November 28, 2016
Your first customers are the hardest customers that founders of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company will have to obtain—but they will be your most important.
You need to know how to generate leads before your product hits the market, and in some cases, before it’s even finished. To do so, you’ll need to understand where your customers are before you begin.
We’ve heard some pretty exciting stories from startup founders regarding how they obtained their first customers. Below are some of these stories—examples shared straight from the founder’s mouths.
Here’s how to generate leads, and get big companies, the one’s whose recommendations will carry the most weight, to trail your SaaS product.
Zapier is technology that makes it easier to automate tasks between web apps. Getting their first customers wasn’t an easy task, as they needed customers who were working with very specify integrations of different applications.
To generate leads, they trolled as many SaaS service forums as they could find, often used by their target audiences. There they found people with problems using different integration combinations. It was there that they found Andrew Warner, founder of Mixergy, and convinced him to be their first customer.
Warner was looking for a Paypal Highrise bridge through this particular SaaS service forum and provided Zapier and opportunity to build their relationship with this highly influential startup personality.
“I'd find someone on a forum who had a need, send out an email asking if it was a problem or not. And occasionally it would be, and they'd choose to join our beta program. And that's how we got traction with our earliest of customers.” - Wade Foster, CEO and co-founder, Zapier
For popular help desk software Groove, the lead generation came from landing one early article in The Next Web (TNW), bringing them a few hundred email signups from those interested in their private beta.
This media opportunity didn’t just land in their lap. They laid out a public relations (PR) plan that included outreach to 40 outlets, and only received one response. That response was TNW, and that’s all they needed.
Groove isn’t the only startup that’s found success with an early PR campaign. BrandYourself.com found a way to promote one of their features to Mashable, and it attracted over 60,000 users in just six hours.
“As any startup will tell you, most publications will only feature a startup if given some sort of exclusive... However, that’s not the case if the story is perceived as popular/newsworthy enough (trending on Mashable). If that’s the case, they’ll cover it anyways, so it doesn’t seem like they missed a big story.” - Patrick Ambron, CEO and co-founder, BrandYourself.com.
Attending trade shows, conferences or other industry events are a great way to build solidified relationships with others in your industry, and can be great for gaining your first customers.
If you’re wondering how to generate leads from the big companies, trade shows are your best bet, as there are usually a high percentage of attendees from large organizations.
It worked for RealtimeBoard, an online whiteboard for team collaboration. They used offline events catered to their target audience to boost a number of reviews for their product, bringing them their first users.
“When you’re entering a new market, it’s not only about the acquisition. It’s also about educating your audience about your product. We’ve found that the offline workshops for designers, creative teams, and educators work great for us.
They let you interact closely with the audience, understand the way they think and use your product, and see the reaction right away. You have a great chance to catch their attention.” - Kseniya Maksimova, Marketing Manager, RealtimeBoard
Sometimes getting your first users is easier than you think. Front, a better inbox for team collaboration, found their first users just by signing up for some of the popular new product curation sites; Product Hunt, Beta List, and Layer Vault.
Front used these three sites to get a bulk of their first users—and it was a huge success. The secret was their landing pages.
“Invest time and effort creating an attractive landing page. It doesn’t mean a long and full of the information page. Your landing page will be used on a lot of external websites (betalist, layervault, angellist etc…) and you’ll probably have it longer than what you’ve planned, so consider it a good investment.” - Mathilde Collin, CEO and co-founder, Front
Sometimes talking about creating great content feels like beating a dead horse, but it’s a tried and true method to drive inbound leads to your website—and if it’s done right, it’s the best way to attract the attention of the big companies you’re targeting for a trial.
Bluleaf, lead generation technology for financial advisors, landed some of their first customers using the top-quality content. One thing to mention about this technique—unless you already have a big audience, it can be expensive.
This startup leverage paid user acquisition models, referral programs and their personal blog to get 10,000 bets users before launch. The trick to their success—they didn’t blog about their product.
“Our Stories are the Blueleaf staff writing about their personal financial experiences so that we can make it clear that we’re making a product that we’re very emotionally invested in.
We want to provide value for everyone who is saving for their financial futures, regardless if they’re interested in our product right now or not. If we have interesting stuff, we’ll get links and traffic. That’s it.” - Sachin Agarwal, Founder, Bluleaf
Once you’ve landed those first few trials, you have to know how to generate leads, so they keep coming. Once you land your first three to five customers, setting up a referral program will encourage those customers to invite more like them to your product.
To do this fast, check out services like ReferralSnip to make it easy both internally and for your users.
All of these methods for acquiring trials to SaaS products have one thing in common—the founders found a way to tap into space where their customers were already located, and then they provided a valuable solution to one of their problems.
Finding the right channel is the key to the success of a new product launch, and getting the right people in front of your product at an early stage.