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How to land your first customers.
Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society
Friday 8 April, 2016
Doctoral Researcher at Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG)
and Berlin University of the Arts
Supported more than 100 startups in sales, marketing and customer acquisition in 1:1
sessions, mentoring hours, and workshops
Worked for several years in sales and marketing-related management roles
How to get from ZERO to sales? From ZERO to 10 to 100 customers?
Source of the framework: Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
Customer acquisition is THE major challenge for Internet startups at all
According to the European Startup Monitor (2015), German Startup
Monitor (2015) and Startup Genome Report (2011) sales, marketing
and customer acquisition are the most important challenge for startups.
“Properly executing startup customer acquisition means the
difference between the success and failure of your big idea.“
Quote: Renée Warren
Picture source: flickr, Chase Elliott Clark
“Almost every failed startup has a product.
What failed startups don’t have are enough customers.”
Take full responsibility and focus on customer acquisition.
Quote: Peter Thiel; Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
“If you’ve invented something
new but you haven’t invented
an effective way to sell it,
you have a bad business - no
matter how good the
“If you build it, will they come?”
What are the odds!?
Customer-Centricity is the new sales and marketing word of today.
“Customer-Centricity is a culture of
putting the customer at the center of
everything you do.” Not the product.
Quote: Brian Solis; David Skok
“Building a sales and marketing machine is a structured
methodology for designing and reviewing your customer
acquisition process. It stresses the idea that the only right way
to build a sales and marketing process is to design it
around your customers (customer-centric).”
There is always one perfect customer acquisition strategy for every startup.
But how do you know which is the right one?
A holistic perspective is essential to find the right sales and marketing strategy.
Customer acquisition is a
blend of art and science.
There is no silver bullet on how to acquire customers.
But there are some important principles and philosophies.
Picture source: flickr, Ed SchipulQuotes: Larissa MacFarquhar & Aaron Swartz, Ryan Holiday, Paul Graham
“Aaron Swartz (Reddit) had previously believed that you came up with a great idea and people would
use it. But he realized now that you couldn‘t expect people to come to you; you have to pull them in.”
“Your customers have
to be acquired.”
“You can't wait for
customers to come to you.”
The truth about customer acquisition is even harder for startups.
Source: Advertisment from 1958 for McGraw Hill magazines in BusinessWeek.
I don’t know who you are.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s product.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
I don’t know your company’s record.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?
Startup = #nobudget #nobrand #nochannels
Getting the first 10 / 100 customers is more short-term than long-term.
Come up with an initial strategy and try to validate it.
with a shotgun or acting
Think through your actions
wisely or proceed hands-on
with trial-and error?
Customer acquisition in the early stages has a lot to do with data, KPI’s,
analytics and learning.
"Tracking marketing is a cultural thing. Either tracking matters or it doesn’t.
You’re in one camp or the other. Either you’re analytical and data-driven, or
you go by what you think works. People who go by gut are wrong."
Quote: Stuart McDonald
And, on the other hand, with creativity of course.
“Think outside the box.”
Source: American Marketing Association
But you can still build a business without being creative.
“If you don’t have creativity, you need money. One or the other.”
Quote: Rob Walling
Early customer acquisition is more like sales than it is marketing.
Sales in narrow and deep.
“Sales is narrow and deep and this is what is important for startups.“
Quote: Paul Graham; Jessica Livingston
Marketing is broad and shallow.
“Do things that
There are eight ways to build a $100M business.
10 x 10.000.000 $
100 x 1.000.000 $
1.000 x 100.000 $
10.000 x 10.000 $
100.000 x 1.000 $
1.000.000 x 100 $
10.000.000 x 10 $
100.000.000 x 1 $
= 100.000.000 $
Source: Christoph Janz
$1 $100 $10.000 $10 million
Viral Marketing Marketing Sales Complex Sales
Consumers……………………………………. Small Business…………………………………….... Big Business
Which category does your startup belong in?
Source: Peter Thiel
Product development and customer acquisition go hand in hand.
Picture source: flickr, Thomas HawkQuotes: Ryan Holiday
But still “Someone has to be
the advocate for the potential
market (customers), and the
earlier their influence is felt in
the process, the better.”
