How to grow from 10 to 100 paying customers
If you have your first 10 customers, congratulations! But now, if you want to grow beyond your initial 10 customers, you need to shift gears.
Getting your first 10 paying customers for your B2B SaaS business is mostly an unscalable manual hustle. Doing unscalable things is exactly what you need to do to win your first 10 paying customers and get your first conviction about your idea.
But to grow beyond that and hit your first 100 paying customers, you need to shift gears and follow a new strategy.
Why is getting 100 customers different from the first 10 customers?
Winning your first 10 paying customers should be a manual process. It’s basically a way for your to validate your idea and learn who your ideal customer is, what their pain points are and what’s the value of your product for your target customers (based on the BIG problem you are trying to solve). Basically, you’re getting answers to draft your go-to-market strategy.
During that stage, you will start to analyze your successful customers and based on the learnings (what do our successful customers have in common) iterate your ideal customer persona. You will also test out different growth channels and learn which ones are working, and which don’t.
Because of that, I would highly recommend you divide your launch into different stages:
stage 1: from zero to 10 paying customers
stage 2: from 10 to 100 paying customers
stage 3: from 100 to 1000+ paying customers
Growing from 100 to 1000 paying customers is again a different stage. It's mostly about execution, optimizing your strategies, and getting your KPIs and metrics right (churn, LTV, CAC, and MRR).
Steli Efti says that:
stage 1 is 90% short term tactics & 10% long term tactics
stage 2 is 80% short term tactics & 20% long term tactics
stage 3 is 20% short term tactics & 80% long term tactics
How to get the first 100 customers
#1 Manually win your first 10 paying customers
Winning your first 10 paying customers lets you gather the necessary information to create the first version of a powerful go-to-market strategy.
Follow those 8 tips to win your first 10 paying customers:
Solve a real BIG problem
Start with strategies that do NOT scale
Be human and don’t sell your product in the first step
Find customers, who love your product
Avoid hard customers
Qualify your customers - don't sell to every interested prospect
Charge your first customers
Ask for referrals
#2 Implement your powerful go-to-market strategy
Hubspot defines a go-to-market strategy (GTM) as “a step-by-step plan created to successfully launch a product to market”. What it means is that your GTM strategy defines how you literally connect your product with your potential customers.
Your go-to-market strategy covers the questions around...
How do you communicate your value proposition to the market (brand messaging & sales messaging)
How do you sell the product to your ICP and make them happy (product-led vs. sales-led)
What growth channels & growth activities work best for your product
How do you make money (pricing strategy)
...and is one of the 3 core elements of your SaaS Growth Strategy.
Your powerful Go-to-market strategy makes sure that your growth activities (e.g. Facebook Ads, Outbound Emails...) are efficient and show results.
#3 Decide on your sales strategy (product-led vs. sales-led)
Based on your product and the segment of the market you’re targeting, you need to decide whether you follow a product-led growth (a self-service product) or involve salespeople in your acquisition strategy. As it's really important, I will highlight product-led vs. sales-led separately in this article.
The decision if you should follow a product-led growth vs. sales-led growth vs. hybrid model (combination of both) is based on:
your ICP: how your customers actually want to buy your product (not what you personally prefer)
the complexity of your product // how easy can you deliver the value
the complexity and length of the buying process
your pricing strategy: the price point of your product (average contract value or MRR)
The more complex the product, the longer the sales cycle, and the more expensive your product, the better is a sales-led strategy for you (and vice-versa).
Your ideal customer profile (ICP)
Some types of customers prefer to have face-to-face contact (field sales) or at least some personal human connection (e.g. online meetings), whereas others prefer to make their decisions without any contact with sales. So it depends also on the profile of customers and their personal preferences. Normally the larger the accounts you’re hunting, the higher their preference for field sales (and longer sales cycle).
The pricing strategy (average contract value).
If the average price of your product is (very) high, customers mostly take longer to make a purchase decision (longer sales cycle). In this case, making use of a salesperson can be a good idea. The higher the average contract value (ACV), respectively your average monthly recurring revenue (MRR), the more I would suggest a sales-driven growth.
A good benchmark for B2B SaaS is:
MRR < 100€ - focus on product-led growth with self-service (you can't afford salespeople)
MRR < 1000€ - focus on inside sales (no face to face meetings) - inbound and outbound sales
MRR > 3000€ (better 5000€) - focus on field sales (you probably can even afford field sales if they close more than 3 deals per month)
Of course, this is just a rough benchmark and is also depends on the average sales cycle (how long it takes you to close a deal) and the number of deals closed per month per sales rep.
