I recently started 1-on-1 mentoring sessions where one of the most popular questions has been:
“How do I ask B2B customers for an interview?”
Approaching a busy professional and asking for their time, so I could eventually sell them something, was a mystery to me when I started customer development. After some trial and error though, I found a workflow that converts pretty well.
We know Mechanical Turk can help with B2C customer interviews, but this post is all about B2B and the secrets of sending cold emails.
Step 1: Get their Email Address
There are quite a few ways to get cold contacts’ email addresses, all of which I can recommend:
And now there’s a new tool in town that I’m really excited about: Kimono.
Kimono is a free web scraper that doesn’t require writing code. If you find a web page with the contact information of customers you’d like to interview, Kimono can collect it for you automatically. Here’s a quick video of how it works:
Kimono can do other cool things like traverse multiple pages in a results list for you (e.g. automatically click the “Next” button at the end of a list) and collect information from “subpages” (e.g. follow links on a page to gather more detailed info). Details on those features here
However you collect the email addresses, now it’s time to…
Step 2: Write the Email
There are 3 things a cold email must be in order to generate a response:
Let’s take an example:
Cold Email Sample
Subject: Remote coding
I read your article on volunteering your professional skills in Guatemala – it was really inspiring. I’m looking to travel more and you’ve got me thinking about incorporating volunteering when I do!
I have a software company trying to improve remote medical record coding.
I’m not looking to sell anything, but since you have so much expertise with remote coding, I’d love to get your advice on our product so we don’t build the wrong thing.
If you’re available, I’d love to chat for just 20 minutes – Thur or Fri morning?
Thanks for any help,
Let’s see how we did:
Short? 5 sentences. That’s all you need. Any longer than that and you’re wasting their time.
Personal? This part is the most work, but it’s what’s going to separate you from the spammers. Plus, researching each of your customers to find something unique about them is going to give you incredible insight. Consider commenting on their:
- Blog posts
- Any professional organizations they belong to
- Companies listed on their LinkedIn profile
- Tweets they’ve sent
This is Important: Don’t skip this part. Without something personal in there you’re liable to get flagged as spam. If that happens enough times, you’ll forever be relegated to junk mail.
Valuable? In this case we’re offering to “improve remote medical record coding.” Our hypothesis is that Sam has problems with her remote coding process and by hinting that we’re trying to solve them, we’re giving her a reason why spending 20 minutes with us will be worth her time.
Without this line you’re “offering” to take 20 minutes of her time, and giving nothing back. Why would she sign up for that?
Note: Be vague. You don’t want to seed your customer with the problem you’re hypothesizing. Note how the email doesn’t say anything about making “remote coding”:
- More secure
- More accurate
When we interview Sam, we want her to tell us what problems she has with remote coding – no cheating.
3 secrets to cold emails: keep it short, personal & valuable
Bonus Secret: Ask for Advice. The line, “I’m not looking to sell anything. I’m just looking for your advice so we don’t build the wrong thing.” is not only true (you’re not selling anything), it lowers your customer’s defenses and appeals to their inner-adviser.
Step 3: Send the Email
You can send the emails one at a time, but it’s boring and monotonous to copy & paste the same email over and over again. Plus, its annoying to keep track of who has replied and who hasn’t – especially when there’s a kick ass tool like Streak.
Streak is a CRM embedded in GMail, and it’s great for a number of reasons:
- Mail Merge - Automate sending mass, but personalized, emails.
- Easy Follow-ups - Track which customers have replied and which have haven’t. Send follow-ups to those who haven’t.
- Scheduled Email Delivery - Write emails at 2 am, but send them at 2 pm.
Streak’s mail merge is brilliantly designed.
Here’s a video outlining exactly how to use Streak to request, and keep track of, customer discovery interviews:
Important: I’m no spam expert, but I’ve been told by those who are to use this tool responsibly. Make sure to personalize each email and I’d avoid sending too many of these in a 24-hour period.
Finally, be sure to consider the timing of your mail. If I’m sending cold emails, I’ll typically do so Tue – Thur early morning-ish, or Sunday afternoons. Any other times and it feels like my request will get deprioritized by other work.
With tools like Kimono, Streak and the 3 secrets to a great cold-email, I’ve setup interviews with a 50% success rate from complete strangers – you have everything you need to do the same!
3 Steps (and 2 cool tools) to get Customer Interviews
If you follow these steps and no one replies, it could be back luck or…you could be solving a problem no one has.
This is Part 3 of our series of on Interviewing Customers. Check these bad boys out:
- Which Customers Should you Interview (The SPA Treatment)
- How to Find Customers to Interview
- Getting Customer Interviews with Cold Emails
- How I Interview Customers
- You’ve Interviewed Customers. Now what?
Our next post will be…Please don’t build an MVP. Subscribe to get it via Email or RSS.
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