Our road to 100 customers started with a simple promise: to get just 5 paying customers. That’s right, 5.
We had just pivoted from a failed CRM company and I owed it to our developers to start selling. If they were going to work late writing code – a task they had been admirably performing for quite some time up to that point – then I had to hold up my end of the bargain.
It was only fair.
Luckily, some of the other entrepreneurs in the co-working space we shared needed help with outbound sales. I had been in sales my whole career – about a decade before I became a founder – so I jumped (jumped!) at the chance to help.
And just like that, I had quickly fulfilled my promise to the team; we had our first 5 paying customers.
Our First 7 Customers: The Value of Product-Market Fit + Early Referrals
It was a small group, sure, but it was a ton of work. My then-girlfriend (now-wife) dubbed me the “ghost of the dirty dishes” during this period – I was out of the house before she was up and home after she had gone to bed. But that’s what it takes to effectively run outbound sales for 5 clients on your own.
More importantly, however, was what we were accomplishing as a company during these early, hectic times – product-market fit. Yes, we had people willing to pay us, but we were learning each day about what the market needs and wants when it comes to outsourced outbound sales. This wasn’t an exercise in sales and marketing. This was pure market validation, a key component to growth, and it was working.
Soon after we took on our first 5 customers, 2 of those clients came back to us with referrals, pushing that first group to 7.
The word, it seemed, was getting out.
Our Next 25 Customers: More Referrals + Perfecting the Sales Process
This growing group was entirely comprised of referrals. I’ve long considered a company’s initial beta group a great acid test. If they are giving you referrals, you are probably onto something. If they aren’t, you aren’t. This is a telltale sign that you’re onto something.
In our case, people needed what we were doing. In fact, an early client once said to me, “you did this much work for $500...what could you do for $10,000?” I was floored. Compounding that success was the fact that the network of those first beta customers was huge. They routinely gave us the names of colleagues and friends in their industries so we could connect and discuss how we could help them as well.
An important note for companies experiencing this type of early growth: don’t get lazy. Yes, a referral is always the warmest lead you’re ever going to get, but it’s still a terrific opportunity to hone your messaging, refine your demos, and begin working out the kinks in your sales process. There is always something to learn, and future deals to plan...even when you’re getting fed high-quality leads.
(For those of you who don’t know, I host a weekly podcast called The Predictable Revenue Podcast. A little while back, we had renowned entrepreneur, investor, and sales coach, Dan Martell, on to discuss how to perfect your demos and sell your product in just 30 minutes. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole interview here. If innovative sales tactics are your thing, trust me, you don’t want to miss that podcast.)
Our 50th Customer: Lessons from the Journey to Another Milestone
Of course, depending on a constant stream of referrals to entirely fuel the growth of your company is poor planning – you can only maintain that referral chain for so long.
We figured since we were using our outbound framework to book meetings for others, we should use that same system to book meetings for us. So, that’s what we did.
We hired a junior SDR to do outbound for us. Their primary responsibilities were list building, calling, and emailing; basically, everything I no longer had the time to do. We were still a tiny team in those days, so priority always went to customers over our own demand gen program. As a result, our SDR would often get called in to do client support when needed.
I know, I know – we committed the very same mistake I routinely stress to others not to do: we didn't have a dedicated person doing outbound. They were doing a mix of inbound, outbound, and client work.
In order to be successful with outbound sales, a dedicated outbound sales team. (Two reps and a sales manager is the team composition I suggest to companies looking to get an outbound team off the ground). When you have two reps, they inspire each other, they compete, they help each other, and they keep each other company. Let’s face it, sales development can be a lonely job. Junior reps need someone to support them.
Finally, outbound sales needs someone to take ownership and make sure the team is hitting the ground running. Remember, successful outbound sales can be a major revenue driver for the future of your company and greatly affect people’s livelihood. It’s in your best interest to get that support element right.
The Road to 100: How a Merger Flooded Our Pipeline with Inbound Leads
When we were just north of the 50-customer mark, we merged with Aaron Ross and Predictable Revenue. With that merger came an effective inbound sales funnel – Aaron had written a very popular book, and the Predictable Revenue brand brought a lot of visibility to our company.
Almost overnight we had 200 leads coming in. The outbound specialists, all of a sudden, had a robust inbound funnel to work – and it was awesome.
Sure, entrepreneurially, we were cheating a bit - this partnership gave us a huge leg up. Our journey from 50 to 100 wasn’t a typical one. I had always envisioned finding a partner at this stage of our growth – someone to run co-branded webinars and brand-building campaigns with – but the closer we worked with Aaron, the more we realized a merger was the right avenue to pursue.
Now, had we not solidified our relationship with Aaron, we would have continued adding SDRs and building out our outbound team. I firmly believe you should focus on one sales channel first, to ensure you get your outbound machine fine-tuned before you start to diversify.
Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride. The road to 100 customers can be daunting, at times nerve wracking, but watching your company grow from an idea (or a promise, like ours did) to a robust organization is exhilarating.
Collin Stewart is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Predictable Revenue, and host of our weekly podcast where he interviews B2B sales leaders on the biggest opportunities and challenges in the industry. Predictable Revenue teaches companies how to double or triple (or more) new sales.
Fun fact: Collin refereed hockey in order to pay rent during the first few years of starting the company.