Every inbound journey starts at zero. Before you build a pipeline-generating inbound engine, you first need to clear a much lower hurdle: getting your first 10 inbound customers.
At this stage, simplicity is the name of the game. You don’t need much in the way of technology and process. In fact, too much process can hurt you. In this article, we’ll show you why, and how to set yourself up for future inbound success.
Don’t make this early-stage inbound mistake
Too many early-stage startups focus on their inbound process, technology, and systems before converting a single lead. This is a problem for multiple reasons:
- You can’t optimize a system unless you know what you’re optimizing against—which requires baseline data and some indicator that you’re headed in the right (or wrong) direction
- If you invest resources in building an inbound flow before you know what works, you could end up wasting resources
- Converting 0-10 leads is manageable with a simple flow—you just need a simple, effective way to get meetings on the calendar
Rather than over-invest in your processes or technology, focus on testing your GTM strategy. Learn as much as you can about who these first 10 customers are, why they’re converting, and how your product helps them.
This information will help to solidify your GTM strategy—either by confirming or denying your existing hypotheses. That way, when you invest in scaling and optimizing your inbound flow, you know exactly where you’re putting your resources.
Leveraging inbound to find product-market fit
During the early inbound stage, your product is in an equally precarious state. Just as you’re trying to figure out what works, so too is your product in the product-market fit stage:
While you’re already past proof of concept and MVP, there’s a long way to go before you have a scalable, viable, profitable product. The same is true for your inbound flow: there’s a lot to learn before marketing will start making an outsized impact.
But if you work strategically, early inbound can help you determine product-market fit. If people come to you independently and start asking about your product, that’s an excellent indicator that you’ve found your fit within the market.
The more you can learn about these leads, the more insight you’ll have into your target market—which helps marketing, sales, and product teams become more effective.
What does an early-stage inbound engine look like?
While you’re converting your first 0-10 inbound customers, you don’t really have a true inbound engine. You don’t even have a brand, or independent lead sources. Rather, early inbound is all about seamlessly leveraging and activating existing networks.
Here are some specific attributes of an early-stage inbound engine.
Nearbound, not inbound
At this stage of the journey, you really won’t be attracting true inbound leads, namely because you have no brand or reputation with which to attract people. So your “inbound” is really nearbound.
Nearbound leads are different from true inbound in that while you’re attracting people to your website and funneling them to sales, they usually have an existing relationship with the founders or investors:
- Contacts and relationships from online networks and communities (e.g. social media groups, Slack channels, Discord servers)
- Referrals from strategic industry partners
- Personal brand audiences (e.g. LinkedIn followers) funneled to the company website
The more you can learn about these nearbound customers, the more insight you’ll have into your target market. Then you can start building out your marketing channels and generating true inbound leads.
No real brand
Early-stage startups have no real brand, simply because you haven’t been communicating with the market long enough to form one. Instead, your “brand” is the group of founders, investors, and other personalities tied to the business.
That’s why it’s critical to have detailed information about your early-stage inbound leads. Are they coming to your website because they’re a good fit for the product? Or because they happen to know the founder and are curious to learn more?
If you try to optimize your processes too quickly, you may end up optimizing around the wrong metrics. Which means that your inbound engine will implode, not scale.
Simple, clear inbound flows
Since you’re attracting a low number of leads at this stage, the name of the game is: simplicity. All you need is a simple and effective way to get meetings on the calendar.
However, if you want to build for scale, it’s good to have the following technologies in place:
- CRM to give your prospect and customer database a solid foundation from Day 1
- Data enrichment to provide detailed insights into your leads to confirm (or deny) your GTM hypotheses
- Scalable inbound platform, so you don’t have to switch systems right as you reach a critical growth stage
Limited lead qualification
Since you’re still testing hypotheses at this point, lead qualification is less helpful than it will be in later stages. Rather than have extensive qualification systems, which are based on assumptions that may or may not be true, you should talk to every lead that comes to you—regardless of whether or not they buy.
There’s a lot to learn from “unqualified” leads, especially the following:
- Non-ICP potential customers, who can open doors into markets that you otherwise may not have considered
- Non-buyer leads, who are with the right company, but aren’t in a position to buy (for now)
- Market experts, who won’t buy but are plugged into the market and can provide valuable feedback on your product, marketing, and sales strategy
- Non-competitive peers, who source referral business, investor and advisor connections, and moral support
Final thoughts on early-stage inbound lead management
Although you shouldn’t over-invest in inbound technology at this point, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. In fact, we’ve found that our most successful customers take inbound seriously from Day 1.
But rather than invest in overly complicated technologies, start with a simple platform that can grow as you do. Default supports the simple, early-stage use case described in this article, but can grow and scale with your business. Start off on the right foot, and set yourself up for rapid success.