Emerging markets are the best places to follow Paul Graham’s rule and do things that don’t scale first. You want to reach your first clients without using up a ton of resources and start gaining traction on the market. You’ll get to scalable marketing tactics when you start generating revenue.
The most organic way to start generating revenue is network effect on a small scale. The idea is that you do a great job for your clients, in turn they are happy to recommend you to new potential clients from their market. Ideally each new customer gives you a number of leads that are already pre-qualified — they need what you offer and know that you can deliver.
You’ve got to hustle
The core of your business has to be on point – a product/service that’s a great business solution, awesome customer service, etc.. When your company has a strong backbone, you can use specific strategies to reap the benefits of the network effect. I’ll break down the strategies we used at RightHello – they’re the reason why our polish SaaS startup started generating revenue early-on.
Find your general target group – professionals that could use your solution
And then define a smaller sub-group of customers (a niche) that you can pick from your general target group. A “tribe” if you will, where it will be easier for you to acquire first customers.
This niche should be a set of people and companies that know each other, and communicate organically — through discussion boards, social media, magazines, etc. Key aspect – you need to have access to that niche through your network
From my experience a good tribe has 1000 to 10.000 companies within, in our case it was the polish IT market (services and products). It was still quite small 2 years ago (it’s growing very quickly) — we estimated about 1000 companies that could become our clients, and we knew they communicate with each other.
The first step to gain traction on a new market is building brand recognition and trust
It’s hard when your portfolio doesn’t show that you’ve worked with similar companies.
That’s why you approach your close network first – those people already trust you for who you are. Talk to those connections that belong to your target tribe, then ask for feedback on your solution, introductions and referrals. Look for early adopters that will give you honest feedback.
Your first niche pick might prove to be wrong, if you see no interest at all in the value that you provide, look for another niche you can start connecting with.
The second step is to create case studies with companies from the target tribe. Market participants will start recognizing you, and you’ll up your confidence that you can deliver real value
The effects of this are awesome — you’ll start getting leads from recommendations, and close new deals faster (showing a case study helps deal with objections).
Your first brand advocates are a game-changer early on, especially if you don’t give free trials and your model requires clients to pay something upfront.
Additionaly, when you have your first case studies you can get back to the people that doubted you too much to buy from you before. Satisfied clients’ testimonials might change their mind.
When you have no more network connections to approach, it’s time to invest in marketing
You’ve proven your worth, and satisfied clients and great case studies are proof. Plus, at this point you’ll get a feel for the market, know where the best leads are and what to do to make customers happy. You shouldn’t have a problem picking the right marketing channel to reach your customers either.
Reach clients from your target niche directly with cold email campaigns, let them know you’re ready, well-equipped and eager to solve their problems. They’ll start discussing whether you’re worth a try. Post case studies on your website — potential customers will have someone to reach out to and ask about you.
If you approach a huge market from the start, achieving the network effect will take much more work and resources that an early stage B2B SaaS can afford.
You must leave a footprint big enough to create a small network effect, 10 customers from Germany + 10 from Poland won’t have the same effect as 20 from Poland.
This strategy has worked awesome for us – when people ask for a lead generation company on polish IT discussion boards, one of our supporters or clients always points to us.
One last important piece of advice to finish with:
Don’t Screw it Up!
Give, give, give – value, great customer support, just work your ass off for customer success. You’re targeting a small niche, so a few unhappy customers could kill your reputation and, in turn, sales.
Mistakes happen, but if you mess things up — do everything you can to fix them. Offer discounts, give money back, improve your product, do whatever it takes to make clients smile again. Negative opinion will cost you money, happiness, health and your last shirt.
But if customers see that you’re doing everything to make the sun shine again, you’ll win back your opinion, positive karma points and new deals.