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How to Get Your First Customers as a SaaS Startup

So—you’re starting up in SaaS.

You have a product idea. You can intuit a real need in the market that it will address. You’ve done your market validation, built a lean business plan, mapped out a sales and marketing pipeline, and identified the right channels to get your product into the hands of your target customers.

A careful, measured approach to launching your SaaS product. Sounds like everything should go according to plan, right?

If only you could tie up customer acquisition neatly in a bow.

Getting your first customers as a SaaS startup is difficult, and is oftentimes messy. You’ll constantly go back to your initial plans and revise them. Deviate from a trajectory that you were so sure of but wasn’t validated by your customers. Identify entirely new channels to bring in customers that you didn’t think of before.

While there isn’t a boilerplate template for SaaS customer acquisition, there certainly are active steps you can take to rope in more customers in the nascent stages of starting up.

This article will delve into just that. Read on to know more about how you can sharpen your acquisition strategy and get your first customers as a SaaS startup.

#1 Send an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to members of your own network

What’s a minimal viable product?

It’s a version of your SaaS product that satisfies three main criteria: (1) it will have essential features and nothing more—but enough for people to see a tangible value-add (2) it includes a mechanism for feedback for early adopters (3) the product vision and roadmap down the line is convincing enough for customers to get on board as your first customers.

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The best way to make the most of this version of your product is to leverage contacts within your own network. They could be from both your professional as well as personal networks. Reach out to them, communicate the problem that you see in the market and the solution you offer as a SaaS product, your vision, and most importantly—how they will have a real say in the trajectory that the product takes.

#2 Leverage the Power of Email Newsletters

A strong social media presence and blog might be the cornerstone of any organic marketing strategy, but an often overlooked medium that has consistently yielded results over time is email marketing.

Newsletter sign-ups are one of the most powerful indicators of high-intent engagement.

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Leverage the power of the same to get yourself product adoption early on. To do this right, you need to make sure your newsletter is relevant to your personal brand, contains a strong element of storytelling, provides value in the form of education or entertainment upfront, and does not explicitly ‘sell’ to your audience.

If you’re still unsure about the form your email content will take—you can always seek inspiration from newsletter examples that have nailed their email marketing.

#3 Build a Social Media Brand Presence

Whilst social may not be the most important point of focus when it comes to marketing your SaaS product, it becomes essential to reinforce your brand identity. Prospective customers will try to gauge your company’s credibility on social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

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This also doubles as an opportunity to understand who your audience might be. What are their demographics? What are their interests? How are they engaging with your social content? You can always feed this data into analyses you might be doing for defining your ideal customer, and build the right profiles accordingly.

In addition, you can also leverage the power of community marketing to build engagement around your product. This could take the form of weekly webinars on broader topics in your niche, podcasts where you have key thought leaders on, or polls where you ask your target audience for their opinion.

#4 Use Outbound Marketing Efforts Apart From Organic Channels

When you’re starting out, it might seem like investing in your organic channels and an organic customer acquisition pipeline might be the best strategy for the long term. Whilst blog content and SEO is important for your inbound acquisition, it might also be worthwhile to put your time and money into outreach.

Build a team dedicated to content marketing and a separate one for SEO outreach. Your outreach team can help you build relationships with relevant industry people in your niche, have them guest post and be a part of other content on your website, and vice versa. You can therefore leverage the reach and audience different websites have to create interest around your product.

In addition, having other industry leaders and thought leaders write on your website lends more credibility to your brand. In turn, this helps with instilling trust and confidence in prospects who might be hesitant to get onboard with a SaaS product that is in its initial stages of development.

#5 Create an Acquisition Pipeline Through Affiliate Marketing

How does affiliate marketing work?

You partner with a publisher through their affiliate marketing program and they promote your brand/product on their platform. When their audience converts to your paying customers, they take a cut of the final transaction as a fee.

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Affiliate marketing is a great way, especially in SaaS, to tap into the reach that software publishers have and build an acquisition pipeline around this target audience. This should go in parallel with your efforts to build your organic channels since Blog and other SEO-related content usually take a while to yield results.

With affiliate marketing, you’re getting access to audiences of third-party publishers that have already built a strong brand and SEO presence. If you hone in on the right affiliate programs, you’re already marketing to a high-intent group of people who have a higher likelihood of conversion to paying customers.

In the SaaS space, in particular, affiliates may take the form of tech magazines or third-party software review platforms like G2, Capterra, or Gartner.

#6 Begin a Referral Program

Once your early customer acquisition channels start bringing in customers, it might be worth your time to develop a structured referral program.

Be it for customers you’ve onboarded in a particular industry who see the value-add in using your platform, or for those who face a specific problem for which your product acts as a befitting solution—it’s likely they know others who’re in the same boat.

Setting up a structured referral program and providing just the right incentive for current customers to refer your product to others is a tried-and-tested way to scale and widen your customer acquisition.

#7 Define Your Product Positioning and Constantly Refine It

Defining your product’s positioning is a fundamental tenet of product marketing.

Even if you do not have a dedicated product marketing team in the early stages to do this for you, you can always take on this task from a founder’s perspective.

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Positioning your product correctly means that you’re attracting the right audience to try your product, who, down the line, will have a lower likelihood of churning.

Why?

Because you’ve positioned your product correctly, highlighting your main value proposition as well as differentiating it from other competitors in the market in the best possible manner. With accurate product messaging in place, you’ve already qualified your prospects through the way that the product is presented to them.

This requires extensive market research for competitive positioning, understanding how your existing customers are using the product, talking to your sales team and teasing out buzzwords used by prospects, and more. You can then distill these insights, prioritize key points, and decide on what to highlight in your positioning statement.

Just as with defining your messaging, you also will also have to revisit and refine your positioning based on changing factors relating to your product.

Roping in Your First SaaS Customers Is a Twisty Road

While the strategies and tactics discussed above certainly will help with your customer acquisition as you start out, it’s definitely not something set in stone.

Depending on your product, your customer niche, funding, business structure, and several other factors, you’re bound to stray away from this tried-and-tested model of early customer acquisition. Some strategies relevant to your SaaS product are bound to work, and some aren’t.

For the same reasons, it’s important to stay lean, and constantly revisit your strategies to see what works, why it works, and how you can further leverage an acquisition channel to unlock new levels of growth.

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