It’s been said that getting your first ten customers is hard but getting your first 100 customers is the hardest. It’s also the milestone that many startups never get to because of the competition, their skillsets, and so many other factors.
Of course, if you have the right strategy in place, everything becomes easier.
In this article, I’ll share what worked for our startup – KyLeads - and what didn’t work on our road to 100 customers. Use these insights to refine your strategy and acquire customers with fewer pitfalls.
There are many widely accepted tactics to build an audience and get customers for a startup. We realized through trial and error that some tactics just didn’t work for us.
Part of the reason was because of the kind of product we have and the other part was our ability to dedicate the right amount of resources. Take our failures with a grain of salt because your situation is unique.
We thought this would be an easy win. I have deep expertise in digital marketing which is related to our solution and there are multiple
large forums and communities dedicated to it.
I used a few search operators to find forums in Google, quickly vetted them, and signed up. I dedicated about a few hours every week to create insightful replies to threads and create my own.
I also tried to leverage my Quora account. I’d been writing regularly on the platform for years, had thousands of followers, and millions of views.
After I’d built up enough clout in the individual forums and communities, I subtly promoted our software. I’d drop a link here and create a thread there. It was usually well-received.
It got us a trickle of traffic to our sales pages and even a few sign-ups. Unfortunately, after a month, we weren’t able to acquire any new customers from that method.
I tried changing up our landing pages to target the forums individually. This did help us get a better sign up conversion rate but only one person ended up becoming a customer. We decided to put it on the back burner.
I’m a fan of webinars because they can be incredibly effective for generating leads and turning attendees into fans. With the current webinar software available you can even automate most of the process.
Naturally, it was one of the first customer acquisition channels we tried. After starting, we realized there were many moving pieces that needed to be executed flawlessly.
Broadly speaking, there are three parts of a customer acquisition webinar.
- Before the webinar
This includes a traffic source that can deliver you a large number of quality leads, the landing page that you send visitors to learn more about the webinar, your thank you page, and the pre-webinar email sequence.
The better you optimize this part of the marketing funnel, the lower your acquisition costs. The right pre-webinar email sequence will result in more people showing up for your webinar and hearing your offer.
We were able to get the elements before the webinar right and acquire leads at around $5 using Facebook Ads. That’s a decent CPL in our niche. We also had an attendance rate of around 30% which is a little below average across all webinars.
- During the webinar
During the webinar, there are two key considerations. The first one is establishing trust and holding people’s attention until the end. The second consideration is presenting an offer that people want to take action on immediately. We made an online course and bundled it together with our software.
We used the Perfect Webinar framework from Russel Brunson to design our presentation. We were able to hold the attention of our audience for most of the live presentation and present our offer but that’s where it started to fall apart.
People weren’t clicking through to our sales page and signing up at a conversion rate that was profitable for us. Fortunately, the last part of the webinar funnel is where people tend to generate the most revenue.
- After the webinar
Assuming all your other numbers are decent, the email sequence after the webinar is what determines if you’re profitable or not. We created a four day email sequence (you can do this with a free email marketing service and keep costs low). It tackled objections, introduced scarcity, explained more about the offer, etc.
It was pretty decent but the numbers weren’t working for us. After our first attempt, we tried a few more times but the numbers didn’t improve and our CPL (cost per lead) on Facebook kept rising.
We've had to pause it until we had more resources and time to properly optimize the funnel. It’s something we’ll revisit later.
I know. Social media is a gold mine. It just wasn’t one for us at the time. We opened accounts on multiple platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Going in, I didn’t have much hope for quick wins using social media. We weren’t creating content that would go viral.
That notwithstanding, we did what we needed to do and formulated a strategy. Pinterest drove the most traffic and also had the highest bounce rate. Twitter was a little better in terms of bounce rate but produced less traffic. Facebook generated the fewest visitors but they were more engaged and ended up becoming email subscribers more often.
We didn’t get any customers directly but, at the time, we weren’t able to track people from social media, through email, and sign up. It may be that the email subscribers who eventually become customers found us through social media.
Don’t make that mistake. Be sure you have your attribution tracking down from the beginning or you may be writing off platforms that make up an important touchpoint in the buyer journey.
Now that we know what didn’t work, let’s take a look at what did work for us. Keep in mind that we didn’t do anything spectacular. We just saw a few quick wins and decided to double down on many of them.
