Customer feedback is so important because it provides marketers and business owners with insights that they can use to improve their business, products and/or overall customer experience. Off course this is very useful at a later stage of your company when your product is actually ready and on the market, but even in the beginning it is crucial to start talking to people. After all, you don’t want to end up building a product nobody wants.
But how do you talk to your customers when you don’t have any yet? This is the first challenge most startups face and it’s exactly what we faced five months ago. As of today, we’ve had close to 150 conversations with people who are looking forward to starting using Inbound Rocket, either over email, in person or over (Skype) calls. Today we want to give you some insights into how you can get started with validating your business idea, so without further ado, here are 5 strategies we used to get over 150 customer interviews.
#1 Tap into your social network
When looking into places to start having conversations with, one of the easiest places to start looking into is the networks you’ve already got. By using your social media accounts, you can already start seeing if there are people working with similar products or people experiencing similar problems like the one you’re trying to solve. We got multiple Skype calls and Facebook chats after posting on our Facebook to see if there were any of our friends using WordPress for their company websites. Maybe phone around to some friends who you know by heart are running into the problems you’re trying to solve.
Just by reaching out to your existing graph like this we’re pretty sure that you already know at least 4-5 people who would potentially be having the problems that you are looking into solving.
#2 Use social networks
Next to you posting it as message on your normal social network and getting to hang out with your friends for a beer to talk about their problems, there is a huge wealth out there of different social networks, all with their own niche and target audience. If you know where to look for it can be really easy, let’s give some examples:
- Use LinkedIn Answers: Look for people asking questions around your problem and market or ask your own.
- Join LinkedIn Groups: Join LinkedIn Groups for your target market. Engage in discussions there, reach out to people that post relevant ideas or questions, or post looking for help.
- Use Search + InMail: If you know the kind of person you want to talk to, try searching for them (like VP Marketing at companies between 25-200 employees) and using InMail to message them.
- Ask your connections for intros: It’s quite possible the perfect people to talk to aren’t already a connection, but they may be one degree away. Don’t be afraid to ask connections you have a good relationship with for an intro.
- Look for Facebook Groups: There are groups for just about anything you can think of. People that run those groups in your market are great people to talk to as potential customers, but even the people inside these groups can be a valuable resource. Try to keep it simple when posting in these groups, focus on one question and if people react, try to ask them individual questions or go deeper into the subject just in the comments.
- Facebook Fan Pages: Just like groups there are lots and lots of Facebook fan pages out there, all with the potential customers. Try finding these fan pages, you can always try to contact the owner and ask if he or she would like to post a question on your behalf, or send personal messages to the people interacting on that page. (this last one is less successful than using the Facebook groups, though, since a lot of times personal messages of people who are not contacts of yourself end up in their spam box on Facebook)
- Ask your followers for referrals: It’s not just about who you know. The bigger benefit is who your network knows so be sure to not just ask people you follow or follow you if they’re a fit but ask others for referrals.
- Search for relevant Hashtags: Hashtags are a big part of Twitter for many markets. For example, in the inbound marketing market, there’s #inbound or #wordpress for WordPress users. Find accounts using the hashtag and reach out to them and join the conversations happening. Find relevant hashtags by asking others or checking out sites like hashtags.org
- Search Twitter for People Talking about your Problem: Remember that time you were really annoyed at a company? What did you probably do? You tweeted about it. Try searching different ways for people talking about frustrations and you’re bound to find people happy to talk because they’re excited someone is going to make things better.
Quora / Reddit:
- Reach out to people that ask relevant questions: If you can see who asked a good question related to the problem you’re solving, reach out to them using any methods the site allows to see if they’ll do an interview.
- Answer questions about your problem/market: If you’re already knowledgable on your market, don’t be afraid to jump in and answer open questions. The people that ask can become great people to talk to and are more likely to be responsive if you already helped them with your answer.
Try to think of the online places where your buyer personas are hanging out, be creative and think of ways to use the internet to your advantage.
#3 Email people who sign up on your landing page
This is one which really worked well for us, especially when we started to get more traffic from our blog post and after being on the front page of Inbound Rocket on BetaList. Internally at Inbound Rocket we set up a Slack for team communication. As soon as someone subscribes via our website we have a trigger in place with a notification to our Slack. Although sometimes we can’t respond immediately, we try to send a personal email as soon as possible to the person subscribing on our site. This work two ways, one we build a direct personal relation with our subscribers and two, by sending a small email with one or two questions in there it can help us get more validation again.
This one is actually one of our biggest drivers of getting to talk to people and asking them questions.
#4 Approach people in native environments
For this one, meetup is our absolute favorite. Just like Facebook Groups and Fan Pages around the craziest subjects. Whether you’re making an app for cats or you have a hardware startup, there a meetup group likely in your area you should join to meet and talk with group members in your target market. When you attend these meetups, don’t forget our “9 Tips for Early Customer Development Conversations” to get the most out of them.
Another great way would be to think, where could your target customer be found in a coffee shop, grocery store or mall? Then go there and try talking to people. Like anything this is a skill. This can come off as harassing or creepy, especially if these are all unknown people to you, and the store may ask you to leave, or it can work great.
Although you have to leave the comforts of your office for this one, this one turned out great for us. We went to a bunch of different meetups, spoke with different startups and small businesses and we ended up learning a ton. There is always so much more you can learn from conversations together with body language that you just miss over the phone or via chat.
#5 Personal (but cold) Emails
Somehow you may have stumbled upon someone you’d *love* to talk to, but you don’t know them. You can use tools like Rapportive to guess the email address and send them a personal note asking to speak with them about what you’re working on. This one is tricky, though, especially since you don’t want to come overselling your product (remember bad for customer validation). Instead, you want to come over as helpful as possible to help them solve their problems.
For us, this one was the most trickiest. We had only a couple of reactions to this, so we probably need to work a bit on our cold emailing skills 😉 but still the reactions we had been still very valuable.
What are you waiting for?
These are five strategies which worked out well for us; it helped us build a relation with our first subscribers, and it helped to get a lot of validation. At the end of the day some of these things might scare you a bit (like talking to strangers), but in the end, it is all worth it. Knowing you are building something that people want.
There’s no excuse for starting your company and spending time on building anything at all, without you talking to at least a dozen or more of your potential customers. Get out of your comfort zone and start talking to them!