In Four Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank covers (pp. 59-60) strategies for making first customer contacts, the process for engaging early potential customers about your idea. I have been sending a lot of introductory Customer Development emails lately and helping several start-ups craft them. Some lessons learned.
Draft the Intro Email – Immediately
If I ask someone to make an intro I always try to send them an email they can forward. It makes it easier for them and helps me control the message. The conversation goes something like:
Wow, thanks for your time. You mentioned that I should talk to X, Y, Z. Can I send you a brief paragraph about me and what I’m doing to make it easier for you to forward?
They ALWAYS say yes. I follow up with an email that day and include “thanks for your time” so that everyone who reads sees that others are talking to me.
Keep it Short
A short email, specific email is more likely to be read – particularly by somebody on a blackberry. A short email also suggests the call will be short. I try to keep them around 5 sentences.
State Emphatically that You are Not Selling
[UPDATE: See comments below. Others suggest that this might be a bad idea. If you write an opinion on this topic please let me know]
I always, always, always tell people – truthfully – that “I’m not selling anything”.
Don’t Create the Appearance of a Sales Call
I focus very generally on the problem and potential solution. Talking about the product in details – or even at all- starts to sound like a pitch even if someone states otherwise.
“I’m working on a start-up/new product idea to help phone companies retain subscribers with Twitter…” is enough detail. My goal is to get the call.
The Subject – Get Closer to Recipient
Following on Steve’s strategies, your subject should say “Referral from X, Follow-up from our meeting at Y”
Don’t Keep Secrets
Obviously I don’t ask for NDAs or give the slightest indication that I don’t trust people. This is easy because (1) I do trust people, and (2) the biggest risk is that I may build the wrong thing.
A no-brainer, but I recently received an email that had different colors in the text. Obviously a cut-and-paster and it makes me feel less special.
The Magic Word
I’ve found a magic word when asking for a Customer Development call.
I try to use that word twice in every email or call. For one thing, it genuinely conveys what I’m asking for. It also suggests – accurately – to people that I want to listen and am ready to change directions. Finally, it gives everyone a reason to take a call.
Who doesn’t want to feel important enough to have people asking them to share their wisdom? I sure do.
(keep in mind this is written in my personal tone – which tends to be less formal and more conversational. This may not work for you)
To: Don Jones
cc: Joe Smith
Subject: Referral from Joe Smith
Joe may have mentioned that I would drop you quick note to ask for your advice. I’m exploring a start-up idea around making it easier for people carpool using iPhones or other location-based mobile devices. Joe suggested that I talk to you given your passion for reducing carbon emissions through ridesharing.
Do you have time for a quick call this week? I’m not selling anything, just looking for advice.
Thanks for your time. You can’t imagine how helpful your advice was to me and hopefully you’ll let me return the favor.
Thanks in advance,