Acquiring your first SaaS users: expectations vs reality

SaaS sales expectations

Your big, anticipated product launch is looming. Whether you’re a new founder or an experienced entrepreneur, you’ll still experience the emotional highs and lows of your high expectations, long hours and stress leading up to the launch.

In this post, I’ll discuss the 3 major expectations founders and marketers have when acquiring their first users, and what is the best course of action when faced with (harsh) reality.

Are you guilty of any of these false expectations?

”…we will get 10x results across the board if everything will be perfect!”

We spent so much time and resources to make everything perfect…Unless everything is perfect, we can’t launch! And anything but perfect results will be a massive disappointment.

In reality, having everything perfect in its true meaning would probably lead to close to perfect results. However, the concept of perfection is elusive. And chasing it will be destructive.

Let’s take matters into perspective. The majority of venture-backed businesses (~75%) still fail, whether that is due to not finding product-market fit, sales inefficiency or the team (despite VC vetting procedures).

Even with all the funding, access to VC network and resources, they still mess up and run into difficulties at almost every stage of growth.

Perfection is unlikely to be achieved at that level, let alone with startups without all these benefits. Instead, strive to be effective and representative in your approach – not perfect.

Your SaaS product’s sales launch and first user acquisition campaigns are not going to be perfect.

Your initial sales efforts need to be effective, representative and have the correct foundations for the future. The entire sales process, results, and even your confidence will be initially based on market feedback/data, and all the lost and won accounts.

You still need to go to market with all the necessary tools (marketing collateral, sales pitch, landing pages, email templates, lead generation process etc.) but expect and plan to improve over time.

There will be a point in time when you need to stop trying to learn new things and playing around with the site and emails, and simply go for it.

The reality is that you can’t expect to improve on your sales approach without feedback from your customers.

As you collect more feedback and data, this information will be channeled to fuel your strategy into a more sophisticated process, which will also increase the effectiveness of the campaign.

In the example above, a sales process can progress from the initial sales approach (founder sales) to account based marketing, as data and experience increase.

However, let me clarify that sophistication doesn’t always equal effectiveness (sometimes the opposite)! In this example, we are adding more layers to the campaign which was based on good foundations.

The image shows an improvement of the entire sales strategy, but this same process improvement can happen not only across approaches (FS to ABM) but also within one approach/channel.

Let’s take cold emails for example, from low market data/feedback, sophistication and effectiveness to high.

1) Mass cold emails with no personalization

2) Better prospect list + Cold emails with basic personalization

3) Better prospect list + Cold emails with advanced personalization

4) Better prospect list + Cold emails with advanced personalization + industry-specific content

The channel and approach you choose will depend on your experience in SaaS sales and marketing, the product itself, and your market – but the main focus should always be on effectiveness and efficiency.

Another aspect to consider is having solid foundations from the start, your foundations will support your long-term approach. Again, don’t strive for perfection, but keep this in mind.

Don’t build your sales strategy that is too complex for your current needs, but also don’t go for the quick and easy solution.

As you start acquiring your first customers, maybe you don’t need the most expensive and complex sales automation tool, however, ensure that your infrastructure will be able to support future tech demands.

For instance, by choosing vendors that offer tiers that will expand in complexity as your business grows and need for features increase.

“…uhmm, and now what?”

Users will just start rolling in as soon as we launch!

Probably not too many founders have this naive expectation (but I am sure some do), however, a great number of founders grossly underestimate the effort it will take to build a sustainable pipeline of qualified leads that will become customers.

The competition is increasing and CAC is growing too. There are some amazing stories of companies who claim that their entire success formula is in “building a product people love” – but every founder loves their product and thinks people love it too!

Building a sustainable pipeline is for the average SaaS business, not an easy task.

Nobody is going to use your product if you don’t make a conscious effort to acquire them. It’s close to impossible to acquire any new users without a pre- and post-launch strategy

Firstly, your sales and marketing strategy should be on your mind even before a single line of code is written. By understanding your users and their behaviours, your product should be created in a way to allow seamless adoption through 1-2 primary sales channels as a part your product-channel fit.

Secondly, as you build your product, you need to also start building an audience to sell to once you’re ready to launch. Many founders neglect this and just bury their in the sand, doing things they feel more comfortable doing. Instead, they should be out there promoting and creating.

As a business, your role is to produce products and services people love, and sell them.

Selling is a part of this equation, and neglecting sales will have only one possible outcome in the long run…we know what is it.

SaaS sales pre-launch activity

The goals of your pre-launch campaigns should be:
– building a pipeline of qualified leads
– brand awareness, excitement, engagement
– collecting feedback
– agreement from beta users to become early adopters
– thought leadership

In fact, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to achieve these goals. Start with content marketing – start blogging even if your product is not ready, and also use 3rd party platforms such as Quora (great for targeting your user base), Medium or Linkeidn and explore guest blogging opportunities.

Secondly, start a Youtube channel. If you’re short on time and resources, record 5-10 minute long videos and transcribe them.

Repurpose content and create blogs, powerpoint presentations and downloadable PDFs from the transcript. In terms of content topics, educate your audience about solutions that will bridge the gap between their problem and their desired outcome.

”….everyone will love our product. I mean… I love it!”

I, the co-founder and also my friends love our product. I am sure everyone else will too!

Unfortunately, many founders don’t properly validate their business idea. For the argument’s sake, however, let’s consider a situation where the founders did conduct thorough market research and gap analysis.

But what if they still struggle to acquire their first 25-100 users? If you’re bringing a new idea to market, research will give you valuable information, but it will never tell you the entire story.

Only presenting a product to potential customers and asking them to show how much they like it with their wallets will give you a good understanding of whether the direction you’re going is correct.

The market will tell you whether your product is useful or not. Based on this, adjust to the current situation.

If lead generation is still an uphill battle, even after adjusting your strategies and trying a variety of new approaches, it may be worth considering if you’re going in the right direction.

Quickly test if you’re going the right direction:
The initial sales struggle doesn’t need to immediately indicate that there is no market for your product. You can do a number of tweaks first, that should bring you closer to product-market fit.

SaaS sales tweaks

– Feedback: your ideal customer didn’t buy? The best way to know why is to ask why!
– Targeting: do your target accounts really need your solution, or would a different group benefit more?
– Sales focus: are you focusing on the right features and outcomes? Are you pitching to solve too much, pleasing everybody/nobody or are you offering too little and not solving an important problem at all?
– Sales team and processes: is your sales team, including you, equipped with the right education and tools to attract and close new deals?
– Positioning: can you improve your market positioning to occupy a special place in your users’ mind?
– Messaging: is your product, price and marketing messages aligned?
– Product: is your product really solving a problem?

Think about how to test these variables in your business, and collect the right data that will act as a catalyst for change. It’s important to not make premature conclusions and to not be completely attached to one idea about your business.

Being willing to make changes can save your business. On the other hand, don’t be too hasty, changing the direction every week. You may be tempted to satisfy every potential customer who says they’ll buy only if you add one custom features for them. Don’t do this.

You need to find the right balance between listening to the market and staying on your course and pivoting only when data indicates that it’s necessary.

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