Setting up a new business isn’t all that hard. There are easy-to-use web templates, accounting software and CRM systems that will have your business up and running in no time. All that remains is one small but important detail: customers. Since revenue is the lifeblood of any new business, seeking out (and landing) that first customer is the most critical milestone to achieve.
Knowing this, the question becomes: Which lucky potential customer should you approach first? While you might be tempted to start out approaching smaller, more attainable customers, going after your dream client from day one will help you create a business that can compete in the long-term.
Throwing out conventional wisdom
Conventional wisdom says that the best first customer is the one that is easiest to land: friends and family, existing contacts, low-hanging fruit. The rationale is that these customers already trust you and will make their purchase decision based on your relationship, rather than how you compare to your competitors. These customers will overlook your confusing elevator pitch, your thrown-together proposal and your copy and paste contract. While this may lead to a faster first sale, it does nothing to set up your sales processes, marketing, hiring criteria and product for future, often much more lucrative, customers. It’s those future customers who will be necessary to building your company.
Going after your dream client first
First off, let’s define what a dream client is when it comes to your business. A dream client is a prospect that is potentially 20 times larger than your average customer. If you’re selling a food product, it’s Kroger; if you’re building commercial real estate software, it’s CBRE; if you’re in the content marketing space, like my company, it’s General Electric (GE).
If it sounds near impossible for an upstart company with no history to go out and land the biggest potential customer in their industry on the very first try, get ready because . . . it is. However, by simply going after them, every action your company makes will be infinitely more polished than if you were selling to your sister-in-law. Here’s how it works, from my own experience.
Turning on the light bulb
I started my business in April 2014, a story marketplace connecting brands and media publishers to create content, instead of ads. The dream client in our space is General Electric. GE is well recognized in the marketing field for their creative use of content marketing and unique partnerships with publishers such as Buzzfeed and The New York Times. We were focused on working with them from day one. While it took nearly three years before we landed our first program with GE, by approaching them right from the start, three things happened:
1. We became students of our industry. Our team spent hours digging deep into the content marketing industry. We studied the history, the best-in-class campaigns, the pitfalls and the key stakeholders. This research even led to a reoccurring piece on AdAge ranking the “Best of Branded Content Partnerships.”
2. We skipped the cold call. You don’t cold call GE. We spent time getting to know the people that work there and what aspects of content marketing were important to their success. We interviewed them, we met with their agency partners, we attended events with them. We understood GE, which enabled us to meet their needs when the time came.
3. We planned for the future. We could have built our marketplace software to handle a few local clients, but if we were to work with GE and the major global media publishers that GE is looking to collaborate with, our software had to be able to handle that level of scale. We architected our marketplace to quickly scale to Fortune 500 companies, while still being lean enough to release a minimum viable product in time for our initial launch.
The decisions that we made early on guided us to create a company that would attract our dream client. During that three-year period, while we went after GE, dozens of other top-tier companies were attracted to what we were building, as well as amazing smaller clients that now enjoy an enterprise-grade experience. All because we went after our dream client first.
Who is your dream client, and what’s stopping you from going after them?