I’ve been working on a marketing automation tool (more on that at the end of the post). Or rather, I’ve been working on an idea for a marketing automation tool as I don’t want a single line of code written before I’d experienced a notable pull from target customers. (This may sound like I am clever/ born lean, but in reality, I’ve made the mistake of starting a couple of projects out of pure enthusiasm in the past, and I’ve had enough of that, thankyouverymuch).
I set myself a goal of 10 customer pre-orders in a reasonable time, kicked myself in the butt and got started. As I had been preparing for cutting the cord of employment for some time, I had created an Evernote document with names of people I wanted to approach, another one with interview questions and the third one with feature ideas.
I knew I wanted to keep track of the whole process, be able to easily access and analyze my notes and automate as much as possible. Unsurprisingly, I picked Pipedrive as my main tool and took the advice that I had been preaching Pipedrive users for almost seven years: that the first step of achieving a (good) result is defining the process.
How I defined the customer interview process
My process was straightforward. I had a list of a couple dozen people I wanted to speak to and I knew that list would grow. I needed to contact people and have an interview to understand the state of sales and marketing funnels and to see if there was any fit with what I was planning to build. After the first interview there would have been two possible outcomes:
1. A good snapshot of a company without any follow-up needed. My main aim was to learn whether I should bother, not to sell.
2. A good snapshot, plus some fit with what I wanted to build. If that was the case, I switched into pitching mode for a bit and took note whether there was some fit or a (theoretical at this stage, as I have no product) match made in app heaven.
Based on that, here’s how I defined my process:
Idea > Contacted > First meeting > Interest > Well Defined Need
- Idea – names and contacts I had known, discovered, gotten introed to or hustled
- Contacted – people who I had reached out to
- First meeting agreed – self explanatory. (Worth noting I followed up 2 or 3 times with everyone in the “Contacted” column.)
- Interest shown – some fit identified, but more communication needed later on
- Well defined need – strong fit identified, these people were ready to try a beta if I had one to offer
- Offer made – (bonus stage) because the aim was to learn, not to sell, this was purely for illustrative and/or motivational purposes.
I could have / should have also created a stage “First interview done”, but this wasn’t critical and I only felt a slight need for this some weeks into the process; so I didn’t add it as it would have screwed up my stats which I’m sharing below.
How I’ve generated a list of people to contact
First, there was the obvious source: people you know reasonably well. Friends, work acquaintances, Pipedrive heavy users I had been in touch with over the many years I had worked as head of marketing for the company.
Second, I have 1700 or so LinkedIn connections, and a quick glance showed me A. there are people there that could be in the target audience B. I didn’t really know them because, you know, LinkedIn.
So I downloaded my LinkedIn 1st degree contacts as a spreadsheet. When you do that, LinkedIn handily lists the current employer, current job title and time of making the connection, so it’s relatively easy to guesstimate the context of the first contact. I was looking for CEOs, entrepreneurs, sales & marketing leaders, business consultants. Browsing through the list left me with about 120 contacts that I imported into Pipedrive. From there it was dead easy to start new conversations which already had all the contact details and my notes from browsing the list handily available.
Third, I asked for intros whenever I remembered and dared to do it. And this had mixed but very valuable results. A couple of people that shared my ask with a group they belonged to, resulted in 5 or more inbound request that I could work with. Other times the response was silence but overall I’d say the old axiom “no harm in asking” stands, independent of whether you’re chatting in person, on the phone or via email.
Fourth, I had some speaking gigs lined up in November and December, so I knew I would meet some brand new people, so I set up the contact capture form with some automation that I’ll describe below.
Fifth, I hustled some contacts from relevant conversations I picked up from Pipedrive User Group and social media.
Sixth, I also tried to get leads from Adwords but didn’t have too much success there.
How I automated the workflow, using Pipedrive, Calendly, Zapier and other tools
Like I mentioned, I imported a spreadsheet with contact details of people I wanted to reach out to. Then, when I emailed people I almost always added a Calendly link, so those interested in talking to me could pick a suitable slot without the back and forth. And voila! interviews started appearing on my calendar as long as I stuck to my goal of doing 10+ first approaches per day (plus follow-ups from previous days).
