How do you ask someone you don’t know for a “discovery conversation”?

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

You developed a product, have one in development, or have a dazzling vision described in PowerPoint. You understand the need to validate your plans and ideas by talking with potential customers and others who can offer critical insights.


Scheduling a conversation with friends and colleagues can be easy. It’s not so easy to ask someone who doesn’t know you for 30-45 minutes of their valuable time. How do you ask in a way that increases the likelihood of getting a “yes”?

First, what are some reasons people wouldn’t talk with you? They:

  • Don’t have time

  • Don’t care about the topic

  • Have no idea who you are or unsure if you’re dodgy

  • Think you’re trying to sell them something

Second, what are some reasons people would talk with you? They:

  • Have an interest in the topic; it’s relevant to them

  • Like to share their opinions with others

  • Want to be helpful

  • Comfortable they’re not getting a sales pitch

This brings us to an example request which we’ll deconstruct after you read it. Note there is no one “right way” to do this but there are many “wrong ways” to make the ask. And you will need to experiment with the structure and wording based on responses or lack of responses.


Here we go:

Subject: Asking for your feedback and advice


Hi <name>,


I found your blog post on quality control really interesting. Your point about using AI and machine learning to identify automation faults stood out for me. Given your quality control knowledge, your help would be appreciated.


Briefly, I'm developing a next-generation QA software tool that automatically processes production line plans to identify the optimal QA process overlay. The goal is to dramatically reduce QA planning time to speed time-to-market and reduce QA rework to increase cost savings.


To help confirm I’m creating something of value with the right feature set, would you mind spending 30-45 minutes on the phone with me to get your thoughts?


To be clear, this is not a sales pitch. I'm seeking real-world feedback to guide product and go-to-market plans.


Please let me know if we can arrange a call for next week.


Thanks,

Alice

CEO/Co-Founder, Acme Co.

Now let’s break it down:

  1. Make your email as short and concise as possible, certainly no longer than the above example. On a closely related point, use short paragraphs. Reading a big block of text takes too much work; it needs to be easily scanned.

  2. The subject line should clearly state the “ask” using a friendly and personal tone. If the recipient likes to share their opinion and likes to be helpful, they will continue to read.

  3. In the first paragraph, connect to that person. Why are you asking for help from them? You may have seen their name on a website, read about a talk they gave at a conference, read their blog, or scientific paper. You may have found a tidbit on their LinkedIn profile. Maybe someone they know mentioned their name to you. Failing all those scenarios, simply refer to their role/position and likely interests as being the point of relevance.

  4. In the second paragraph, succinctly describe what your product does and its value proposition. You should also provide context by stating your status. Are you designing, developing, or redesigning, for example?

  5. In the third paragraph, state your end goal (e.g. validate your value proposition and supporting functionality) and the specific ask (e.g. time on the phone, meet for coffee, etc.)

  6. In the third paragraph, state what you are not going to do and reinforce this message by saying how what you learn will be used.

  7. Close by asking when they might free for a conversation. Take a somewhat open-ended approach while creating a slight sense of urgency. Asking “can we talk tomorrow at 10 am” makes it more likely you’ll get a “no”. That’s too urgent and likely a booked time. Similarly, asking for “sometime in the future” is too wide open and doesn’t create any sense of urgency.

There’s lots more to be said but let me provide a bit more guidance before letting you get back to your day. Starting with, don’t just send the email and forget about it. After a suitable pause anywhere from three to five business days, send a polite follow up. Forward your original email with three or four sentences saying something like, “I hope you don’t mind that I follow up from reaching out to you last... As mentioned earlier, I am seeking… Your feedback would be appreciated. Are you able to join me on a call…?”


In fact, it may take a few follow-ups before you stop to avoid been labelled as a spammer or you get a response that says: “Hey, thanks for your follow up. I was really busy. I’m interested in helping and can talk next Tuesday at 3 pm.”


Don’t be discouraged by a low acceptance rate. If 8-10% of the people you email agree to a conversation, you’re doing fine. Should you encounter a lower rate, carefully review how you present yourself: why you contacted them, how you describe what you do, and what you’re asking. Even with a decent acceptance rate, I encourage you to constantly review these items and experiment.


If someone is curious, likes being helpful, or possibly flattered by this request, they will read your email and offer their assistance. You’ll be on your way to increasing your customer knowledge.


Good luck!


For more information, please contact us at the Evidology Group. We’ll share a guide on how to structure effective customer conversations. Of course, if interested, we would be happy to learn about your business, share our experiences, and discuss whether we may be of assistance.


You may also wish to read Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean, which contains lots of practical advice on finding prospects and testing your ideas.

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