There is an old saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I understand, I do and I remember.”
People don’t like hearing you talk about your idea, and usually they don’t even like seeing it. They like doing… touching, feeling, brainstorming.
Just liked vested employees are better employees, vested partners are better partners (yes, we call our customers partners because they are the most important thing to us). Spending time with potential customers is also a vital part of the customer validation and creation steps outlined in Steven Blank’s customer development model. So how do we engage potential customers before we have product?
We ask. We say things like “We’re new at this and we want to add value or get out of the way. If you can afford time to provide us advice to add more value to ecosystem, we would be grateful for your time”. People by far prefer to give advice then be sold to. Here is an example of a cold-call email and response using LinkedIn InMails:
We don’t have much, but we give what we have freely. This includes (but is not limited to), introductions to new connections (my linkedin network is your linkedin network), resource sharing (especially of new and relevant trends and articles), and our time (I was shocked by how many times I’ve been taken up on the offer and produced value by saying things like “I’m happy to jump on the phone or meet for coffee to brainstorm any of your challenges”).
We actually listen to the advice that we get, incorporate it, and then share it back with the people that gave it to us. People love to see their advice taken seriously, and a nice side – though unintended – benefit is that it makes them vested partners.
Examples here are just over email, but I do even more over the phone and in person.
Engaging customers is hard work that inevitably results in a lot of negative responses. But from every negative comes a valuable filtering affect: learning which potential customers are good, long-term partners, and which are sexy leads that do nothing more than distract you.
How do you engage potential customers?
In my next post on customer development, I’ll talk about how we’re making the ask: turning potential customers into paying customers and evangelists. Subscribe by email or RSS to get it directly to your inbox.