The key to getting your first 10 customers isn’t sales – it’s product

Collin Stewart, CEO

01 July 2019

Selling your product or service, to everyone that wants it, is every entrepreneur’s dream. To have an idea, build it, and sell it is a thrill unlike any other. 

I mean, why else would we willingly choose this topsy-turvy path? 

Despite all the excellent sales content out there, much of which is devoted to how to scale a company, a nuanced take on growth is often overlooked. As entrepreneurs, we want to grow as quickly as possible. The quicker we can hit the phones the better, right? 

The gong awaits!

But, the reality of growing a company is usually far from the stereotypical rocketship startup dream, especially when it comes to getting your first 10 customers. In fact, that first handful of users should never be the result of sales and marketing. Your first 10 customers is always a function of the product team – that’s how you get product market fit. And that’s how you achieve true growth.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When myself and the team were first building Carb, I’d routinely come back to the team with glorious news from speaking with 5 SDRs, or 10 sales managers, who all needed one perfect feature. Of course, if we could build that feature we’d be able to sell the product to more people.

Unfortunately, that narrow view, rooted entirely in my desire to sell to whatever group I had just spoken with, ended up costing me money and precious time. I hadn’t validated what my customers (the market) wanted. I needed to get back on the phone. 

So that’s what I did.

I spoke with about 50 more sales leaders to gather critical information to build out our minimal viable product (MVP). The calls, interestingly, were similar to a sales call; we opened by talking about what challenges they were facing in a certain area, and then I proceeded to dig to see if the pain I thought would be there actually was.

I realize that someone in my position advocating against diving headlong into sales may seem…funny. I do, after all, lead a company that specializes in outbound sales. But here’s the thing: sales and marketing campaigns cost money, whether you outsource them or manage to execute them in-house. And if you haven’t found product market fit by the time you dive into sales, you’re going to be spending a lot of money on campaigns that just won’t convert at the rate you need them to. 

In addition to speaking with as many potential users as possible, there are other methods of ascertaining the effectiveness and necessity of your product. For example, I suggest employing the always illuminating toothbrush test, which, simply put, means understanding how many times your users log into your product each day. Is it twice per day (the same amount of times they’d use a toothbrush)? If so, you’ve likely hit on a pretty powerful need.

Another method of gauging your fit in the market is understanding what features your users are routinely using and, by extension, what task you are helping them accomplish. If you know that, then you can begin to craft messaging about what your product does.

This is a critical piece of eventually getting your sales and marketing engine running: you have to be able to, in concrete terms, describe what your product does for its users. For example: “our users save X amount of time daily, which translates into X amount of money.” Or, “we helped our customer prevent X amount of product downtime.”

For example, if a customer uses our software or our services, we’re going to create a couple of million dollars in pipeline and one million dollars in deals in 18 months. Full stop. We’re very proud that we’re able to do that for companies – and we love the fact that we can share such stats.

You need exact statements – not an abstraction. Understand the outcome of your product, and share that with hard numbers. I promise you, if you have quantifiable outcomes that your customers are currently enjoying, you will knock it out of the park. If you don’t, don’t pass go. 

At least not yet.

Take that extra period of time, get on the phone, learn your market, and get those critical metrics in time, your efficiency will go through the roof. When we hit product market fit, we went from 0 – $40K monthly recurring revenue in just two months. We nailed what our customer needed.

But it didn’t happen overnight, as much as I wanted it to. In fact, it took us longer to get there because I couldn’t wait. I wanted to sell right away when I should have been listening. I should have been on the phone. I should have been focusing on product market fit. 

Because once you nail that fit, the sales will come.