How do I effectively approach potential business customers to be involved in my consumer product?


I've created a series of mobile apps for the cruise community called Ship Mate that gets a significant amount of daily use. In it I've added the ability to highlight business in the different ports that want to give my users deals or discounts. I'm able to tell these businesses how many of my users will be visiting their particular port and when.

How do I use this information to convince a business to start working with me? I'm a software guy with no experience in business or sales but I'm determined to figure this part out.


asked Dec 15 '11 at 10:48
143 points
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2 Answers


So here's what I think you're saying: you have users getting value from your apps, and that gives you data. You want to monetize that data, and one way is through selling advertising. But you're not an ad sales person.

It sounds chicken and egg. But it's not. Because you have data .

So here's what you could do.

  1. Find a bunch of categories where you'd like to sell advertising (in the form of coupons etc is what you're thinking)
  2. For each category, google that thing in each location on one of the cruise routes you're doing well in, and list the companies in the top ten left hand results and any who turn up on the right hand side (you may need help to get the right hand results if there's geo-targeting going on)
  3. Discard any categories where you can't find at least three prospective advertising customers at every single stop
  4. Prioritize the categories you have left based on whatever measures seem most sensible to you
  5. Choose a category - probably one around third on your list
  6. For each location, find an ad or else create one for a prospective customer who's clearly looking for business but isn't at the top of the page
  7. Launch the next version of your app, that now has advertisers (who don't know you!) in one category, and make sure your website has a clear way for advertisers (prospective ones) to contact you
  8. In the unlikely event that one of your (involuntary) advertisers complains at getting a free and unauthorised ad on your app, take it down
  9. Study the metrics - see how the presence of these ads is affecting users, and see how many ads are getting responses. Make your first stab at working out the value to them. You may have to estimate some things - but if (for instance) your app is making it easy for users to phone / email the local company, you have near-perfect data from the in-app metrics
  10. Start approaching other people on your list in the chosen category - and every time you get a sale, go back to the involuntary advertiser and make them the same offer (err on the side of generosity, otherwise it's going to be immediately obvious which advertisers were involuntary and you risk annoying someone who ought to be your best friend!)

Given that you're already successful in getting users on your app, there's a pretty good chance that your prospective market will start approaching you. But even if you don't, you'll learn, you won't take risks, and you won't spend money or even all that much time.

Critically, here's how this strategy means you'll get to sell well even though you aren't confident or experienced :

  • You are only pro-actively selling something that exists and that you already understand (the category you've launched), to a market that you can be reasonably sure are receptive (the subset of local businesses who already care about connecting via the web)
  • When people approach you about the category you launched with, you'll build experience negotiating without mistakes being terribly expensive
  • When people approach you about categories you haven't launched yet, you are in a fantastic position
  • By the time you're thinking of launching the third or fourth category, you'll know the market well enough either to optimize, or to engage a sales person knowing in advance how to set out their targets
  • On the assumption that in many cases news is going to travel fast within destinations and within categories across destinations, you are also building a sales platform that is defensible - i.e. early competitors will find it very hard to break in because they'll be selling expectations while you're selling achievements.
answered Jun 13 '12 at 01:04
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points


BE the business owner. Your best chance to convince the business owner is to do the following:

1) Keep your pitch under 30 seconds. Use zero high-tech words.

2) You have a "new" product, and it is expensive to "teach" a business owner about a market that doesn't exist, so make your pitch as simple as possible to understand. If you can't explain it to a 3rd grader, it's not easy enough.

3) Make sure they have to do VERY little to begin working with you or your app.

4) Let them try out your service for free somehow.

5) Do some research about their products/prices/currencies, and draw up some extremely conservative (and simple to understand) figures as to how your app would help their business.

Above all. KISS. Keep it simple stupid.

A business owner's time is incredibly valuable, and you've got to have a way to show them your value QUICK, with them having to do very little to benefit from it.

answered Dec 15 '11 at 11:10
Mark Hill
33 points
  • Should I bother sending emails to try and establish a contact or should I exclusively use the phone when available? – Jan 12 years ago
  • I think emails should definitely be included in your first go-around. You wanna get the 'low hanging fruit" first. Use emails to get all those people. Establish a good infrastructure for your business, ensure all systems are working properly, and that you can handle all the customer service required. Once you've got your systems down, start looking at more aggressive ways to advertise. – Mark Hill 12 years ago
  • if you wanna chat more, feel free to email me. I've got a lot of experience on the business side, and maybe someday I'll need some tech advice from you :) moc.liamtoh@4242llahj. hopefully you can figure that out – Mark Hill 12 years ago

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