It’s more difficult for people to tell you no to your face.
We took advantage of that fact by reaching out to people personally on
We searched for people who had professional blogger, content
marketing manager, digital marketing manager, and related terms in their bio. Instead of asking for a connection request and pitching our product, we reached out from a place of feedback.
Instead of, accept my connection request and buy my product (LinkedIn makes me cringe these days), it was accept my connection request and give your valuable opinion. People were much more open to the second message because it was non-threatening.
In some cases, we offered to pay for people’s opinions. Most
refused payment and still got on a call. I think it was because we showed we respected their time.
After we got them on the phone, we walked them through the platform, showed them what it could do, and many of them decided to sign up while giving great feedback.
Many didn’t sign up on the spot but we asked what was stopping them. Apart from the normal objections like the cost of switching, we realized there were a few key feature gaps that kept coming up.
Some of them weren’t on our roadmap but some were. For the ones that we could bang out quickly, we built the feature then went back to those people and told them about it. A few of them switched over after that because we showed we were listening.
A fringe benefit of talking to people and gathering primary data was hearing, in their own words, what they liked and disliked. This informed our marketing strategy and our product roadmap.
Content marketing and SEO has turned into our main acquisition channel. We went in knowing it was a long term play but were able to score a few quick wins by amplifying it with ads and being strategic about community posting.
As we were busy acquiring a handful of customers via LinkedIn, we built out key content pieces with high buyer intent. The traffic wasn’t much but there was little competition and anyone searching for something like that was at the right stage of awareness.
If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, consider this scenario.
Someone searches for “shoes” and someone searches for “Retro
Red Jordan 3s.” The person searching for shoes is likely looking for informational content about shoes in general. The person searching for Retro Red Jordan 3s knows what they’re looking for and is most likely searching for the best deal.
Other common ways people search when they’re looking for
products to buy immediately include:
- Best X – best landing page builders
- Cheap X – Cheap running shoes
- X near me – Salons near me
- Best X for X – Best exercise equipment for people over forty
- Buy X – Buy CRM software
- X alternatives – Ring light alternatives
There are many variations of keyword phrases with buyer intent and it’s your job to identify as many as possible.
After we identified relevant keywords, we created the landing pages or blog posts, whichever one better met the intent of the searcher. We then built a few links to each page to push it to the top of the SERPs.
Once we had those pieces taken care of and they started to show positive movements in search engines, we focused on creating content with decent search volume. Over time, we’ve been able to build up a great domain rating and decent monthly organic traffic.
Even today, those high intent pages produce a good portion of our new daily sign ups.
Facebook Ads can be effective but they can also be difficult to get right. We started with small budgets and didn’t go directly for the free trial sign up.
Instead, we focused on the value ladder. There were a number
of reasons for this but the most important one was our lack of information
about our customer acquisition costs (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLTV). Without that info, we had to take it slowly so we didn’t dig a hole too deep to climb out of.
Our initial value ladder had a number of pieces.
- A free + shipping offer for a book called The Getting Real Manifesto
- The course we made for our webinar offer
- Our core software product
We tested out sending people to a squeeze page and directly
to the free + shipping offer but conversions were higher for traffic sent
directly to the offer.
On the checkout page, there was an offer to get a few training lessons through what’s known as an order bump. It was priced at $47.
We were losing money on every person that was paying for shipping to get the physical copy of the book. We were making just enough on the order bump to break even – roughly 30% of people bought it.
Whether they bought the order bump or not, they were sent to
an upsell which offered our course. A small percentage of people bought this one but it was all profit. This is where we found the cash to slowly scale up our Facebook ads.
As part of the course offer, they’d get our software for free for three months. Most people stayed on afterward.
The reason why this value ladder was so powerful is that the free book set the groundwork for our customers to be successful with marketing. The course taught a specific strategy that revolved around our software.
As long as they were successful with the course, they wouldn’t give up the software. That’s how we crossed the finish line of our journey to get 100 customers.
Your first few customers are always the hardest. You have no brand, no track record, and limited resources. This article has shared our journey to 100 customers and I hope you’ve come to realize that not every strategy will work for you.
Instead, it’s important to keep testing until you hit on the combination that fits your skillset, resources, and experiences the best.