To capture inbound interest from speaking gigs and other sources I set up a simple landing page with Voog and added a Paperform signup form. (I initially set this up with my old love Typeform but discovered an annoyance with their forms on mobile browsers, and after a bit too much searching and trying different forms I landed on Paperform). If people signed up, their data was automatically sent to Drip to receive a welcome email, and a follow-up email. If they opened either of these emails, their data was sent to the Idea stage of my customer development pipeline in Pipedrive via Zapier. And I could then reach out to those who looked even semi-serious about improving their funnel game.
How I’ve been tracking my progress
I wanted to have an overall feel for how things are going, track my input goal of first approaches per day and get a sense of how I’m progressing week over week.
The Pipedrive pipeline view is great because you need no more than a glance to get a sense of how things are going overall and whether you need to spend time on more cold contacts, follow-ups or closing. Today I clearly need to start from doing follow-ups with people in the Contacted stage that haven’t responded.
Additionally, I found the following statistics views helpful:
New conversations started – as you’ll see I started early November but didn’t get my progress to any meaningful level due to previously scheduled commitments and a family thing that happened. I got to a decent pace early December, slowed down for a Christmas break and really got to work in January. Last week I lost two days to travel but was able to do more meetings.
Overall pipeline progress – cumulative view of all the work done so far. As you can see I’ve contacted nearly 200 people and convinced more than 40% of them to speak with me. 28 people have shown some interest and 7 would be happy to use the product idea that’s stuck in my head. [insert suitable emoji here]
Pipeline progress by stages over time – same as above, but by week. As I went through the conversations I got better at picking who to contact and who to drop early, so it was encouraging to see that conversion to “interest shown” picked up towards the end of my customer development sprint.
Tracking progress is addictive. I don’t have revenue or web traffic, and I know better than to be satisfied with the number of semi-random leads who have signed up. Some days I’ve found myself refreshing the Statistics dashboard perhaps more times than would be reasonable. But hey, in an early stage startup where there are not too many positive signals to choose from, and the whole team (that consists of myself) forgave me.
How I planned out the interviews
Not enough, at first. I was learning but felt I wasn’t making the best use of time in some of my conversations. Then I was recommended “The Mom Test” (Cheers, Robin!) which is a beautiful, concise, no-fluff book about doing customer interviews. I had also read the “4 steps to epiphany” but the latter is dry as 007’s martini glass in Sahara (scientific fact), so I doubly enjoyed “The Mom Test”.
Reluctantly I must add that I still recommend the “4 steps” book as well because it established useful baseline understanding about customer development process.
And if I could dare to summarize both of these books and jobs-to-be-done thinking I’ve accumulated over the years in a sentence, then I would say: ask for facts and stay away from opinions.
What I’ve learned
I’ve learned there’s a market for the MVP I have had in mind. It’s not huge but it’s big enough to justify getting going and building the momentum to fix some parts of marketing that are inefficient today, if not broken. (Just look at your inbox or a typical retargeting experience). Both the product pitch and the multiple ways that marketing is broken require a separate post each.
But a meta-learning I’d like to share is that doing 70+ conversations in a short span would have been a waste of time if I didn’t just take notes but created structured data out of notes.
I typed or copy-pasted notes into Pipedrive after each call or meeting, or at the end of the day when the memories were still fresh.
- Core business needs, as expressed by the person or sometimes inferred by yours truly
- Surprising insights from the interview that relate to competitors, possible future features or services
- If there was fit, then features of my planned product could be useful for that company
I also captured tools used in sales and marketing, industry and which source I got in touch with them – I think this will help me do some useful segmentation analysis as I’m doing the final wrap-up.
PS. It’s incredible how supportive most friends, business acquaintances and strangers are to n00b entrepreneurs. I’m not saying that getting 70 people on a call or into a room is easy, but it’s definitely doable. Like a wise man once said: thank you, thank you.
PS2. I’m looking for a CTO/co-founder type person. I now have a fairly good idea what to build but I’m confident that some things will need multiple iterations. Want to help build some prototypes? It would be like a mini-accelerator, only that we ourselves would be all the teams in the accelerator. Email me.
PS3. Want to know more about the product? Sign up here.