Get Out of Your PJs and into Customer Convos

Get Out of Your PJs and into Customer Convos

Ah, the Internet. Land of opportunity. A place to build a fantastic business from the comfort of your home. Confident in your ideas and execution plan…

People are going to love it. All my friends and colleagues tell me so.

But what about your potential customers? The flesh-and-blood kind, not just user-names and avatars. When was the last time you got up from your screen and had a meatspace conversation with the people you’re aiming to serve? If the answer is a while ago [or never], you’re missing out on the most powerful insights for driving your business to success:  the desires and pain-points of actual people seeking solutions.

Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank mentors aspiring start-ups to, “Get out of the building.” And he’s absolutely right. But that doesn’t make it easy for those of us who thrive in virtual worlds of our own creation.

I remember the first few months after I left my staff job to launch an Internet-based business. So exciting. And so cosy! My daily uniform:  pajamas and Uggs. Days flying by as my ideas took shape on the screen. And, later, many more days dragging by. I had to backtrack, rethink and re-do much of that early work after a few beta testers poked around the site.

The feedback was so consistent and – in retrospect – so obvious. I could’ve saved myself so much trouble if I’d simply spoken with my customers far earlier in the process. Learn from my mistakes. Pull on some pants and get out there.

Here’s how…

Keep it informal, but focused

Think like a detective. You’re seeking witnesses in your target market. And uncovering evidence to bolster your business case. Approach a few people with an informal, but focused request.  For example:

I’m working on a project about adventure travel. Could I ask you a few questions about how you book your trips?

Remember:  you’re not selling; you’re investigating!  That word “project” is key. Folks love to advise on a project, to give their opinions.

Chat in their natural habitat

Where do you have this conversation?

In places aligned with your business.

Adventure travelers will be out hiking on weekends. Where do they stop for coffee beforehand, or beers afterwards? Where do they shop for gear? Spot a couple with rucksacks at the airport? Bingo.

The more you put yourself on alert for potential customer convos, the more opportunities open up.

Listen, listen, listen

Like a good Sherlock, you should have some specific questions prepared.  But also be prepared to let your customer take the conversation in whole new directions. That’s where you discover insights.

What if your adventure traveler said something like, “I love my trips, except for airport transfers. Why can’t that boring bit be a memorable, culture-plunge in and of itself?” Suddenly you have a way to differentiate your adventure travel site e.g. we make every moment count…you’ve never had an airport transfer like one on camelback.

Draw impressions, not conclusions

Now, we’re not saying you change your entire course based on one person’s off-the-cuff remarks. You’re gathering impressions from multiple sources. Asking two customers isn’t enough, but you don’t need a vetted focus group of 2000 either.

A good rule of thumb?

Speak to 10 or so likely users of your product/service. People you don’t already know. See if themes emerge in your conversations. Use those threads to inform what you’re building. Maybe you’ll tweak a little functionality. Or maybe you’ll rethink your target audience – widening the circle, or going niche.

What you’re doing is…

  •    being pro-active about your market
  •    not shying away from difficult questions about the right direction for your enterprise
  •    learning, evaluating, adjusting
  •    heading out for more feedback, pre-launch and on an ongoing basis – crucial, entrepreneurial upkeep

Embrace future ambassadors

Each customer conversation is a chance to prime the market for your business. To start building relationships with the people who will champion your product or service. To let them know that you’re working on something that will improve their lives.

Now here’s the magic part:

When you demonstrate your genuine curiosity and concern about their needs, customers will return the favor with interest in your business. Call it the law of reciprocity. Or the Golden Rule. We call it being effective entrepreneurs. So, find the trainers and open the door. And let us know how it goes!

What’s worked for you?

How have you gotten acquainted with your potential customers and trial-ballooned ideas?