Where Can I Find My Target Customers?

Finding people to interview and then actually sitting down with someone is hard.

Question asked by Charlie on July 9, 2016
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Where Can I Find My Target Customers?

Customer development… Interviews… They sound great in theory, but finding people to interview and then actually sitting down with someone to get information is hard. Even if we get past the awkward nature of getting feedback about an app that doesn’t exist yet, finding people to interview is tough. Here’s a start…


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Focus On Learning

First of all, remember to focus on learning and not selling, because people are more likely to help you out. That means you:

  1. First talk about pain points, not your solution.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the responses.
  3. Do not try and convince people of anything.

Ways To Reach Out

There are two ways you can reach out to customers; broadcast communications and data collection (like surveys and landing pages), and personal interviews over the phone or face-to-face. We favor personal interactions because the opportunity to learn is so much greater. However, the other types of reaching out are great to backfill data and make sure that your personal interviews represent the larger market you’re targeting.

Where to reach out

One of the hardest parts about customer validation and development is sending that first message. Most people are more comfortable having a product before asking for feedback, but this is backwards. You end up wasting a lot of effort building first even if you “know” you’ll build it anyway. Getting initial feedback is invaluable, and can lead to small tweaks in your plan which turn mediocre ideas into great ideas. This feedback comes from discussion with real people!

Once you push past the initial apprehension of talking to people without a product, the next question you’ll ask yourself is “where do I find these people?”. You’ve already defined your paths to customers while working through the business plan canvas, and if you don’t have any channels defined, it’s time to revisit that part.

Your contacts

The best candidates for interviews are the people you already know. Look through your contacts and find people that have the early adopter characteristics you’ve defined. You can simply place a call to those you know, or send an email asking for a few minutes of their time:

Hi Mark,

Hope all is well with you and yours!

I’m looking for feedback on an app idea geared toward online security and detecting fraud or identity theft. I know you’re concerned with these issues because your card number has been swiped a couple times in the past.

At this point I just have an idea, but the first step is to get feedback about the problem/solution and pricing from people. Can we jump on the phone for 10 minutes so I can ask a few questions?

Thanks!

Social Channels

A familiar way of reaching out is through social channels, both online and offline. You can use existing connections and make new ones using the following sites.

LinkedIn
There are a couple ways you can use LinkedIn to get in front of potential customers. You can send direct messages or ask to be introduced to individuals, or you can join groups that are relevant and post messages asking for help. Additionally, you post a nice looking image and a short explanation of what you’re looking to do in your timeline. You can use a message similar to the email above:

Hi Mark,

Hope all is well with you and yours!

I’m looking for feedback on an app idea geared toward online security and detecting fraud or identity theft. I’m hoping you can relate to these topics, and can give me some feedback about what I’m considering.

At this point I just have an idea, but the first step is to get feedback about the problem/solution and pricing from people. Can we jump on the phone for 10 minutes so I can ask a few questions?

Thanks!

A note about social platforms: when using social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, it’s important to use the full extent of the application. So you don’t want to register a new account and then start sending blind messages. Instead, register an account, populate profiles, and add content to places as expected. It might be worth using the a new platform for a while before reaching out at all. People will trust you more if you go through the expected motions.

Facebook
Similar to LinkedIn, you can find groups on Facebook that are likely to share your interests. Search for topics and join groups to post messages and post a general message on your wall outlining what you’re trying to accomplish. Find an eye-catching image that lends context to your idea. You can find other people using hashtags and send friend requests as well. Those people will likely have a look at your page and see your post!

Twitter
You can use hashtags on Twitter to find topics that matter to your startup idea. Post a general message in your feed using those hashtags and outlining what you’re trying to accomplish. Find an eye-catching image that lends context to your idea. You can find other people using hashtags and follow those people as well. They will likely have a look at your page and see your post!

Quora (www.quora.com)
Unlike the typical social applications with a “look at me” vibe, Quora is focused on questions and quality answers to those questions. You can search for terminology relevant to your idea and answer questions with genuine opinion, while posting a link to your landing page and/or asking for a chat or conversation about your idea. You can also post a question about your idea with an appeal for interviews, and request that certain people answer it. Make sure that you follow the policies of the site and add value to each of the conversations where you participate.

Geography Based Sites

There are many mobile and web apps that use the internet to connect people with each other face-to-face based on common interests. Many marketplaces are based on this premise (like Uber or Craigslist), but there are a few social networks which are less about selling and more about connecting people.

Meetup (www.meetup.com)
Many local groups are formed around common interests, and can be accessed using Meetup. Search based on key words for groups in your area, and join. When you attend the meetings, you can get to know other people that share your passion for relevant subjects, and ask them to spare a little time giving feedback for your idea. There are even many groups based on entrepreneurship and startups with members happy to help. Using Meetups to practice describing your idea is a great way to start. You might find that just explaining what you’re trying to do in a way that people understand is very difficult!

Next Door (www.nextdoor.com)
Local neighborhoods are a great place to start networking if your target customers are likely to be found right next door. You can use the Next Door platform to connect with your neighbors, post messages, and start groups. People are more likely to interact with someone down the street because community is a strong driving force!

Eventbrite (www.eventbrite.com)
Finding events in your area is another way to discover like-minded people willing to help. You can search Eventbrite by key word to find events specific to your target industries. Events typically have fees associated with them, but this means you’ll be meeting people that make your topic a priority. You can also search for startup events to get in the same room with other entrepreneurial minded people who are usually willing to help.

New Product Sites

After the success of Product Hunt, sites that allow users to discover and communicate about new products have popped up all over. These sites allow you to list your app and get feedback from early adopters. Although this can be a great way to get some initial reactions, keep in mind that most people who comment will be other entrepreneurs and people that like to try new things. This isn’t bad in itself, but it’s not likely that these people will become paying customers because they’ll be on the next new thing.


Local Businesses

Sometimes your target customer is the kind of person that is likely to visit a certain type of store or other business. In these cases, speaking with local business owners is a great way to connect with your target market indirectly. We recommend sticking with locally owned businesses, because owners are more accessible and are more likely to identify with you as a new local business. The restaurant industry is one where you might connect with your target customers through business owners.

Physical Message Boards

Sometimes the old fashioned way works best, and message boards posted in public places can still be an effective way to find people. Boards in university common areas and housing locations, in particular, can be a great way to reach students when email addresses are not available. Offering to buy your potential customer a coffee, smoothie, or frozen yogurt is a great way to get a meeting. Make sure that your sign is the biggest and brightest to get the most eyes on your request!

  • Universities
  • Coffee shops
  • Other public places

3rd Party Services

There are a number of services dedicated to finding target customers and testing ideas for you. They use techniques like Google Adwords or survey solicitation to get the job done, and can be a great way to get general reactions. We recommend finding people for personal interactions first, and use data like this to make sure that your numbers represent a larger group of people.

Channel Overload

Although you may have the opportunity to reach out to people using all these channels, it is best to choose three that have the best chance for success. I suggest going with three because we have a finite amount of attention as people, and dealing with more than three channels can cause overload. If you find that one or more of your channels is not returning as expected, then shift your efforts to a different one. This means, of course, that you should be tracking the effort you put into each channel and the return you get. Make sure you do this and then re-evaluate on a monthly or quarterly basis!

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