getting your first customers

Startups: How To Get Your First Customers & Sales

Kurt GraverBusiness Start-up Advice

No matter how great your product or service is, you don’t have a sustainable business if you don’t have customers. Also, you may be able to come up with a great new product or business idea, but that doesn’t automatically mean you can successfully sell it to customers.

Many startups struggle at first to find customers and generate revenue. Depending on how much working capital you have, your business could be under threat of closure before you’ve even really begun.

In most cases, when a startup has slow sales, it is usually due to one of four core issues:

Problem 1: Lack of Market Demand

Sometimes, entrepreneurs think they have a great idea and want to start their own business based on it. They moved forward because they thought the idea itself was solid and appealing. However, they didn’t properly validate whether there is truly demand in the market for their offering.

There is no viable business if there is no underlying consumer problem or need. Successful businesses are built around solving a real problem or unmet market need. As an entrepreneur, you need to objectively assess whether your product or service addresses a substantiated pain point or desire.

Think critically about what core problem you are trying to solve or what you are fulfilling. If you cannot clearly articulate this or back it up with market research, you may need to go back to the drawing board on your concept. Identify specifically what problem exists, then determine if your solution provides real value in addressing it.

Beyond identifying a problem, you must also understand the factors that drive consumer purchasing decisions. People buy things for a reason. It would be best to determine what motivates people to buy in your particular market. Buying triggers vary greatly depending on the product or service.

The buying trigger for simple, low-cost purchases like coffee is satisfying a routine craving or boosting energy levels. However, for a complex service like hiring a plumber, the trigger is usually emergency repair needs from a burst pipe or clogged drain.

Understanding your target audience’s buying motivations and triggers is crucial to properly positioning and marketing your offering. Get inside the hearts and minds of potential customers to determine what would convince them to buy.

Problem 2: Lack of Product-Market Fit

Your product or service may be well-designed and functionally decent, but it fails to fully meet your target customers’ needs and preferences. This lack of product-market fit means demand will be limited even if people are generally aware of your business.

A quick way to assess the product-market fit is to evaluate your most successful competitors carefully. If they are doing well and delight customers in your niche, you may need to follow a similar approach in your offering. Identify ways to draw those satisfied customers away with an improved or differentiated solution.

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • How much are competitors charging? Is your pricing aligned with customer expectations?
  • What is your competitors’ unique selling proposition? How can you creatively differentiate?
  • Is a new disruptive player entering the market that threatens to make your solution obsolete?
  • Do you need to pivot to an adjacent niche where you can better deliver value?

Continuously gather customer feedback so you can rapidly iterate on your product until it achieves irresistible levels of value. Aligned offerings sell themselves.

Problem 3: Poor Marketing Execution

Ineffective marketing and sales processes are the most common reason startups fail to generate initial traction. Your product could be fantastic in principle. However, it is irrelevant if your target market is unaware that your business exists. No matter how remarkable your product is, it will not sell itself on merit alone.

Marketing is an area of frequent waste and misalignment for early-stage companies. Budgets are deployed across improper channels and platforms that never reach the right audiences. Messaging fails to convey compelling value propositions that spark action.

This issue is easily fixable once you deeply understand your product-market fit and your target buyers’ habits, values, and objections. You can only gain these consumer insights directly from the source through surveys, interviews, and research.

With knowledge of your ideal customer profile, you can craft marketing campaigns that deploy the right messages through the ideal channels to reach them. Laser-focused, value-driven marketing is the key to unlocking sales.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I advertising where my target audience will see it?
  • Does my campaign directly address my customers’ needs and desires?
  • What can I do to showcase more value and relevance than competitors?
  • Have I offered compelling incentives to choose my business?

Problem 4: Subpar Sales Process

Your marketing may be effective in driving interest and leads. However, you may still experience poor conversion rates if the sales process fails to nurture prospects and close deals.

An optimized sales process is tailored to move qualified prospects smoothly through the buyer’s journey. Each touchpoint and message aims to build interest, nurture relationships, and neutralize objections.

Sales expert Victor Antonio outlines the five core objections that derail sales: Money, Time, Need, Urgency, and Trust (MTNUT). Prepare tailored responses to overcome each barrier.

