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Episode 133 - Getting your First 100 eCommerce Sales

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Hey, Scott Austin here.

Today we're diving into a topic that resonates with every new e-commerce entrepreneur: achieving your first 100 sales. Did you know that over 80% of new e-commerce ventures struggle to get past the 100-sales mark within their first few months? This crucial milestone can often be the hardest to achieve.

It's commonly understood in e-commerce that getting your first 100 sales is harder than getting your first 1000 sales.  This is because when you first start out, you have many unknowns and assumptions.  You need to test and validate everything to lock in on your audience, messaging and price.

So in this episode, I'm going to explain the challenge of getting your first 100 sales and give you some tactics, some of them unorthodox, to help you get to that milestone.

The biggest challenge that I see new store owners struggling with is product/market fit.  Product/market fit is a crucial concept in e-commerce and refers to the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. For an e-commerce store, achieving product/market fit means that the products offered align well with the needs and desires of its target customers, and that the store knows how to message the value props to the audience and price the products appropriately.

There are multiple aspects to product/market fit including:

  1. Know Your Audience: Identify and understand who your customers are. What are their preferences, behaviors, and demographics? Your products can have more than one audience.
  2. Differentiate from your Competition: You need to differentiate yourself from your competition in order to make it easy for your customers to pick your products.  Look at what your competitors are offering. What can you learn from their successes and failures? This will help you identify gaps in the market that your brand can fill.
  3. Clear Value Proposition: Know how to communicate clearly why someone should buy your product. What makes it better or different from what's already out there?  This needs to be a message that resonates with the customer.
  4. Quality and Price Point: Ensure your products meet quality expectations for their price point.

A key thing to note here is that product/market fit is two-sided -- it's the reaction between a product and its customer.  Let me illustrate what I mean with an example.  Let's say that the product you are bringing to market is a shoe.  This shoe is designed for comfort and uses some technology that results in the shoe having a unique look.  Now let's take take this shoe to three different audiences. 

  • The first audience is people that work on their feet all-day, like nurses and wait staff.  In your conversations with those customers, you learn that the message that resonates the best with them is 'stay energized all day long' and that they are willing to pay $60 for these shoes. 
  • The next audience is people that are recovering from knee surgery.  When you get a doctor to prescribe these shoes, you can charge $250 and that cost gets covered by insurance.  The customers love the shoes as they reduce pain and decrease recovery time.
  • Now the third audience is young adults, say 16 to 25 years old.  And this audience is drawn to these shoes because of their unique look.  The 'cool' look makes these shoes a fashion item.  For this audience, the message is 'get shoes that are as unique as you' and we can charge $100 for them. 

Now in this purposely exaggerated example, you have three different audiences with three different value props with three different price points for the same product.  And the knee surgery audience would have an atypical channel of doctor prescriptions.  As you hone in on your product/market fit for these shoes, you would come up with three unique selling strategies for these different audiences.

The challenge for you in the first 100 sales is gaining this level of understanding of your product/market fit.  Notice how the price, value-prop and channel change as you change your audience.

One insight that I've learned by working with 100s of Shopify brands is that your first assumptions of the value prop are probably too tactical and focussed on features of the product. For example with the shoes, you could message that they are made with a patented imact absorbing material in the soles.  Think of that as the means.  But what your customers are probably going to care more about is the ends of that or what's in it for them.  So the value prop will probably evolve into the customer focussed value prop of 'stay energized all day long'.

The purpose of determining your product/market fit messaging is to quickly and effectively communicate with customers in a way that resonates with them with the goal of increasing your conversion rate.  So you should be iterating on the messaging as your customer understanding evolves.

So, how do you get that level of customer understanding to be confident in your product / market fit?  Because you are in eCommerce, a lot of the advice out there is about digital methods like analytics and surveys.  While these are good, they are not practical in the early days as you don't yet have an audience.  And the data is very numbers based.  So in those early days, I recommend that you go old school and talk to your customers.  That's right, I encourage you to have one-on-one live conversations with your target audience. Here are some of the benefits of face-to-face customer conversations:

  1. Depth of Insight.  Customer interviews allow for deep, qualitative insights that are often hard to capture through surveys or data analysis alone. You can explore complex feelings, experiences, and motivations in a way that quantitative methods can't match.
  2. Flexibility. Conversations are flexible and can be adapted on the fly. If an interesting point comes up, you can dive deeper in real time, something that isn’t possible with online surveys or analytics.
  3. Clarification and Immediate Feedback.  You can immediately ask for clarification on any responses, which is particularly valuable for understanding nuanced views or complex behaviors. This direct interaction helps minimize misunderstandings and provides clearer, more accurate data.
  4. Uncovering Unexpected Insights.  In conversations, customers may share thoughts or experiences that they wouldn’t think to include in a survey response or that you might not have thought to ask about. This can lead to discovering new opportunities or identifying issues you weren’t aware of.
  5. Non-Verbal Cues.  Face-to-face or video conversations allow you to observe non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions, which can provide additional context to the responses and help you gauge the intensity of their feelings about a topic.

