Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Learning from potential customers is arguably one of the most important and most challenging aspects of the new product development process. It is also certain to have the most impact on the success of your business. That’s why “discovery calls” are so important.
Discovery calls are like feeling different parts of an elephant and require many discussions within and across representative organizations to truly understand the customer, their problems, what an ideal solution would look like and how they buy a solution such as yours.
In this article, I’d like to share some best practices on how to find and recruit the right people to speak with in order to test your product concept. And then in future posts, we’ll explore best practices and structure of the discovery meeting itself.
Feel Your Way Around The Elephant
Many complex B2B solutions can touch and be influenced by several personas within an organization such as end users, business buyers, IT administrators and security professionals. Each will have a very different perspective on the nature of the problem and what they look for in a solution. Of course, in some organizations and for some solutions an individual may play multiple roles but still, the line of inquiry should span all aspects. Since you’re looking to learn, not sell, don’t restrict your discussion to just the budget-owner.
Become Familiar With Elephants
It often takes more than a dozen discussions to validate your product concept. You can quickly eliminate certain organization types and persona based on the response you get (both positive and negative). You know you’re “done” when you’re starting to hear the same feedback and you believe it’s representative of a homogeneous initial target market.
Look for consistent insights in your discovery calls with different persona within and across representative organizations
Where to Find Elephants
Finding enough suitable and interested candidates to interview can sometimes be a challenge. Here are a few good sources:
Networking: It’s often easiest to start with friends who can share their insights, but be careful as friends may be inclined to tell you what you want to hear. Be certain to expand your network quickly, drawing on your professional network and the network of your investors and advisors. But moreover, at the wrap-up of each interview, ask if they can recommend others that you should speak with.
Articles and Papers: Contact authors and people quoted in relevant trade publications and research papers.
Conferences: Introduce yourself to speakers at conferences after their talk or in a follow-on email after the conference.
Social Media: Direct Message people on LinkedIn or Twitter either based on their profile or ideally about a post they made.
How to Approach The Elephant
Be sure to reach out to prospective customers for an interview with respect and sensitivity.
You’re seeking advice: In my experience, people are generally happy to provide advice but get turned off very quickly if they feel like they’re being sold to or feel like you’re trying to convince them of something. Make sure this is clear in your outreach communications.
Position the discussion in advance: Explain the reason for your interview request in terms of the problem you’re looking to solve. If people are not responding to your interview requests, it may be because they are not experiencing the problem you’re describing or perhaps you’re not describing it in a way that resonates.
Be sensitive of time: Try to keep your time “ask” to 20 or 30-minutes, unless it’s a friend, someone close in your network or someone you know is keen on the topic. After establishing rapport in the first short conversation, you’re well-positioned to ask for a longer call in the future.
Personalization: It’s important that the person you’re reaching out to feels like you value their expertise. Hand-craft and customize each email and avoid bulk email campaign tools.
C-Suite Bottleneck: You may find that senior executives are too busy to meet with you or respond to your interview requests. You may try contacting them and ask for them to refer you to others in the organization. Alternatively, you may have better luck connecting directly with others in the organization.
Give back: In most cases, those who agree to talk want to be helpful and feel good about sharing their views and advice. In some cases, you may find people would appreciate you giving something back to them in return for their time. This could include a non-confidential summary of aspects of your industry survey; some relevant technology white paper or interesting article that demonstrates your subject matter expertise; or simply buying them coffee.
Through a series of productive interviews, you should get a good feel for the elephant from many different angles. You’ll learn how the customers’ problems manifest themselves, how big a problem it is for them, what an ideal solution looks like and how they go about evaluating and buying a potential solution such as yours.
Here’s a sample outreach email to get you started on your customer discovery journey.
For more information, please contact the Evidology Group and we’ll lead you through the process to achieve rewarding customer discussions. We’ll also share more tools, processes and examples on how to structure effective discovery calls. If you prefer, we can bring our expertise to your organization as an Embedded Executive and spearhead the process ourselves for even deeper insights, saving you precious time.