For example, when buyers cite a lack of money, redirect the conversation to highlight the value they will receive. If they express no urgent need, craft a compelling case for the benefits of immediate action. Building trust requires demonstrating credibility and listening to needs.

Take the time to map out how to guide prospects through each step, from lead to satisfied customer. An intentional sales process designed with your customers’ motivations will enable growth.

Step 1:Diagnose Weak Points in Your Model

With slow sales plaguing your startup, thoughtfully examine your business foundations using the four areas above. Identify the specific weak points or gaps contributing to lacklustre demand.

  • Does your product truly address a substantial market need?
  • Is your offering aligned with your target customer preferences?
  • Are you reaching your audience with relevant messaging and incentives to purchase?
  • Can your sales process effectively nurture prospects to close deals?

Be reflective and honest with yourself to determine where the breakdown is occurring. The necessary fixes will become apparent once the root causes are clear.

Step 2: Conduct Market Research

Armed with hypotheses about weak points, engage directly with your target market to validate your assumptions. Well-designed surveys, interviews, and focus groups can provide invaluable nuanced insights from those you aim to serve.

Key questions to guide your research:

  • What core needs or pain points does your target audience have? How intense is this problem?
  • How do they currently solve this issue? What frustrates them about existing options?
  • What offering attributes and benefits matter most to them when making a purchase?
  • What price points or structures seem fair to them?
  • What key factors build trust and credibility around your business?
  • How and where can you best reach them through marketing?

Let customer perspectives guide your strategy instead of relying on guesses and intuition. The customer does not lie about their needs and buying criteria.

Step 3: Refine Your Offering

With a firm handle on your customers’ wants, perceptions, and pain points, you can re-engineer your business model and product to achieve product-market fit.

Enhance your offering by incorporating the features, attributes, and messaging that research shows your audience values most. Eliminate elements that add no value through their lens.

Iterate rapidly based on feedback, continuously improving your MVP until you achieve a remarkable solution. Stay laser-focused on delivering extreme value against the needs your market has explicitly told you matter most to them.

Step 4: Rebuild Your Go-to-Market Strategy

Now that you have an optimized product shift focus to transforming your marketing and sales process to support it.

  • Identify the best marketing channels and partnerships to reach your audience based on their stated habits.
  • Craft compelling messaging focused on the benefits and outcomes they desire.
  • Design multi-channel nurturing journeys to engage at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
  • Build trust and address objections by emphasizing credibility and value.
  • Make the sales process seamless and heavily oriented around understanding needs.

Getting the marketing mix right is critical to scaling efficiently. Constantly test new approaches and analyze response rates. Double down on the platforms, partners, and messages yielding the highest ROI.

Step 5: Instill an Obsessive Focus on Metrics

With a thoughtfully optimized business model and go-to-market strategy, rigorously focus on metrics to assess progress. Key performance indicators allow you to pinpoint what’s working so you can do more of it.

  • Track leads generated, costs per lead, conversion rates, sales velocity, lifetime value, and other sales-oriented metrics.
  • Analyze marketing metrics like reach, engagement, and click-through rates.
  • Continuously monitor customer satisfaction and demand levels.

Analyze this data to identify bright spots of traction and any lingering weak points. Feed these insights back into your strategy and execution. Maintain an agile, iterative approach to gradual improvement.


Launching a startup is complex. It is normal to encounter initial challenges in attracting customers. You can diagnose and resolve the underlying issues crimping sales with a strategic, metric-driven approach.

Carefully evaluate your business foundations and objectively identify gaps in market demand, product-market fit, marketing, or sales. Seek customer perspectives to validate assumptions and inform solutions.

Re-engineer your offering, messaging, and processes to align with market needs. Obsess over metrics to double down on what works. With focus and resilience, you will find product-market fit and bring customers through the door.

Make Your Business A Success

The key to growing sales and building a successful business can be found in our Business Success Formula. If you structure your business using the Business Success Formula as your blueprint, you will significantly decrease your chance of failure.

We assess your business and implement our business success formula in our business assessment service, The Business 360. It provides all the information to get your first customers and 10x your business in weeks. You can check it out here.