This morning, Jack Terrana and I did our weekly show with 25 entrepreneurs from around the country, and quickly it became obvious that the hot topic of the week was how to get those first few customers for a new staffing agency.
That’s me, by the way, pictured above with my Japanese counterpart and Megumi, my customer-provided escort (no, not that kind), during one of my many trips to Japan Air Systems (JAS) and Nippon Airlines in the 1990s. JAS was one of my earliest and biggest airline software deals, and the experience of landing them as a Supertrace client taught me some crucial lessons on landing a first set of customers:
- Show them the love. To win Japan Air’s favor, I studied Japanese relentlessly for two years, completing the equivalent of a college minor in Japanese at the University of Minnesota, before ever making a presentation to them.
- Get an inside champion. I got in the door at JAS by keeping up a good relationship with a soccer buddy here in the USA, who eventually went there as a contract programmer and influenced them to look at my products.
- Patience. Some things take time. The big deals take a lot of time. It took four years from initial presentation to the signing of the deal. In between, Christmas cards were exchanged, as well as telephone calls and telexes (a telex was the pre-Internet version of email).
- Constantly evolve the product. It wasn’t fun, but to earn their favor I rewrote a hunk of display code to handle the Japanese character set.
- Be easy to do business with. In retrospect, I could have done things a lot smarter with JAS. Buying and installing my package was hard, hard, hard. I should have started out by selling them training, which is a great silver bullet for enterprise software.