March 12, 2017
I have never met an entrepreneur whose top priority was not landing that first “real customer.” The problem is that too often numerous compromises are required to entice early customers, especially if you are selling a service or a solution, such as software, that is perceived as “customizable.” If you fall victim to this customization, you may end up with a first customer (maybe more than one) who doesn’t represent the type of customer on which your business case was built.
The option at that point is to either adjust the business case or focus on finding customers who will utilize the solution as it was designed to be used. Too often start-ups cast a wide net with their sales efforts because they believe a larger target market means more sales opportunities and, thus, more sales. What commonly happens is that they miss the mark with the early customers because the target was too broad, and they end up tweaking their solution to meet the needs of someone who was not the best target to begin with.
What should you do if you find yourself in this position, with a half-dozen or so customers, none of whom are using your solution the way you designed it to be used? I recommend you stop what you are doing and evaluate each customer. Are they profitable? Meeting your business objectives? Capable of supporting your original-use case?
If any of your customers are profitable and you believe they can “grow into” your original-use case, focus your efforts on turning these accounts into showcase accounts – accounts that will help you to promote your original-use case.
If you don’t think it’s possible to turn them into showcase accounts, stop and regroup; otherwise, you run the risk of continuing to bring in similar accounts that don’t support your long-term business plan. Unless the way these early customers are using your solution is something you can build a sustainable business around, you will find yourself moving further and further away from your financial objectives as weeks and months pass.
The lesson for entrepreneurs is to stay focused in those critical early months. Landing early customers who can serve as showcase accounts for future sales, especially during the sales ramp-up period, can save significant time and money in the long run. It’s counterintuitive to pass on a potential paying customer even if they want to use only a portion of your solution (or bastardize it in some other manner), so you must resist your instinct to sell to any customer “who can fog a mirror.” Stay strong and stay focused. It will be worth it in the long run.