If you have your first 10 customers, congratulations! You’ve made it further than many startups. But now what?
The game changes when you move beyond your initial 10 customers. If you want to move from 10 to 100, you need to shift gears.
Here are three tactics to grow sustainably from 10 to 100 and beyond.
Are your customers successful, or just happy?
Most businesses have a lot of happy customers but few successful ones.
Happy customers feel good about paying you money every month and have no complaints. They might like your product, but the real reason why they bought it is because they believe in you, your team, your company, your vision and what you stand for. Typically, there’s one person within the organization that’s really championing your product and company. If that person leaves the organization, someone else might re-evaluate and decide to cancel your contract.
Successful customers know they receive more value from your product than you charge. Even if your internal champion within their company leaves, anyone else evaluating your contract could look at the math and conclude: "We’re getting more value out of this than we’re paying, thus, it’s worth it to keep paying this company for their product." These are the customers that will help you grow sustainably.
Look at the customers you have and identify those who have grown the most as a result of your product. They shouldn’t be hard to find: Successful customers typically expand to more seats, they’re probably interacting more often with your team to optimize workflows and to tap into advanced and complex features of your product, and they’re probably paying you more money with each passing month. They also can be your most vocal advocates. Ask yourself:
- What industry are they in?
- What is their annual revenue?
- How many customers do they have?
- How many employees?
- How do they use your product?
Look for the attributes that all your successful customers have in common and use it to update your ideal customer profile. Make sure that all your future leads meet the new criteria.
Short-term hacks vs. long-term strategy
Most new businesses use short-term sales tactics to get their first 10 customers. That’s great at the start but terrible for sustainable growth. Transition to more long-term plans as you grow.
A short-term plan is one that you won’t continue doing in the future. For example:
- Handling every support call
- Visiting every new customer in person
- Personally following up with every new user
- Tapping into your personal and professional network to get customers
A long-term plan is one that scales with your business. For example:
- Cold calling and cold emailing
- Creating a drip email campaign
- Search engine optimization
- Building a scalable lead generation process
As your startup grows, keep these numbers in mind:
0–10 customers: 90% short-term tactics | 10% long-term tactics
10–100 customers: 80% short-term tactics | 20% long-term tactics
100+ customers: 20% short-term tactics | 80% long-term tactics
Anticipate today or fix tomorrow
Transitioning from short-term plans to long-term strategies means shifting your focus from the present to the future. You need to know what your business is going to look like next month, in six months, and next year so you can prepare today.
Is your growth strategy proactive or reactive? Here are a couple of things you’ll want to consider after your first 100 customers:
- Creating teams
Many new companies start out with a flat management structure. There are no teams or hierarchy. This won’t work as you begin to grow—even Zappos is struggling with holacracy. Divide into teams before you need to, and set up hierarchies or you’ll be scrambling when the moment hits.
- Reviewing your staff
You need to take an honest look at your team and make sure that each member is still a good fit for the company. Just because someone was great in the beginning doesn’t mean that they’re a good fit for your company as it grows.
- Updating your customer profile
Are the majority of your customers still successful, or just happy? As your company grows, your specialization and focus may change. Make sure that you review your customers after any major milestone.
Invest your resources in people, processes, and prospects that are going to grow with your business, not slow it down. It’s much easier to anticipate today than fix tomorrow.
In the early days when you're just getting started cold emailing and cold calling people, you don't need a fancy system to keep things organized. You just need to get it done. Many times founders want to buy our CRM tool and when we learn about the current stage of their business, we tell them to just keep it simple: Use a spreadsheet, a whiteboard or Trello to manage your sales pipeline.
Once you're at a stage where you're interacting with so many prospects that it's a chaotic mess, only then look for a way to make your email and phone outreach more manageable and systematize your sales process.
It doesn’t get easier
In the early stages of your startup, you might envy super-successful founders. From the outside, it looks like they’re just surfing on a wave of success: thousands of paying customers, a massive budget and the most talented people knocking at their door to join their team.
Don’t forget that as your resources grow, so does the amount of work. If anything, growth makes it more challenging. But here’s the good news: For every milestone you pass, you’ll enter the next with more knowledge, experience, and insight. It doesn’t have to get easier, because you’ll get better.
How to get from 10 to 100 customers for your startup
This post was inspired by a conversation Hiten Shah and I had on our podcast, The Startup Chat. Listen to it here!
How to get the first 10 customers for your B2B SaaS startup
In case you missed it, here's the post explaining how to get your first 10 customers.
Training a new sales team? 5 ways to set them up for success
Whether you’re hiring a new team or grouping your salespeople into a team for the first time, here are a few things you should know.
I fired half my team
Firing sucks, but you may have to do it as your business grows. Read about my experience and learn how you can make the process as smooth as possible.