Startups: Forget Sales & Marketing

Written by Ryan Cormier

Having traded the comfort and security of a solid job at a growing ad agency for the risk and uncertainty of self-employment, I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to other entrepreneurs and startup warriors when I say:

For startups, sales and marketing should NOT be your top priorities - keep reading to see what I mean.Startup life is incredibly rewarding. It can also be incredibly stressful. If you’re anything like me, you probably spend as much time each day planning and perfecting your product as you do worrying about paying back your investors. Pepper in a few bathroom and meal-in-front-of-the-computer breaks, and you’re probably looking at 4-5 hours of sleep per night. Sound familiar?

Naturally, the rational part of your brain wants you to direct your focus towards activities that will get you in front of more prospective customers/users. It’s a perfectly logical sequence of events:

Product + Sales & Marketing = Customers = Revenue = Stress Relief

The issue is that, by focusing solely on how we're going to bring on the next customer, we forget to take care of the ones we’ve already got. That’s a cardinal sin in the world of customer service. In fact, if customer service had its own 10 Commandments, #1 would read:

Thou shalt not neglect the customer!

But why expend valuable energy and resources on someone who’s already sold on my product/service?

There are two simple answers to that question:

Customer retention 

Securing a new customer is great. Retaining an existing customer is even better. According to this article, it’s about 50% easier to sell to an existing customer than to a new one. What’s more, many experts estimate that the cost to acquire a new customer is roughly 3-6x higher than the cost to keep one you already have on the books.

Key point: it pays to keep the customers you have.


Research shows that referrals from trusted sources – family, friends, coworkers, etc. – are the strongest form of marketing. Why? Because people are far more open to influence from people they know and trust than they are from savvy marketers. Take care of your customer and he just might bring you two more. Neglect him and he might leave you and prevent you from securing four more.

Key point: your current clients represent your greatest marketing asset.

customer retention and acquisition

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5 easy ways to show customer appreciation: 

Here are five simple gestures you can use to show your customers you care:

Call just to say hello – don’t fall into the habit of corresponding only via email

Remember birthdays – a surprise gift or phone call goes a LONG way

Refer business – I promise they will return the favor

Wine and dine – Who doesn’t like a good meal and conversation?

Say, “Thank you!” – This goes without saying, but sometimes we forget to verbally thank our customers for their business (and trust)

Are these the only ways to show your customers you value their business? Definitely not. Will kind words and thoughtful gestures alone be enough to keep your customers around? No way in hell!

The best way to show your customers you appreciate them is to do great work, follow through on what you say you're going to do and always treat them like they're your top priority.

When is the right time to ramp up my sales and marketing efforts?

There’s no set formula for determining when you’re ready to take your new business efforts to the next level; you have to go with your instinct.

Chances are, though, if your current customers are pleased with the quality of your work, you (and your team, if applicable) have battle-tested processes in place and you’re confident you can keep new customers as happy as the ones you have – you’re ready punch the gas on new customer acquisition! 

When you do accelerate your sales and marketing efforts, remember to be selective. Your inner ambition - and reason - will try to convince you there’s no such thing as a bad new customer, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Taking on a needy, overly ambitious, excessively picky and/or blatantly disorganized customer could derail your startup’s momentum. The last thing you need when you’re hitting your stride and feeling great about your business is a bad client to take the wind out of your sales. 

Are you an entrepreneur, or perhaps you work for a startup? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article – please leave me a message in the comments!