Every Friday, we’re answering your questions about business, startups, customer success and more.
This week’s question comes from Sudhesh Suresh, who asks:
Anyone who reads this blog is already well aware of the benefits of customer development and deeply understanding who your customers are, what they struggle with and what they really want.
There’s no substitute for getting on the phone (or on a chat, or in some cases, even sending a survey) with your audience and asking great questions to get inside of their heads so that you understand them better than anyone else in the game.
But depending on what your market is, getting access to your audience—before you have customers—comes with different degrees of difficulty.
Below are my favorite approaches for finding people to talk to and get feedback from in three different types of markets: mass markets, niche markets and super-niche markets.
Mass Markets (Millions of potential customers)
If your market is big, then access is easy. The biggest challenge is getting quality feedback, and I find that for that, quantity is the name of the game.
I’d approach this market with brute force: run ads sending people to surveys, reach out to online communities and networks, compile big lists of contacts, pick up the phone and start dialing. Get as many responses as you possibly can, because a lot of them won’t be great. Still, the fastest way to get enough great ones is to get A LOT of bad ones.
Niche Markets (Thousands of potential customers)
This is where I suspect most readers of this blog—including us—fall.
Here, I don’t think brute force is necessary. A much more targeted approach works really well for us.
I would niche down your targeting, and try to connect with communities of people within your market.
Sub-reddits, online forums, popular niche blogs. However, because the audience is smaller, it won’t be as easy to get takers as with a mass market, so you have to add value.
Write guest posts and create useful and interesting content specifically for these communities. Become a member of the community that’s seen as someone who brings value. Then make an ask and try to get people to talk to you.
If you’ve done the first part, the second one becomes easy for people to say yes to.
Super-Niche Markets (Hundreds of potential customers)
With this type of market, neither brute force nor the niche approach are likely to be that useful.
And in many cases (like Sudhesh’s), super-niche markets are comprised of hard-to-access individuals like top executives and market influencers.
Here, I would use a highly targeted influencer outreach approach, and try to build one-on-one relationships with as many of the people in your market as possible.
I go into great detail about each of these steps in this post about connecting with influencers.
It won’t be possible to scale this to thousands of people, but that’s ok; customer development, especially in the early stages, doesn’t require statistical significance. We just want practical significance, and often you can get tremendous insight from having in-depth conversations with just 5-10 people in your market.