Running Google Ads might feel like a good idea. But it’ll only get you leads, not customers. Here’s what will bring both.
Getting those first 10–20 customers is particularly tough when you’re running a B2B startup. It’s not easy with B2C either, but at the end of the day, you can sweet talk your neighbor’s son or your younger sibling to subscribe to your $10/month service. With B2B when you have to go through several loops of decision making, talk to and impress a bunch of hard to impress people and end up convincing them to spend $200–1K on your product — well, it doesn’t sound like a walk in the park. However, 4 Guerrilla marketing tactics always work well and bring tangible results, even in the tough B2B startup industry.
1. Find a “big fish” to piggyback on its network
The main idea is to find a partner you can join to utilize their network of customers. Remember the Business Model Canvas?
There’s a sector called Key Partners (sometimes — Key Stakeholders) in the upper right corner. Think really hard to figure out what companies can partner with to get access to your future customers. The key reminder here: to build a strong partnership you have to bring in as much value into it as you expect to get in return. Give before you take.
If you can’t think of a partner to impress your direct customers you might very well target the end-users. Let’s presume, you’re building a cyber-security product for banks. The main end-users would be Gen X. They are considered to be environmentally friendly (at least, more environmentally friendly than Boomers). A good idea would be to partner with an environmental program such as Earth Day or Carbonforest or any other. You might offer financial support (ex., every 1% of transaction goes to the environment protection fund), or technology support (you’d use your software to protect all private citizens contributions into the fund), or whatever you can come up with. As a result of this partnership, you get great exposure to environmentally-friendly end users. Then, with these numbers on hand, you pitch the bank saying that “1m of end-users already know us and support our vision”. What VP will have the guts to resist this offer?
2. Use old good cold walk-ins and emailing.
The basic principle is B2B is to use direct outreach as much as you can. Good for you, if you have someone to arrange a warm intro. But in some cases, it’s not only impossible but also unimaginable. Think, B2B marketplaces. Like, Upwork, Fiverr or Vettery, or Roo. What if you know tons of companies that need these on-demand services, but the supply side is missing. And you just can’t hope to be introduced to all the veterinarians in town and convince them to onboard. That’s where direct outreach comes into play.
When Instawork — a marketplace that connects local businesses with hourly workers for temp and temp-to-hire shift work — began its journey, most of its early workers (they call them Pros) were acquired through direct outreach in person.
— We would visit San Francisco restaurants in the morning and in the late evening, waiting outside the back door to recruit cooks, dishwashers, and servers who were taking the trash out or on a break. We would walk them through our onboarding flow (speaking Spanish if needed!) and help them sign up immediately.
— Sumir Meghani, founder of Instawork.
3. Use word of mouth and initiate buzz
If you work in the B2B industry you definitely know that, according to Nielsen research, 92% of buyers trust word of mouth over any sort of advertising
— Trust, encouraged by social media, significantly affects intention to buy. Therefore, trust has a significant role by directly influencing intention to buy and indirectly influencing perceived usefulness.
— M. Nick Hajili, International Journal of Market Research,
There’s a clue here. Word of mouth is encouraged by social media. And using social media to create a positive “buzz” around your brand is the best way to get the attention of your leads. This strategy is akin to the “partnership for end users”, only here you use social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit as your strategic partners. The sequence of steps is the same: get end users’ attention, increase buzz and recognition, then reach out to your B2B customers with an impressive number of “followers” to support your market weight.
Uberconference — a conference calling service — did a great job of getting attention. They used hilarious on-hold music, written and performed by their CEO Craig Walker. It created a ton of chatter about the company offline, and online. It instantly skyrocketed Uberconference brand recognition and ended up with much more customers a company could hope for, as well as a pretty successful seed round where they raised $4.2 million from Andreessen-Horowitz.