How to Bring In the First Customer

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (MainStreet) -- Would you do business with someone you don't know? What about someone who hasn't been in business very long? Would you want to be the guinea pig for a new product or technology? Would you risk your health, wealth, life or business on unknown outcomes from unknown companies?

If not, why do you think your prospects should rush to your door to buy your product or technology?

Every business has to get that first customer. The key to that is having the answers to those objections and issues. You need a persuasive case that can be made through demonstrating competency. Competency matters at all stages of getting customers, but never more than when you are a new company.

For potential customers, you as a newbie are asking them to take a chance -- on you, your business and your product. Your organization's success is determined by your ability to demonstrate competency, capability and credibility with regard to what you are selling and, in so doing, reduce the perceived risk of doing business with you.

In the process of developing credibility with your market, potential customers, and other stakeholders, you need to answer key questions and identify objections that will need to be overcome.

Internal questions include: What are we selling? What is our sales message? What is our capacity to produce, fund and deliver "product"? What is the sales cycle? What systems, processes and activities do we need in place to produce product, deliver services, maintain quality, support customers, sell and collect payment?

External questions include: What benefits create value for the customer (including reducing costs and the time to do a job, improving a return on investment, solving a problem and filling a need)? What factors go into a buying decision? What risks are apparent (real or perceived) from the customer perspective?

As a new business or one with a new technology or product, you can persuade your customers to overlook an unproven track record. You have to ensure that perceived risk is outweighed by the benefits. This can be done through understanding what the customer values and wants from a product such as yours.

For instance, if the cost of trying your product is less expensive than other alternatives (except for doing nothing, which is almost always an option), taking a chance on you and your product may be a "What have I got to lose?" choice. On the other hand, if you have an expensive product, your customer may want such things as ease of transition.

When you are new, you must find an alternative to having a track record as a business. Perhaps you were highly successful at another organization in launching or designing products. Perhaps you have decades of meaningful research experience and knowledge of the industry and technology. Perhaps you have "proof of concept" users who were involved in development and prototyping who can speak to your product's benefits and its reliability.

Getting the first customer is a step in the process of becoming a growing business with a market-viable product or service. Keep in mind, however, that acquiring the first customer does not mean there will be a second customer, or that all your troubles are over. It does mean you have an opportunity to succeed. What comes next is establishing a positive track record with that first customer ... and the next and the next, until you are no longer the "newbie" but are instead one of the success stories.

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