Now customer interviews are pretty hard to do when you are an online store.  So here are my ideas on ways that you can create opportunities for these customer conversations.

  1. Call your abandoned checkouts.  Shopify keeps a record of your abandoned checkouts.  You can get to them in your Shopify admin by going to Orders, then Abandoned Checkouts.  If the customer entered in a phone number, call them.  In my experience, a customer is going to be happily surprised to get a call from a brand they are interested in that wants to here their opinion.  And people love to give their opinion and help build something new.
  2. Call all customers who made a purchase.  Learn about why they bought and what almost prevented them from buying.
  3. Sell to friends and family.  Imagine how hard it would be to sell online if you can't even sell to your friends and family face-to-face.  While the feedback you get from friends and family should be taken with a grain of salt as they may be hesitant to provide unvarnished constructive feedback, talking to them is a good warm-up to selling to strangers.
  4. Sell in person.  I can not emphasize this one enough.  Take your products and try to sell them in person.  There a number of different venues you can do this through like:
    1. Local Markets and Craft Fairs: Participating in local markets, craft fairs, or farmer's markets can provide access to customers. These venues are often well-attended and offer a great opportunity to showcase your products and develop your brand story and product messaging.
    2. Pop-Up Shops: Setting up a pop-up shop in high foot traffic areas like malls, busy streets, or within larger retail stores can attract customers. Pop-up shops are temporary, which reduces your overhead costs while allowing you to interact with customers.
    3. Trade Shows: Trade shows gather businesses within a specific industry and attract buyers looking for specific types of products. They can be an excellent opportunity to network with retailers, wholesalers, and distributors who might be interested in carrying your products and allow you to get their feedback on your messaging.
    4. Holiday Markets or Seasonal Events: Seasonal events like holiday markets or summer festivals can draw large crowds who are willing to buy. These are excellent opportunities to engage customers and sell your products.
    5. Community Events and Charity Functions: Selling at community events or charity functions can not only introduce your product to an audience but also associate your brand with community support and goodwill.

Now, before you try to sell face to face, you should create a sales pitch to not only sell your products but to also gain insights into your product/market fit. Here’s how you can organize your approach to maximize both objectives:

1. Craft a Conversational Sales Pitch

a. Opening: Start with a friendly greeting and a question that invites conversation, such as, “Have you ever tried skin care before?” or “What brings you here today?”
b. Educate and Inform: As you introduce your product, focus on the features and benefits that solve common problems or enhance customers' lives. For example, “Our skincare products are made with natural ingredients that are great for sensitive skin. Are you cautious about the skincare products you use?”
c. Seek Feedback: Integrate questions that gauge their interest and satisfaction, such as, “What do you typically look for in skin care products?” or “What has been your experience with similar products?”

    2. Listen and Adapt

    a. Active Listening: Pay close attention to their responses and body language. Are they showing interest in certain features more than others?
    b. Adaptation: If you notice a trend in questions or feedback, adapt your pitch on the fly to emphasize the aspects customers care about most.

      3. Engage in Deeper Conversations

      a. Encourage Stories: Invite them to share their experiences. For instance, “I’d love to hear more about your experience with this. How did you find the results?”
      b. Discuss Usage: Asking how they might use the product or what they currently use can reveal gaps in the market and potential areas for product development.

        4. Extend the conversation

        a. Testimonials: Propose a follow-up meeting for purchasers to provide a video testimonial after they have used the product.
        b. Sign-up Sheet: Have a sign-up sheet ready for email addresses, allowing you to build your email list.

            Here are some tips to follow for giving the sales pitch:

            1. Listen Actively: Encourage the customer to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings. Follow up on interesting points they mention.
            2. Stay Neutral: Avoid leading questions or showing judgment in response to their feedback to ensure you gather unbiased insights.
            3. Keep It Conversational: While you have a script, the best insights often come from spontaneous and genuine conversations.
            4. Be Flexible.  Your script serves as a foundation, and you should feel free to adapt it as you learn more.

            As you have more and more of these in-person sales pitches, you are going to be learning what resonates with customers and refining your pitch with those value props.  Soon, you'll actually start closing some sales.  When I'm at this phase in a business of mine, I never stop pitching and getting feedback.  I've even gone so far as to bring my products to dinners and place them on the table and encourage the dinner conversation to be a feedback session.  Now that may be a bit extreme for you.  But the point is that the more people you can have conversations with about your products, the better you will understand your customers and what motivates them.  That will help you to craft effective messaging.

            Once your pitch is solid, you can formalize it in your product page and start driving traffic to your store.  You should see an improved conversion rate over brands that just launch online without doing the face-to-face work.  And this will help you get to that 100 sales milestone.  At that point, you should be able to use that messaging for the next milestone of 1000 sales.

            OK, that's it for this episode.  Here's a summary of my advice:

            Making your first 100 sales is hard.  In the beginning, you don't know which messages about your products resonate with your customers.  The quickest way to accelerate your learning to product/market fit is by trying to sell face-to-face and having open-ended, two way conversations.  That way you can learn what customers care about and how to message your unique value-prop in a way that generates sales.

            Thanks for listening.

            JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.