Talk to Customers

How Do I Talk to My Customers?

If I know anything in life, it is this: the key to a successful business is in making something people want, and the only way to find out exactly what people want is by asking them directly. Without sitting your customers down and discussing your idea with them face-to-face, you will have no understanding of their problems, opportunities, wants, or needs.

This is an underlying principle that needs to be taken seriously throughout the life of your business. I’m here to break down this difficult process into three separate steps: (1) finding your first, visionary customers, (2) successfully reaching out and securing conversations with them, and finally (3) how to increase the quality of each customer conversation with.

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Find Your First Customers

Think of your product. Pretty awesome, huh? Now think: who is the absolute best person who could benefit directly from your idea? Don’t hold back. You want to be as descriptive as possible. Identify their age, location, socioeconomic status, and sex. But also think past these factors. Think deeper.

Ask yourself: What types of problems do these people have? What do they expect in new products? Where do they hang out? How do they learn about new products? What do they eat for breakfast? Okay, that last one is a little over the top, but it drives home the point: you need to create a comprehensive profile of the ideal customer for your product/service.

Now, your job is simple: go and talk to those people who fit your description exactly! Or at least aim to talk to those people. Yet, don’t hold yourself back from connecting with those who aren’t your perfect customer — there is still plenty to learn from those who have ideas about, work with, or have direct access to your target customers. These include industry analysts, social media influencers, investors — anyone really.

Another caveat is to never seek feedback from your friends or close colleagues. Yes it’s easy, yes it’s fun, but we are looking for raw, unbiased data from the real world. All that our friends can provide us is support and love for what we’re doing. They aren’t trying to be bad reviewers, they just are! So, at all costs, avoid asking your friends very important questions about your business. (This is obviously okay, but understand that their feedback is flawed.)

Now, how do you actually find these people? That’s a good question, with no simple answer. It’s different for each industry and for each given situation. Sometimes, the best way to reach them may be searching Google, digging for a personal email address, and sending a thoughtful, sincere message. Other times, you can reach the people you need to talk to by asking those within your own network if they can introduce you to anyone who may provide valuable feedback. A solid rule to follow in this process is to constantly ask — who’s the smartest person you know? Go talk to that person.

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Secure the Conversation

So let’s say you know who you want to talk to and you have their email — what do you do? Simple! Craft a catchy, clear, succinct, descriptive message that introduces yourself, your idea, and a convincing reason why you believe it’s of interest to them.

The key is to be humble and helpful. Frame the message in terms of their own interests and concerns. For example, compliment them on a recent accomplishment, and voice your sincere interest in learning from their experience and insight. You must maintain an emphasis on your idea’s importance to them and their problems.

Check out an example message I’ve used with luck in the past:

Email Subject: A moment of your time

Good morning —

My name is Alex Whittow, and I’m a current UW business student. I’m working on a project that I believe could be very beneficial to doctors and nurses in tracking certain patient conditions more effectively when they’ve been discharged from the hospital in order to reduce readmissions. I sat down with Professor Lisa Dragel on Friday, October 22, and she mentioned that you would be a tremendous resource to chat with next as I develop the idea further.

Would you mind setting aside a maximum of 20 minutes of your time within the next week to sit down and discuss? I would love to gain feedback and insights from someone of your expertise.

If so, please let me know a specific day/time works best for you.

Thank you so much for your time,

Notice how I introduced myself, I identified the value in my project, and I directly referenced a problem they care about. Most importantly, I came in with a warm introduction; having someone recommend you to connect will give you credibility and increase your chances of a meeting. Lastly, be as open as possible for them to choose the day/time. Do your absolute best to make their schedule work for yours, and be very grateful for the opportunity — they could be the reason for something huge.

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Make Every Conversation Great

Good news. You’ve identified your visionary customer, you’ve reached out to them with a thoughtful email, and they’ve agreed to meet with you! Now we’re on to something. They may want to just talk over the phone, but if you’re in the same city, make it a face-to-face conversation. The connection you establish, as well as the quality of the feedback, are drastically enhanced in person versus over the phone or email.

Before heading into the conversation: Do. Your. Research. The last thing you want to do is schedule the meeting, build your idea up to be something really great, and then show up completely unprepared for the big opportunity. You requested the conversation, so you are responsible for guiding the conversation from start to finish. They are there to answer the questions prepared from researching their background, organization, anything you can before the meeting.

Understand: these first conversations are exploratory and learning activities. What they are not is for telling people what you have and why it will solve all of their problems. It’s time to be inquisitive and listen to their raw, unbiased feedback on a broad idea that has the potential to solve a big problem.

Yes, this is extremely difficult to pull off, and you will not be great at conducting these conversations at first. Trust me — you will get better with time. Soon enough you will train yourself to have very open, productive conversations where you dive into your customers problems and needs.

Focus not on your own train of thought but rather on their own ideas and tangents, in order to uncover the root of their opinions. You want to come into the conversation with a list of questions you want answered, but before you go in, shorten that list to 3 questions that you absolutely need to know before you leave. Ask lot of open-ended, follow-up questions to further understand their thoughts and emotions (Why? How?) Instead, explain your idea briefly, give them a general understanding, then a specific questions, and then listen.

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Finding, securing, and conducting productive customer conversations is difficult yet so crucial to the success of your business. Without direct feedback from your customer, you’ll never know if you are effectively solving their problems. You need to have these conversations, or mediocrity will ensue.

You are now officially on a mission to understand your customer in depth. You must prove your core assumptions, with the goal of knowing your customer so well that you can speak confidently about their problems. So break off the chains, make a list of 20 people you want to talk to, and go meet with them as soon as possible — your business depends on it.

Need individualized guidance through the customer conversation process?

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 Grow Your Idea helps first-time entrepreneurs talk to and understand their customers, establish their business model, and plan their growth strategy. Our mission is to empower anyone with a great idea to take action on their big idea.

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