“Forget the conventional wisdom that says if a company lacks growth, it should invest more in
sales and marketing. Instead, it should invest in refining and improving the product or service
itself until the customers are so happy that they can‘t stop using the product or service.”
A good product
is so important.
1. Acquisition 2. Retention 3. Development
Focus on customer acquisition but make sure that your customers stick.
“Turning your customers
into an army.“
Quotes: Ryan Holiday; Bronson Taylor
“What matters most
are happy customers.“
“Retention trumps acquisition.“
Have an ideal customer profile (ICP) and know which of your customers
are best for your business.
“It‘s a targeted offensive in the right places (online and offline) aimed at the right people.”
Quotes: Ryan Holiday; Ian McAllistor; David Newman Picture source: flickr, Myf McMahon
“Who, then why or what.”
Do it like Amazon and
work backwards from the
Try to get into the heads of your customers.
The better you know your
customers, the more you
can interact and engage
Find out where your
potential customers spend
their time, online and offline.
How do your buyers buy?
Find out how your customer’s buying journey works.
“It’s easier to market to people who are already listening.”
Intend to buy
Quotes: David Newman; Steve Jobs
“You've got to start with the
customer experience and work
back toward the technology -
not the other way around.”
Work on your sales pitch. It has to be simple, concise and crystal clear.
Quotes: Ryan Holiday; Ian McAllistor; David Newman
“Pain relief, problem resolution,
Three words of advice: “Authentic. Client. Language.”
“Speak prospect language.”
Find the right sales and marketing channels and execute (test) them well.
Picture source: flickr, Alan O'Rourke
“It’s easy to waste a lot of money in the wrong channels.”
Quote: Gregory Ciotti
Forums (e.g. LinkedIn)
Product and Price
Offline e.g. TV,
(Online) Market Places
Thanks to the Internet you have a wider choice of different marketing
tactics or sales channels than ever before.
Most promising channels
Make an informed guess on which channels are highly likely to perform
Become an expert in the channels you are going to execute.
Start focusing on 2-3 channels first and make sure to execute them well.
Picture source: flickr, Richard Cawood
Start measuring the success and the conversion right from the beginning.
Spend enough time and money to get enough data to assess the effectiveness of a channel.
Choose proper key performance indicators (KPI) to measure and analyze
progress and let the data be your guide.
“CAC > CLV”
If the customer lifetime value (CLV) exceeds what it costs
you to acquire that customer (CAC), business gets interesting.
“CLV > CAC”
If you reach that point (CLV > CAC) it’s up to you to raise capital to fund
the further growth of your startup.
Picture source: flickr, Pictures of Money
In summary: Here are my 10 points of advice!
1. Take responsibility and focus on customer acquisition.
2. Have an ideal customer profile and know which of your customers are best for your business.
3. Try to get into the head of your customers and find out how the buyer’s journey work.
4. Work on your sales, marketing and customer pitch. It has to be simple, concise and clear.
5. Make an informed guess on which channels are highly likely to perform best.
6. Start focusing on 2-3 channels first and make sure to execute them well.
7. Become an expert in the channels that you are going to execute.
8. Choose proper KPI’s to measure and analyze progress and let the data be your guide.
9. If your CLV exceeds CAC it’s up to you to raise capital to fund further growth.
10. If nothing works out, visit www.Startup-Clinics.com.
Sessions | Roundtables | Workshops | Talks | Mentoring
Business Model Innovation Finance
HR & Culture Law
Sales & MarketingLean Project Management
Apply via www.Startup-Clinics.com and like us on Facebook.
Thank you for listening.
Quotes and sources.
American Marketing Association; From Mad Men to Math Men | Brian
Solis | Bronson Taylor | Christoph Janz | David Newman; Do it! Marketing |
David Skok | Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares; Traction | Gregory Ciotti |
Jessica Livingston | Ian McAllistor | Larissa MacFarquhar & Aaron Swartz |
Paul Graham | Peter Thiel; Zero to One | Renée Warren | Rob Walling |
Ryan Holiday; Growth Hacker Marketing | Steve Blank & Bob Dorf;
The Startup Owner's Manual | Steve Jobs | Stuart McDonald