Usually it’s assumed that if companies aren’t actually drowning in data, they definitely have more than they know what to do with. 

The concept of “information overload,” though, tends to play out more within older or larger organizations that have accumulated a lot of data over the course of countless sales and marketing campaigns. They might have gone through an M&A with another firm and gained a lot of data that way. Or perhaps they began to recognize all the unstructured data that surrounds their organization, and then struggle to harness it. 

Then there are the startups, which have the advantage of a blank slate in terms of sales but the disadvantage of needing to fill it quickly with useful data

Without information about their target market, key customers and competitors, entrepreneurs are left with little more than gut instinct to make critical decisions. The chances of growing without some solid evidence to support what you’re doing, however, are miniscule. 

Customers may not always like providing data, but at the same time they expect organizations, including startups, to approach them with marketing that’s relevant and personalized. If they’re being pitched about a product, they expect vendors— again, including startups — to have done their homework beforehand. 

There was a time when a lot of data could be bought, almost in an off-the-shelf fashion, through third parties who had amassed it in various ways. With the increased concerns around data privacy and security, however, legislation and regulation in many sectors has put more pressure on firms to gather first-party data instead. 

Back in school, teachers would have said this was all a matter of focusing on “primary sources” in the research process. If it’s been a while since you’ve been in a classroom, however, it might not be obvious how that process should work. 

Startups are not without the capabilities to get the data they need. It’s all a matter of pursuing it through the right channels: 

1. The survey

Key data startups need is information that will help lead to their first deals. This could include data that confirms they have product-market fit for what they’re offering, typical buying cycles for their target customers and some of their key pain points. 

There’s no better way to get that data than to ask for it, and surveys are a tried-and-true method. Surveys can be as short or as long as you want, provided they offer some kind of value to those participating. Some companies will offer draws for prizes or even a copy of the final report, if the results will provide some kind of benchmark-style data that participants might find useful. 

That said, not every startup will have a database of people who are willing to be contacted about a survey. That could mean working with a professional market research firm or analyst firm. If that’s too costly of an investment, you can try fielding a survey link through social media channels. If you have an advisory committee, look for influential members who might know people willing to take part as well. 

Remember, you don’t always need thousands of responses to come up with meaningful data, especially if the questions offer free-form answers for more qualitative responses. 

2. The event

Entrepreneurs are constantly told they should be networking, but the point is not simply to hand out business cards and make sure everyone in the room knows who you are. 

Yes, you’re selling yourself and your startup, but you should also be in constant data-collection mode. Instead of free-styling it every time you make a new contact, for instance, have a couple of standard questions memorized that could help you later on. These could include: 

  • ‘What resonates about the value prop for our company’s product that I just described?’
  • ‘What would be your biggest objection to buying what we’re offering?’
  • ‘How could I learn more about you and your firm to see if we could help?’

Feel free to tweak these to sound more conversational, but note the last one in particular. It wasn’t, “Can I add you to our sales database?” The focus was on them, and about getting to know them better. You get sales data when you express a genuine desire to understand your customer. 

3. The social networks

Earlier we talked about using social media to ask questions via surveys or polls, however, that’s not the only way to gather sales data using social platforms.

The comments, questions and content people share on social channels is a treasure trove of publicly-available sales data for those who know how to make use of it. You can manually comb through hashtags or common keywords to get insight, or you can use social listening tools that let you automate the process and get even more information. 

While it’s tempting to skim through tweets or short Facebook posts, don’t ignore the longer-form social content your target customers and prospects might be creating. 

Try this trick: key the most important job title of the customer base your startup is focused on and check out the profiles that come up. Read through any recent LinkedIn Posts they’ve written. Take notes. It might be nearly as valuable as booking some introductory meetings with those people. 

4. The content marketing asset

Lots of startups launch with a blog already in place, but you should also be thinking about the kind of in-depth resources that will make potential customers willing to share data with your sales team. The most common examples include white papers, eBooks, case studies and webinars. All of which can be “gated” or have a form where those interested provide their basic contact information. 

If the asset is particularly valuable, though, you can also consider asking more specific questions, such as whether they are currently in-market for a particular product, or what kind of competitive products they already use. These go beyond ‘lead magnets’, providing data you can use on an ongoing basis to address your entire market.

Getting the sales data you need won’t happen overnight, but try some of these approaches consistently and you’ll soon see things that will help close those first critical deals. From there, the sales data available to you will only continue to grow — just like your company