First, it bears mentioning that this is a key challenge of starting a new business. If you can’t find interviewees to talk to, you won’t be able to find customers to sell to either. Spend some time to get this right, because it’s not a problem that simply disappears after you validate your market.
There are two main approaches to doing customer interviews. Pick an approach depending on whether you are trying to optimize for calendar time or clock time.
Calendar time is the elapsed time between beginning and end of a task. Clock time is the person-hours spent on a task.
Identify Your Time Constraint
If you are working full time and you have savings to last you a month, you’ll want to optimize for calendar time. If you’re working on a side project in your limited free hours between work, sleep, and family time, you’ll want to get as many interviews as possible done per hour of clock time, and ignore the time spent waiting for responses.
For Calendar Time
If you are trying to maximize the number of interviews you can conduct before a deadline, it may take more of your clock time. But you will get more responses in fewer days if you go to where your customers are and try to talk to them. Get out on the street with a clipboard and find people who look like your target customer. Ask them if they would mind helping you with a research project by answering a few questions. If your target customers aren’t out on the street, figure out where you can find them and go there. Product for restaurant owners? Go restaurant to restaurant and ask for the manager— just don’t do it during mealtimes. Product for dentists offices? Time for an office visit— followed by 10 more.
The advantage of that approach is that you can you can approach many potential interviewees in a short period of time. Even if your success rate of interview agreement is lower, you will get more interviews in a few hours of being where your customers are than you would in a day of sending warm email introductions. Increasing the number at the top of the funnel pays dividends.
For Clock Time
If calendar time isn’t an issue, but your clock time is scarce (e.g. you’re working full-time), then you need an approach to maximize the number of interviews you can secure and conduct per hour of your time. The key here is to get warm introductions from people you know to people that you don’t know but who fit your customer profile.
Find 2nd-degree connections on LinkedIn who fit your target persona. Ask friends to reshare a message on Facebook: “I’m looking to talk to busy professionals who are health-conscious and want to cook at home but don’t have time to arrange it.” The potential interviewee is much more likely to take your call because the request comes from someone they know and trust. We’re more likely to help a friend of a friend than some random person on the street.
Questions about using this approach? Suggestions for others doing customer development? Comment below or schedule a free session for 1-on-1 help during office hours.