 paying customers through whatever means possible and search for a scalable lead generation strategy. After achieving the start of a scalable lead generation strategy the next step is to profitably acquire customers in a repeatable manner. Of course, the words “profitably” and “repeatable” are critically important and are the death knell for most startups.

Some thoughts are taking this two pronged approach of earning 10 paying customers and finding a scalable lead generation strategy:

  • The first 10 paying customers are often found through friends, family, and other forms of brute force marketing. For these 10, the should pay some money so they have a vested interest but even more importantly they need to be a channel for feedback as well as references for future customers.
  • Set expectations with these first customers that the system won’t be perfect but that the goal is to continually improve it and to get their input while doing so.
  • The scalable lead generation strategy is often found through significant trial and error. Plan on trying dozens of tactics before finding it, if it even exists. Some items that have worked include targeted cold calling, niche community sponsorships, PPC ads, and long-tail ad networks (see yesterday’s post).
  • Different lead generation tactics can be experimented in a parallel or serial approach depending on time and budget constraints. The most important thing is to learn from each experiment and look for new clues.

Herb Keller of Southwest Airlines has a great quote:

We have a ‘strategic plan.’ It’s called doing things.

Now, don’t equate actions with results but the more tests you run, and the more failures you have, the closer you’ll be to finding what works.

What else? What other ideas do you have about getting early customers while looking for a scalable lead generation strategy at the same time?

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