Complexity of product
The more complex your product, the more often it requires the presence of a salesperson to guide the customer. Customers tend to have more questions and doubts about the value of your product, specific features, and challenges along the way.
How do you know if your chosen growth strategy is the right one for you?
When you’re just starting and want to win your first 10 paying customers, don’t care about what strategy you’re choosing. It’s all about learning from your first 10 paying customers.
Growing from 10 to 100 paying customers is where you should start to test different channels and also track how healthy they are. A great indicator for you is the LTV/CAC ratio. You should aim for 3 and above. It means the LTV (lifetime value of your customer) is at least 3x higher than the costs for acquiring your customer (CAC). This is a strong indicator that you're growing sustainably and healthy. This ratio is getting crucial for growing beyond 100 paying customers.
—> Check out this site if you want to learn how to calculate both numbers.
#4 Tips for self-service (product-led) growth
When you follow a product-led self-service growth, your goal needs to be to get new signups to the desired behavior (aha-moment) as fast as possible. This means first of all that you need to know what’s the aha-moment of your product (that’s when new users experience the value of your product).
Self-service is great for SaaS startups, if...
... you can get your customers quickly to the AHA moment and...
... your average contract value is below 100€ per month
... your product has low complexity
Your product is considered as complex, if...
... there are high switching costs, meaning it requires the whole organization to migrate from an existing solution to your product (especially with lots of historical data; example: CRM software, ERP software, Accounting software) or your software needs to be integrated into existing tools (and no API is available) or needs to be customized to the specific needs of the customers
... there is a high barrier to getting started, e.g. your software only makes sense, if everyone in an organization is using it (it's rather untypical that customers implement your product to all employees just for testing purposes) or a lot of specific know-how, training, and education is needed
As customers don't have any contact with sales, it's crucial for self-service SaaS startups to focus a lot on their customers' onboarding experience. This means you need to know the AHA moment of your product and tailor a powerful onboarding experience around it.
The onboarding needs to be:
easy to understand (e.g. use product tours, academy videos, in-product messages, checklists & triggered emails...)
focused on delivering value to the user fast
divided into smaller actions to ensure fast achievements (e.g. progress bars, checklists...)
Make sure to track how your customers use the product (and send customized communication) and the conversion to active and paying customers.
#5 Tips for sales-driven growth
Sales-driven growth is the right strategy, if...
... your pricing is at least above 100€ MRR or...
... your product is rather complex (hard to get users to the aha moment without human touch)
... your sales team can close lots (more than 15 per month) of smaller deals (100€/month) and do so creates virality (referral program + organic virality) = not a long-term strategy
Here are some hands-on tips for your sales strategy:
offer a sales demo and not a free trial
your goal is to get customers to talk to sales (and not try the product on their own)
your call to action within your sales message (e.g. outbound emails or landing page) should be a free demo or talk to sales
include your value proposition on all pages (landing page, schedule free demo page, confirmation page, booking confirmation page...)
be quick on inbound follow-ups (preferably within the first 5 minutes - The Five Minute Rule)
know your sales process (lead qualification, meeting preparation, sales demo with a discovery phase, demo follow-up...)
The higher the average MRR per customer, the more sense it makes to have an outbound sales team or even account executives/field sales reps that are visiting your customers in person.
P.S. Let me know if I should write a separate article on hands-on tips for your sales strategy.
#6 How to get awareness. What acquisition channels work for you?
How do you know what channels work for you? The short answer is testing!
You should start testing different acquisition channels (with low resources) and see how they perform. Once you’ve identified acquisition channels that work for you, you should focus on them (with all your resources) and stop the others.
There is a variety of ways to get initial traction. Below you will find a comprehensive list of acquisition channels that could work for you to get your first 100 customers:
(Organic) Inbound Channels
Content (Blog, Webinar, Youtube, Podcast)
Nurture & grow your audience with email marketing
Guest postings (with similar audiences)
Testimonials and case studies (and even ask your customers to share within their network)
Press coverage (Techcrunch, Gründerszene...)
Out of home
Direct Messaging on Social Platforms (Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter...)
Partnerships & Influencers
Sales Partner (who already sells complementary products to your ICP)
(Paid) Influencer Marketing
Virality features like sharing, inviting, powered by, badges...
Grow your business with a powerful strategy
Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of the SaaS Growth Strategy Worksheet.
Also, check out the following articles and videos about different acquisition channels:
References: This article is inspired by The Startup Chat (How to Grow From 100 to 1000 B2B Customers), TK Kader (SaaS/B2B - How to Get Your First 100 Customers) & Steli Efti (Early B2B SaaS growth: How to go from 10 to 100 customers).
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