If your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution is relatively new to the market and you’ve already managed to bring on a group of early customers, congratulations.
That’s usually solid proof that your product works, somebody’s getting value from it, and people will pay for it. No small feat.
But before you go overboard celebrating, I’ve got a bit of bad news: It gets more difficult from here.
Sure, signing on that first group of paying customers probably was tough. But signing on 10, 20, or 50 times that number... that's even tougher.
A new kind of buyer
Why does customer acquisition get more difficult?
Here's why: you’re now selling to a different kind of buyer. You’re not just selling to early adopters anymore. You’re now marketing and selling to mainstream buyers.
Yes, these mainstream buyers may be in the same industry and they may need a solution to solve the same set of problems.
But they follow a different evaluation and purchase process. And your marketing and sales plans need to adjust.
A longer sales cycle
When they evaluate new solutions, particularly those that are critical to their business, mainstream buyers tend to proceed more deliberately. Unlike many early adopters, who are usually eager to try something new, these folks won’t jump right in. They move forward step-by-step.
Your marketing plan needs to follow this more deliberate process. Plan to stay in touch with these prospects over an extended time, and implement programs to carefully nurture them along, one step at a time.
Trying to rush things along is a bad idea. For example, don’t expect prospects to jump from their first visit to your website and go directly to a one-on-one demo. Not many will get your first email and immediately contact your sales rep.
They need more time to get more comfortable with you and your solution before they’re ready to talk with you directly.
Need more proof
Mainstream buyers need to see more proof that your solution works as advertised. They want to know that organizations similar to theirs have had success. Unlike early adopters, they’re not interested in being the first of their colleagues to try something.
To satisfy their need to see proof, your marketing programs should include a healthy dose of customer success stories, references, and other ways to show that your solution really does deliver the benefits it promises.
Not interested in tech wizardry
Mainstream buyers usually aren’t wowed by cool technology. They just want a solution that helps them run their business, and they don’t care a lot about what’s under the hood. (See “Don’t talk techie to SaaS buyers.”)
They’re especially interested in how easy your solution is to learn and to use. No matter how sophisticated the underlying technology or how long your list of features, these prospects know that if they can’t figure out how to use your solution - or train their employees to use it - it’s worthless to them.
Talking on and on about your platform, your proprietary algorithms, and your impressive feature list is more likely to distract, overwhelm, or confuse them than it is to impress them.
Rely more on support
Unlike the more adventurous early adopters, the next round of buyers tend to need more help to implement the solution. Your ability to get them up & running quickly factors heavily in their evaluation.
Show them your on-boarding and training process and highlight your customer support capabilities. Show them they’ll be working with a company that understands their business and won’t just leave them on their own to figure stuff out.
Many of the companies I work with gotten themselves through the first stage of growth. By word-of-mouth or direct contacts, they’ve managed to attract a cadre of early customers.
But to ramp up beyond that, they need a “marketing pivot.” They need to adjust their initial messages and tactics to fit a different kind of buyer.
You may find yourself in a similar spot. You need to reach beyond the early adopters to attract the broader pool of mainstream buyers. That’s where you'll find the opportunity to accelerate growth and build a sustainable SaaS business.