Using customer research to find your first 10 users
Combining user research with early customer acquisition
Reaching an audience for research or to test the early version of a product is a pain in the hoop. It’s even more painful if you don’t know who you are looking for. I am sharing the approaches that have often delivered a conversion rate of 80%+ for getting the right people to speak with you (including cold outreach).
This post will outline how taking a research first approach will show you where to focus attention and help you acquire your first set of users. Specifically, we will focus on how to reach a new audience vs one you already have a connection with.
Define what you want to learn and from whom
Go to where they hang out and search for people talking about the area you are interested in. (Use tools like The Hive Index)
Empathise with your audience in your outreach message
At the end of a conversation, ask permission to follow up if you find/build a solution to their problems
Define a clear problem/research question
Start with making the research question specific and actionable.
e.g. Identify the most costly frictions X users experience when trying to achieve Y
The quality of this research question will influence your interview questions and thus the quality of the answers you receive back so make sure to give it some thought.
Select the appropriate research method
Below is a handy guide for understanding what approach to take for the desired learning outcome.
Qualitative interviews are going to give you the richest data when exploring a new area. It might be tempting to do a survey first because it feels easier but it will likely send you down a biased path. The devil is in the details when it comes to problem discovery. Here is a great example of the types of unexpected insights you can uncover during a customer interview;
(A short side rant)
One of the most frustrating quotes you will hear from people who are trying to avoid talking to users is the apparent quote from Henry Ford.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Firstly, there is no evidence that Henry Ford ever said this, and secondly, if he did say it, it still misses the point of why talking to users is essential.
You won’t find a better explanation than Michele Hensen’s response to that quote below.
I won’t go into how to ask interview questions here, but if you are struggling with this part, then I highly recommend also checking out Rob Fitzpatrick’s book ‘The Mom Test.’
Below is one of his talks about how to talk to customers.
(end of side rant)
Plan and iterate
You will thank yourself later if you keep all your notes and scheduling in one place.
Here is a template you can use based on how I structured the last round of ‘customer success interviews’ I ran.
The first interviews you do will feel like a mess, but it can be essential to learn what to change, keep or drop. For example, you might write up a set of questions and expect the interviews to take 60 minutes, but you may get all of the information you need after 30 minutes.
Now comes the harder part, finding the right audience.
A good research question will be half the battle here, but you will need to add a screener to ensure you don’t spend hours talking to the wrong people.
Screeners are questions that help you filter out people you believe are not your target audience. You can ask it formally via a survey or informally in the introductions.
It is expected that after a couple of interviews, you will find new screener questions to include. For example, if you find out that people at companies with less than 100 people don’t have a budget to purchase solutions in your space, you may want to add this as a screener question.
Sourcing a new audience
I recommend starting with your network before moving to the cold calling approach.
The LinkedIn search will be your friend here if you are in the B2B space.
In my own experience, I have found the more personal the communication medium, the more likely you are to get a response i.e.
Phone > Text > Social > Email
If you don’t have anyone in your immediate network who matches the profile, ask for introductions. The trick to getting someone to do this for you is to take the work out of it for them.
The quickest way of finding out if your connection knows the right audience is to create the search query on LinkedIn. e.g. here is a URL that should show you everyone that has the title ‘Founder’ and is a ‘1st Connection’ to you on LinkedIn.
Then create a forwardable email/message for them to send.
Below is a more informal example used for getting survey responses
‘Cold Calling’ a new audience.
This may seem obvious, but go to where your audience hangs out. Below is a non-exhaustive list of places to try. (If you have more suggestions, comment below, and I will update this list)
The Hive Index also has an extensive directory of online communities.
Once you get into a community, read the forum's rules and find the best channel or area to post your request.
The next most effective thing you can do once in a community is to use the search function. Using the search function, you can find people who have used any keywords related to the area you are exploring. This can also be a great indicator if people are actively experiencing this pain and looking for help.
Messaging is critical here. You will likely have to iterate a few times to see what resonates with people.
A couple of tips that I have found leads to landing more interviews.
Speak their language: Be personal and open with something that they can empathise with.
Be honest about your intentions: Calling out how you plan to use the information will be necessary for some people.
Keep to the point: Explain why you are here; most people won’t care too much about the background context past your initial motivation for starting the research.
Below is an example of a message I sent to someone I had never spoke to before on Twitter. They were also a Product Manager, so I adopted the language for that audience. You may have to speak more or less formally, depending on the context.
Your first lead list
This audience, if willing, can become your first set of users that will help you validate your solution. The easiest way of achieving this is by being authentic in how you ask. These people are giving their time to you, so try listening for ways you can bring value back to them. This can be through a solution you build for them directly or even sharing tools/resources that you discovered could help them solve their pains.
There are also some paid options for acquiring audiences for user research. Below are two tools that are targeted toward startups. The above post shows you how to do this for free but in reality you are actually paying for it with time. Depending on your situation it may work out to be cheaper to outsource the recruitment process.
And that’s it for now. If you have other tips or recommendations for sourcing, let me know, and I will happily update this post with them for others to find.