So you've got a product? That's great! And a handful of early adopters? Even better!
Now comes the hard part. Going from the first handful of friends/family/charity customers to executing a process that will drive your next 100 or next 1000 customers is no small task. I know because I've been through the wringer twice—at Bronto Software as employee #1 and at Argyle Social as the founder and former CEO. It is a monster undertaking that requires quite a bit of trial and error...and mostly error at the start.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is a "How To Get Your First 100 Customers" playbook, though there are a number of things that you should consider early on—email marketing, paid advertising, content marketing, affiliate marketing, social media, co-marketing, integrations, etc. Outbound sales is a strategy often overlooked and also a strategy of particular interest for my new joint, RevBoss.
Ultimately, you'll need to do a little bit of everything. For the purposes of this mini-treatise, however, I want to focus on social media, an incredibly misunderstood marketing channel particularly for early-stage companies that are hungry for distribution. So if you're building a sales and marketing organization at a startup (or any sized organization), here is your to-do list:
Forget Social Media, Think Social Selling
Unless you've got lots and lots of cash in the bank, which I'll assume you don't, your early stage company doesn't need media. It needs customers. So reframe your thinking about social in terms of a few targeted connections with meaningful prospects instead of many loose connections with anyone that will like your stuff.
LinkedIn and Twitter can be enormously useful tools to churn up conversations with prospective customers. I've written a detailed social selling primer if you'd like to dig deeper on the subject.
Write A Blog That Your Customers Want To Read
Now that you're thinking in terms of "social selling," let's revisit the blog that you've probably already started. If you're navel-gazing about your product, your mission, your latest entrepreneurial learnings, your love for the local start-up community, etc., then you're missing the point.
The aforementioned blog topics are certainly worthwhile and probably important and interesting for you...but not so much for your prospective customers. They're searching for solutions to their problems. So write content that solves their problems. Even problems that your product doesn't directly address.
The guys at Tuee get it. They sell a tablet-based marketing solution for restaurants, but they're writing blog posts that help restaurant managers solve scheduling problems and evaluate new food trends. Tuee's product doesn't do scheduling and it certainly doesn't offer culinary consultations, but both are common problems that customers have. I say bravo to anything that cultivates awareness, trust and conversations with your target customers.
Make One or Two Meaningful Social Channel Investments
Besides your blog, you should only make one or two additional social channel investments. You've got limited resources, and social done well requires significant time and attention. There is nothing worse than a social profile full of chirping crickets.
If you're a B2B company, those investments should be LinkedIn and Twitter. Forget about Facebook—it is a waste of time for B2B companies. You can hire someone to do your vanity Facebook stuff later on.
If you're a B2C company, those investments should be Facebook and something else—whatever floats your boat. Just remember that one very well-run channel is better than a smattering of poorly run channels.
While we're at it—don't invest in your 'brand' handle. Invest in your personal handle. People buy from people, not logos. You're going to do a deal with Ron Nelson, not Adzerk.
And because I'm on a roll here—clean up your LinkedIn Profile. What's the first thing you do when you receive emails from strangers? You Google them. Unless they have Wikipedia pages, what's the first result? More often than not, LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile is making lots of first impressions—make 'em count.
Borrow Someone Else's Audience
Audience building takes forever and you don't have that kind of time. Influencer marketing is all about broadening your audience by partnering with a credible blogger/influencer that has an existing, high-value audience. The influencer co-marketing formula is pretty simple:
Figure out the most popular influencers in your market—these are the people who write the most popular blogs that your customers and prospects read. Make a list of the top 10 and then choose the 5 that seem most reachable—meaning you share a connection or have some other path to get their attention.
Don't go for the kill just yet. It's disingenuous and short-sighted—you want a relationship, not a transaction. Instead, learn their angles, start commenting on their blogs, sharing their content, favoriting their tweets, etc. Do this for a month so that they'll learn who you are.
Begin to build a relationship with the influencer easiest to reach. Sometimes a cold email will work, though your best bet is an introduction through a shared contact. The purpose of the first conversation is to get acquainted and to find out if they're interested in a co-marketing relationship.
Go into the first conversation with a few ideas of how you might work with the influencer. You could give them your software for free in hopes that they'll use it and talk about it. Or, propose that you collaborate on a piece of content or co-produce a live event like a webcast. Note that you might need to put some cash into the effort.
If you close a deal and the first project works out, keep the relationship moving forward with more co-marketing ideas and start adding new relationships to the mix. If it doesn't, don't sweat it and move on to the next influencer.
Just remember that the goal is a win-win for you and the influencer. If you're pitching a self-serving, transactional relationship to an influencer, then you're missing the bigger picture and the broader long-term opportunity.
Use Social To Drive Cross-Channel
You wanna know the amazing thing about social media that very few companies seem to understand? It is an incredibly powerful component of the cross-channel marketing arsenal. Social done solo is a huge wasted opportunity. A few ideas below:
Build a process that uses email addresses to find and follow your customers on Twitter.
Build custom audiences using email addresses to serve targeted ads on social channels.
Use LinkedIn as a data source for your outbound sales prospecting efforts.
Mine LinkedIn & Twitter connections to find warm referrals.
Use friendly Twitter pings (follow, retweet, favorite) to augment outbound sales efforts.
You get the idea...
So there you go. That's my experience and suggested best practices for how small organizations should think about social media. What do you think?