06 October 2020

B2B SaaS Playbook: Acquire Your First Customer

From an idea to your first customer, the path is not straightforward. It's actually a loop you need to master. This playbook teaches:

  • How to make the MVP
  • Why use a concierge onboarding
  • Where to go to find beta testers
  • How to move forward

If you follow this playbook, success won't be random.

If you are still thinking you can get 100 customers in 6 months after getting an idea or building your first MVP, forget it!

You need to think smaller. Good foundations are critical before going big.

The only focus you should have when you are just starting to build your product is to get to your first customer.

A good first customer is someone who matches your ideal customer profile and doesn't leave after a month or two.

Until you get to this point, your MVP won't be validated and you will need to iterate. Or pivot.

By the way, this playbook also works for new features. If you want to build new solutions in an existing product, the process is actually very similar.

Prerequisite: Minimum Viable Brand

Before writing any code, you should start with a minimum viable brand. I wrote about it in the previous newsletter: The Minimum Viable Brand (MVB) Playbook For B2B SaaS.

In summary, validate your hypotheses. It is the only way to make your MVP a viable product.

Step 1: MVP

Once you have validated your basic hypotheses with customer research and an MVB, the next step is to build the actual product.

Even with all this preliminary work, you shouldn't be too confident and then spend 6 months working on a product.

A lot of things can still go wrong.

Make your product in an incremental manner.

  • Start with a prototype. You should start with the smallest product possible and iterate from that. If possible, start with a no-code prototype, find testers, and repeat until you have a product your potential customers are willing to buy. Read the art of selecting features on CookiesHQ.

  • Write as much documentation as possible. Because it's an MVP, many small details will be missing and customers might be confused a lot. Writing enough documentation is a good way to clear their minds without spending months writing code.

  • Don't automate everything. You don't know at this point the appropriate experience for your potential customers. Making a good self-serve onboarding can be gruesome work, as shown in my case study of Notion and Airtable.

Step 2: Concierge Onboarding

Instead of writing code for your onboarding, do everything manually and opt for a concierge onboarding.

By doing that, you get to talk to potential customers and guide them through your product, answer questions about their possible frustrations, and understand the moment they are getting your product, the "aha! moment", the path they need to take to understand the value of your product.

With all the insights you will get from this form of onboarding, you will be able to understand exactly how you should make the perfect onboarding experience (whether it's self-serve or not).

  • Use a qualification form. Instead of doing a signup form, use a solution like Typeform, and create a form that will allow you to pick your best-fit customers. At this point, you shouldn't let bad-fit customers onboard or it will mess the insights you are collecting. So be sure they have the pains you are solving before onboarding them. Read about onboarding funnel friction on Growthmentor.

  • Write the script for your demo. When a new tester is onboarding, you need to be ready to guide them correctly and ask the right questions to get the right insights. So be sure to write a script and refine it after each demo until you nail it.

  • Setup their account yourself. Depending on the form and the demo, you will be able to set up their environment exactly how they want it. You might not be able to do it all by yourself but every little thing you can do make your potential customers closer to buying. And each time you do it, you get closer to be able to automate it with the right templates.

Step 3: Getting Beta Testers

At this point, you are not looking for customers. You want testers.

What difference does it make?

You shouldn't post your product everywhere and want 1000 signups. That's not the goal. Do that when you are confident you have a viable product.

Do all of those things as early as possible to build a network of potential customers. You will build an audience in the process but what you really need at that point is to build relationships.

  • Find communities. IndieHackers is a pretty good community if you are building B2B SaaS and your ideal customer can be a solo founder or similar. Search for communities on Community Finder.

  • Build in the open. It's common advice but I still rarely see it. Don't be shy to share your progress instead of waiting 6 months before talking about it on your social media accounts.

  • Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter. Find big accounts with audiences that match your ideal customers. Follow the big accounts and also all the followers that could be potentially interested. Build a relationship with them by interacting regularly. Get LinkedIn cold message templates on Expandi.

  • Ask in your network. Rely on your existing network to get introductions with ideal customers. If you can get someone excited by your product, they might have people in mind for you.

Step 4: Iterate

As I said in step 1, you should build your product incrementally.

Once you have validated the current iteration of a product with enough tests, you can improve it and test again.

  • Analyze feedback. Once you get your first beta testers, make sure you write down everything they say to you and extract the insights. Interview them all, whether they continue to engage with your product after a couple of weeks, or become inactive. Use my JTBD interview guide to get started.

  • Fix issues. Improve the experience based on the feedback, add new features based on hypotheses you haven't validated yet or unmet needs you discover during interviews.

  • Try again. Recruit more testers and try again. You may also want to reactivate inactive testers if you think they are really your ideal customers and might finally engage with the new things you have done.

If You Follow This Playbook, You Will Get A Customer

If you use this process consistently, you will get your first customer. And by that, I mean an ideal customer that stays with you for at least 3 months and is satisfied (measured by a survey or interview).

But it might require 6 months or 1 year. Or even more, if you decide to pivot.

Once you get your first customer, it gets easier to get more. You will have a solid MVP, good documentation, a great onboarding, a repeatable way to reach potential customers, and plenty of customer insights.

But there are still plenty of things to do. Next week, I'll go into how to get the next 10 customers.

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I write weekly marketing & growth playbooks. Get the processes I use with my clients to identify bottlenecks, deflate churn rates, and optimize conversion.